Swiss Misses

Page 7 of 9

Naczi slaps her naughty neighbor on the arm and offers some more-wholesome recollections.

"When I moved in, I was welcomed. People brought cheesecake over. That isn't being done now," she says. "Now the solution is get out the checkbook. It's a different way of thinking."

Both Naczi and Johnson stress that the Guild is motivated by good intentions, and agree that Palmlund is about the hardest worker they've ever seen.

The problem, they say, is that she and her friends have a tendency to make snooty comments that inadvertently insult the people who are barred from joining the Guild.

"She's a good leader. I have a lot of respect for her. She sometimes sticks her foot in her mouth and says things the wrong way, but she doesn't mean to," Naczi says.

Johnson is less charitable.
"A lot of the new people don't like diversity, and they live here because they can't afford to live in Highland Park," claims Johnson, who refers to the Guild as the Swiss Avenue Women's Gild because of its perceived lust for wealth.

"Some of the people on Swiss seriously don't think they have to deal with the people on Bryan Parkway. And it isn't even who has the most money--it's who has the best mortgage," Johnson continues. "I mean, gawwwwwleee. Is it ridiculous or is it ridiculous?"

Although Naczi tries to restrain herself when talking about Palmlund, she does offer up one anecdote, which she believes speaks volumes about Palmlund's personality and the nature of the Guild.

One Christmas, Palmlund invited Naczi to her house to participate in what Naczi thought would be a ceremony to usher in the holiday season. Then-Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett was supposed to show up, and a choir was on hand to sing. Palmlund gave Naczi a candle and directed her to a stairwell, where she stood with several other neighbors.

Naczi recalls how she stood on the stairwell with her unlit candle, wondering when the ceremony would begin. When someone started taking pictures, it finally dawned on her that there wasn't going to be a ceremony.

"They never sang. They never lit the candles. They never had a ceremony. All it was was a photo op, this false thing that fizzled because the mayor didn't show up," Naczi says. "It felt weird. I thought people came to take pictures of an event that was actually occurring."

The telephone in Gary Ahr's Mercedes rings. It's Gary's wife, Sarah, calling to say she's going to the gym to work out and won't return to their Swiss Avenue home until about nine. Sarah Ahr is not a member of the Guild, but Gary won't say why as he gives a rolling tour of the Swiss Avenue median.

Ahr is the Bhoutros Bhoutros Ghali of the median, its chairman and point man, responsible for ensuring that the delicate mowing arrangement between the city and the Association is carried out. As part of the pact, the city mows the median every other week. In exchange, residents use the proceeds from their annual home tour to pay for mowers and tree trimmers during the alternate weeks.

The task costs the neighborhood an average of $10,000 a year, which may seem like a lot of money, but is just barely enough to keep the median presentable.

Ahr is so paralyzed by the fear of worsening relations between the Guild and the Association that the normally opinionated financial advisor declines to make even neutral comments about the skirmish.

He will, however, confirm that representatives of the Guild and the Association's median committee recently met to discuss the issue.

"All five of us agreed that we weren't going to put in azaleas or any other plants that would be high-maintenance," says Ahr, who stresses that any final decisions on the median must be approved by the Association.

The sensitive negotiations were called after the Guild presented its "vision" for the median during the meeting inside the Aldredge house--the same meeting in which Johnson bluntly predicted civil war.

On that fateful evening, the neighborhood spat came to a head as the Guild women unveiled their plan to plant flowers in the median and install moonlights, which hang from trees like over-priced Christmas lights.

Exactly who presented what idea at the meeting is a bit cloudy. When reached by telephone, Association President Al Tatum declined to pass on a copy of the minutes from the meeting.

For now, the question of whether azaleas will be taking root in the median cannot be answered with any certainty, but Ahr says the two factions have identified some basic priorities.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley