What is it that makes folks tick over ticky-tacs and knickknacks filling the nooks and crannies of their yards? Does it involve a compulsion to personalize, or is it a deep desire to dwell in fantasyland alongside a concrete Snow White and her Seven Dwarves?
While Snow White has debatably been around since the Middle Ages, flamingos roamed the earth 47 million years prior to the moment we crawled up and out of the primordial slime. And yet both are lawn fodder, especially the latter.
I’m here to flap about how the bird from the family Phoenicopteridae, revered by ancient Egyptians, ended up replicated in plastic and forthwith found itself stuck into numerous American lawns.
Just so you know, the real ones aren’t really “atomic pink,” they’re white. The pink comes from the algae they consume. And here’s a fact: they excrete salt through their nostrils. There’s a fun fact for the bubbler.
So how did they make their way into mainstream American decorating? Allegedly it was postcards hauled home (to New Jersey?) from 1920s-chic Miami Beach that started the whole thing. Flamingos on vacation postcards were proof-positive that your family deserved more than the crowded shore where regular folks flocked. Miami was a whole other world: glamorous, mysterious, expensive.
But it isn’t always smooth flying. Lawn ornament admirers are fickle, which is to say, they might, at any moment, scuttle the flamingos they formerly worshipped and replace them with resin mushrooms, gnomes in conical hats, or (popular in Wisconsin), the Virgin Mary in a cast iron bathtub. Surely she deserves better. I wonder what Jesus would say.
Frankly, I’ve always hated plastic flamingos. They’re even more disgusting arranged in marching flocks. Beasties, those hideous humps of fiberglass that Milwaukeeans fall for each and every summer, seem to have become almost obsolete, though now and then, if you look sharp, you can spot them peeking from gardens and lofty perches in various venues.
I must say the Egyptians had the right idea when they cut out the tiny tongues of Phoenicopteridae and served them (pickled) as a kind of modish ancient appetizer. This may have had something to do with the fact that they are extremely noisy birds. If the tongue offends, cut it out. At the height of the aforementioned Beastie mania, at least one of the artsy disasters was seen floating down the Milwaukee River, bound for extinction.
This is the first of a multi-part series on why people feel compelled to put stuff in their yards.