The Pink Flamingos of the Pacific Northwest

Flamingos

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”

EliasDrums

[Did you really think I wasn’t going to put a photo of Elias in this post?]

RainerLenticularClouds

[Lenticular clouds over Mount Rainier. Photo: Bob Goldstein (Son-in-Law)]

 

Not Just Another Skyscraper

EmpireStateBldgNov'14

The Empire State Building has been linked to me, in one way or another, since before I was born. That may sound a bit confusing…but stay with me.

I am an American male, raised to hide emotional reactions.  But, I can say that the building has made me cry on more than one occasion.  When I was young, one of my favorite movies was King Kong.  I could quote lines…once upon a time…yes, I could.  Now I can merely paraphrase.  But as a boy, somehow I “got” the idea of why Kong did what he did to the people of this wonderful town.  He was frightened and he was in love with Faye Wray so he took her to the only place where he could save himself and, he thought, her.

It didn’t work. He died. She lived. And the hero at the end said something like: “It was beauty that killed the beast.”

So, I cried.

I cried again when Deborah Kerr was hit by a taxi on her way to meet Cary Grant in An Affair To Remember.  When he finally found out that she was paralyzed because of him, he cried.  “I didn’t see the taxi,” she said. “I was looking up at you.”

And, yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finally met (thanks to his little boy) on the observation deck in Sleepless in Seattle.  It didn’t help me when Jimmy Durante sang “As Time Goes By” at the end.  And, the lights of the building became a giant red heart.

[Tonight, the building is bathed in blue in honor of the Alzheimer’s Foundation.]

I kissed more than one girl on the observation deck.  I got a parking ticket once when I left my MG on 34th Street…beneath a NO PARKING sign.  I once had to pick something up for my wife in an office of the building, so I wandered the hallways, not as a tourist!

The legends and lore of the Empire State Building are many.  Amazingly, it was built in only 10 months!  It was opened to the public on May 1, 1931. (May 1 is my wedding anniversary.)

Sixteen years and one month later, I was born.

According to Wikipedia, there were 30 attempted suicides by jumping.  It seems only four were successful.  The first occurred before it was even opened.  A worker was laid off.  He jumped to his death.  One jumper clearly was not on the “List.”  She jumped off the 86th floor deck but the wind blew her back to a ledge on the 85th floor where police brought her inside.

A slightly gentler breeze could have ruined her whole day.

On a foggy day, July 28, 1945, a B-25, flying in zero visibility flew into the side of the building between the 79th and 80th floor.  Fourteen deaths resulted.  Parts of the plane severed the elevator cable and the operator survived a 75 floor free-fall.  Look it up.  She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.

On a clear day, in late 1930 or early 1931, a young man was walking along the streets of the west Village.  The man worked for Bell Labs on Bethune Street.  He looked up and saw the workers putting the finishing touches on the Empire State Building.

The man had come from a rather poor family who lived in northeastern Pennsylvania.  He had dropped out of school and left home to find work in the Big City.  The man lived in Bergen, NJ with a relative.  His wages were low but he sent what he could back home to help out.  After a year or two, the man returned to complete high school, court a young woman named Mary…and eventually married her in 1936.

I know this story pretty well.  The man was my father, Paul.

He told me all this when I was a little boy watching King Kong.

“No,” he told me more than once.  “I never saw a large ape climbing the building.”

As a little boy, I never could quite believe him about this.  How could he not have seen the ape falling?  How could he have missed it when beauty killed the beast?

The beast?  Well, I guess that’s where I played out my small role in my father’s contact with this great building.  Sixteen years and one month after he walked down Bethune Street, I was born.

Add two years to that…I would be entering the “Terrible Twos.”  So, my father gets the beast after all.

And, about 70 years later, I’m standing on 7th Avenue looking up at a very special building…washed in blue light…honoring those who have lost their memories.

That’s something I’ve haven’t done…lose memories.