Flamingos: A Love Story
In which Jo advances an explanation
Years ago, while my sister and I were watching Miami Vice (the TV show, not the movie), she noted as the flamingos made their entrance during the opening the credits that they must be God's only tacky animals. As I was much struck by that assertion, I responded as only a loving sister could and made certain that among her Christmas presents from me that year there was something bearing the proud, pink bird's classic profile.
In return, she's given me flamingo: pasta (yes, pasta), an oil lamp (glass flamingo, pink oil), floating candles, plant stakes, slippers, mugs, magnets, sun catchers, stamps, a makeup bag, lights, ornaments, a bathmat, soap, a computer duster, and picture frames. One year I received a picture of her dressed as a flamingo for a Halloween party (she's a first grade teacher, enough said) in a flamingo frame. The year she gave me the slippers - and they are not to be believed - she attached a note to the gift that simply said: Gotcha! I win.
The flamingos have spilled out of our houses and into our work places. As a result, people start associating flamingos with us, and even though we're quick to explain the story behind our annual exchange, invariably we receive some flamingo gifts each year to add to our collection. Back in the day, the iconic birds were more difficult to find; now they're flockin' everywhere!
In which the stage is set
If you were paying attention, you will have noted that Yvonne and I did not exchange any plastic flamingo yard ornaments. That is because we have standards. There are lines we will not cross. Which is why I had to buy them for myself.
I saw a quirky item in one of those specialty catalogues like Potpourri or The Paragon or Have-We-Got-Some-Overpriced-Kitsch-For-You. It looks like a yellow caution road sign, but this one announces "Flamingo Crossing". Just in case someone does not know what the bird looks like, it is featured prominently in the center of the sign. If there is some question in your mind about whether I bought it, you're just not getting this story.
Giant hostas and ferns border the back of my house. The back of my house. I bought 14 plastic flamingos, attached their spindly wire legs, and anchored them deep in the ground among the greenery so only their pink plastic heads (some up, some down) and a bit of their pink plastic bodies could be seen above the dark green leaves and fronds. For the final touch of whimsy, I attached the Flamingo Crossing sign to the house. Yep, south Florida in West by God Virginia. (Really, this appealed to me on so many different levels.)
In which Jo offers particulars about her neighbors
I live in a relatively rural location. I say 'relatively' because town is only down-a-hill-up-a-hill away. But this is West Virginia, so that's about 7 miles. There are no homes across the road from my house, only trees, thank you very much. There are also no homes behind me, just more trees. To the left of me is Mark; to the right are Marty and Charly and their 2 kids. Mark had finished building his home when I moved in. Marty and Charly came a few months after I did. We've been side by side by side on our respective acre lots since 1992.
These are some terrific neighbors. There is an open invitation to join them for bonfires, swim in their pool, attend their family parties, watch their fireworks, and stop by for a beer. Mark and Marty are also great for getting me out of messes. They repaired the leaking water line to my icemaker, removed a trapped raccoon, unjammed my garage door after I got it well and truly stuck, buried my 2 road-killed cats, mowed my grass for me when my lawn tractor wasn't working (not through any fault of mine, you understand), attached the jumper cables to my car (twice) and my lawn tractor (once) when the batteries died (again, not my fault), removed a snake from my dining room and snow from my driveway, fixed a flat on my bicycle, and on one occasion rescued me — and the lawn tractor — from a very bad end (okay, this was my fault).
In return, I offer adult supervision.
I do this because Mark and Marty like to blow stuff up. In their hands, household chemicals aren't for cleaning. PVC pipe isn't for plumbing. I'm talking bazookas and pump action rocket launchers here. Tennis balls, sponges, potatoes, paint balls. These items go sailing across my back yard. I've seen the flamingos turn their pink plastic heads in astonishment.
In which Jo observes the game is afoot
Last autumn when I was cleaning up the hosta and fern border, raking dead leaves and removing the flamingos, I got lazy and never took the flamingos indoors. I tossed them in a pile on a concrete pad and left them there. They weathered the mild winter well. Come spring, I was still feelin' a mite lazy, and I never did get around to putting the flamingos back in the ground. I'd think about it as I was mowing the lawn, but each time I finished, I'd put the tractor away and never walk around back to deal with the flamingos. They just lay in that sad pink pile for all of April, May, and most of June.
Then apparently they had enough.
