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You Can Do Anything You Want Here

America is the "Land of the Free." Our national anthem says so, and so do most of our actions.

But freedom has its limits in neighborhoods that have been officially designated as "historic" in an effort to preserve their unique character. These places are quite specific about what residents can and cannot do to their properties.

And the Wall Street Journal newspaper says something like 60 million Americans now live in communities and apartment and condominium complexes whose governing boards are even more stern. They enforce what are called "restrictive covenants." Things like TV antennas are most unwelcome there. So are ugly chain-link fences. Smelly farm animals are out of the question. Such intrusions are seen as spoiling others' enjoyment of the surroundings.

Tell that to Susan Taylor, who loves the fresh smell of clothes dried in the sun. So on a beautiful day in the western town of Bend, Ore., the Journal reports, she strung a clothesline between two trees and hung out her wet laundry to dry.

But clotheslines are banned in Taylor's subdivision. They're said to bring back too many memories of unsightly, crowded tenements. Yes, but drying clothes naturally, Taylor argued, is an environmentally friendly action as old as America itself.

Sorry. Such an eyesore, if allowed, would lower property values. Remove the clothesline or face a lawsuit!

So Susan Taylor came up with a mischievous compromise: She now hangs her laundry on a clothesline in the garage, and keeps the door open just to tweak the complainers. After all, the covenant says nothing about what one can or cannot do in one's own garage. Except play loud music, perhaps.