I asked my daughter, Erin, about her opinion of pink flamingos.
“They have their place,” she answered, without taking more than five seconds to think it over.
That place was in a front yard, several blocks from her home in Orting, WA.
My wife and I were walking back from a brief shopping trip to Safeway. I was carrying a whole pineapple in the plastic grocery bag, it’s spiky leaves poking holes through the word “Safeway”. The pineapple had me in a reflective mood about the tropics. I thought of Keith Richards falling out of a coconut tree on a Caribbean island several years ago. He was a grandfather. I’m a grandfather and I was thinking what it would take to climb a pineapple tree. I wasn’t even sure they grew on trees. Maybe they grew like really large odd grapes on a rather large vine. (I’d have to look that up later.)
We were here to visit Elias, my adorably cute grandson, my daughter and her husband, Bob. My grandson had just turned two a month before. I’m not going to post a picture of him because he’s so gosh darn cute, I would lose my readers who would just go straight to the photo and then make comments about him. I didn’t want to use his unbelievable cuteness to simply grab your attention and beg you to follow me on WordPress. I’ve been accused of similar tactics using a photo of Fluffy the lamb. But a child? Never!
When I mentioned pink flamingos to Erin, she knew exactly what property I saw them standing on.
“Oh, he’s the local “neighborhood watch guy”…”a sort of vigilante”.
I thought of Clint Eastwood.
Then I fully realized the implications of vigilantism and its consequences. I was thankful I didn’t step off the sidewalk and onto his yard. I may have been blasted by a pump-action 12-guage shotgun. I know enough about guns to realize that even an indirect hit would do some spectacular damage to my appendix.
That’s alright. I never had mine removed as a child like my brother, Dan, who had his appendix operation sometime in 1956. Everybody in my family doted on him. They lavished tons of attention on him. I was left alone, sitting behind the sofa, staying out of the way…me and my intact appendix. I was the youngest of four boys so nobody really paid much attention to me anyway. When I was a young boy, my father was too tired to teach me to play catch. I often stood in the backyard with my mitt and ball…me and my healthy damn appendix.
But I digress.
I stood looking at the pink flamingos. There were two of them, as tradition dictates. But both heads of the birds are bent to the lawn as if mucking about in the muck of a shallow swamp. I thought about what I was seeing, in this yard, in this little town in the Pacific Northwest. I began to remember all that I had learned about flamingos in school.
There are only four species of these beautiful pink birds that are native to the Americas. I assumed I was looking at a pair of Phoenicopterus ruber. I mean, when you think about it, it was an obvious choice.
I leaned closer to the pair and noticed that each one had a black stick supporting its body. They were perfectly still. I wondered. Were these two pink flamingos really alive? Perhaps the black sticks were meant to create the illusion of life. I’ve heard of unsavory pet shop owners who have done this very thing. I recalled the incident of one owner who nailed a dead parrot to the perch and insisted it was just sleeping.
Then again, maybe these flamingos were alive? The owner (remember, he’s a vigilante) may have doped them and kept them from completing their annual migration. But, migrating from where? And, more to the point, to where?
At this point I remembered taking my sixth grade science class to the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey on a field trip. We were all in the IMAX theater watching a film about…I know it had to do with science and there were beautiful scenes of the Grand Canyon, an Ultralight flying into a sunset and herds of elephants (filmed from the same Ultralight) creating clouds of dust on the Serengeti Plains of Africa. Just before I fell asleep, I remember a scene at a lake somewhere in Kenya where tens of thousands of flamingos were taking flight. (Most of them were pink, by the way.) It was very impressive. Not as good as the opening moments of Miami Vice, but still pretty colorful.
Just before commercial breaks at the Master’s in Myrtle Beach, there were pink flamingos there also. But, here in the Pacific Northwest?
I began to question my very own sanity.
It all began to add up. Real live flamingos were Tropical birds and Orting, WA was in the Temperate Zone. Granted, the temperature on this day was in the mid-40’s F with a near consistent rain. My eyes narrowed into furrows that depicted suspicion.
I picked a crumb from a Granola bar that had fallen apart in my coat pocket. I tossed it to the bird that looked like it was foraging. Nothing.
I’ve been to college so I knew a thing or two about deductive reasoning and junk like that. I came to the conclusion that this pair of flamingos were made of plastic.
The black sticks were holding them up because otherwise they would fall over.
It all came back to me in a rush as I thought about one of my favorite movies, Pink Flamingos by John Waters. Seeing the movie drove me on a quest to catalog lawn kitsch. I knew that the classic design I was looking at was first designed by a Don Featherstone in 1957 when he was working for Union Products. I was ten years old. Another company bought the molds and copyright in 2007 and continue to manufacture them. BUT, you can tell if you have an “official” pair…Featherstone had his signature put on the rear underside of the birds.
I was not going to step on this guy’s lawn and look at the rear underside of his pink flamingos.
There are certain things even I won’t do.
My wife and I continued our walk back to my daughter’s house. Elias would be up from his nap by now and, if I was lucky, he’d be asking: “where’s grandpa?” I wanted to be there.
So, when we come back for our next visit, maybe in about a year, I’m going to take a walk with Elias to look at the pink flamingos. He’s a smart child and will surely know that they are not native to the Pacific Northwest.
But we’ll walk hand in hand…a big grandpa hand holding a tiny 3-year-old boy hand. If he asks me about my opinion about pink flamingos in the Pacific Northwest, I will answer truthfully: “They have their place.”
“OK, grandpa,” he’ll say.
Then he’ll point into the distance over his parent’s house at a large snow-covered peak. Or, perhaps, the peak will be covered, like a bashful maiden, in clouds.
But he will know where to point.
“Mount Rainier is over there!”
“Yes,” I’ll say. “It has its place too”
[Did you really think I wasn’t going to put a photo of Elias in this post?]
[Lenticular clouds over Mount Rainier. Photo: Bob Goldstein (Son-in-Law)]