It was a lovely Sunday morning around 6 a.m., and I was on my way to go bike riding before I started my writing day. As I was coming down the stairs from the bedroom, I caught a flash of pink among the daylilies in my front yard. Uh-oh. My front yard.
Not only was there a flamingo in the daylilies, there were a couple in the driveway, one on the deck, one by the mailbox, several scattered around the yard, one on the back porch swing, one on the fence rail, and the remainder sitting pretty in my flower boxes. Spindly wire legs and all.
There were also signs in the back yard. Ominous warnings like: "You left us alone too long." "We think as One now." And "We're moving into your house." Yikes!
In which Jo briefly gets some of her own back
I promptly took four of the flamingos and blocked the end of Mark's driveway with them. Timing being everything, it was a fortunate turn of events that Mark's friend was visiting and she had to go to work early that morning. She saw the flamingos and in his words, "Dragged my dead ass out of bed to deal with them." "Oh," says I, "then it was all worthwhile."
A couple of days later, under cover of night, I took those same four flamingos, sans wire legs, and dropped them in Marty and Charly's pool. That prompted a call from Charly the following evening. "Jo, a terrible thing has happened! Four of your flamingos got loose and drowned in my pool! We couldn't save them. They're so cold and hard, they're just like plastic!" Heh. Heh. Heh.
I did get around to gathering up the flamingos. I staked 6 of them back in the giant hostas and put the rest in the garage. I figured we'd play with the 4 that drowned in Charly's pool.
In which Jo announces she's going to the movies and a plot is hatched
My sister visited at the end of June, and we made plans to go see Superman Returns. I happened to mention this to Charly early in the day. (Mental head slap.) Just before Yvonne and I left, the phone rang. It was Charly. "Oh," she says, "I didn't expect to get you. I was just going to leave a message." She then proceeded to ask me a question that only seemed lame in hindsight. (Head slap. For real.)
Upon our return, I was the first to spot a flamingo nesting in the hanging basket on my front deck. The pervert bird was peeping in the house. Yvonne spotted 2 flamingos in her car. One behind the wheel and one in the passenger seat, both buckled in on account of that's the law. There was another on the deck rail, the fence rail, the yard, etc. All of them looking in. I counted them up and realized my attempt to limit the number of flamingos in play was for naught. The ones I'd staked in the hostas had been uprooted.
I put a few more in the garage, took all the wire legs away, then Yvonne and I - using rubber bands and paper clips - hung six legless flamingos like Christmas ornaments on one of Mark's pine trees.
(Note: Putting the flamingos in my garage is a half-hearted attempt at best. Charly has a key to my house through the garage. It also had the consequence of making the warnings come true - the flamingos did move in.)
In which Jo suspects that Mark is an evil genius
Mark left the flamingos hanging on his pine tree for about a week. Every morning I'd see them through my sliding glass doors and grin. There was also some trepidation. I knew he was biding his time.
His first salvo was to take a clothes hanger, use a wire cutter to cut the long bar and fashion some new legs for a flamingo. With a little bit of twisting, and using the hanger's hook, he managed to transform this flamingo into something like a mobile. One morning it was hanging from my bird feeder. The chickadees, finches, and cardinals, I immediately saw, were unfazed by the encroachment of so much pink into their territory.
When I called my sister to tell her what he'd done, she offered this pithy observation: "You can't win. He knows how to use tools."
Two days later I found a flamingo outside my home-office patio door. He was tipped forward on his head so he could moon me. Mark had made stick legs (out of real sticks). Each leg had three stick toes wired to it. The legs were bent like a flamingo's. This effort also required epoxy and screws. Just to make certain I got the whole mooning thing, he used a Sharpie to draw a rictus around a small hole on the flamingo's underside. Heh. Heh. Heh.
In which Jo discusses the tree
My house sits on the very edge of my eastern property line. When I step off the deck, I'm actually in Mark's yard. When I moved in there were a lot more trees in Mark's yard, but over the years he has entertained me while I've been writing by cutting down, chopping up, and removing those that he deemed unattractive, a nuisance, or both. (My writing workspace is essentially a sunporch with 3 sets of patio doors, so I get a pretty good view of what Mark is about to blow up or chop down just by looking up from my Mac.)
Some of his trees border his property line but provide lovely shade for my back deck. A few years ago I had to have 3 diseased elm trees removed from my yard. I did the sensible thing: I hired professionals with insurance. Mark, though, when faced with a similar dilemma as the elm disease spread to his yard, thinks: I can do that. The fact that the tree is 75 feet tall, has a 3 foot trunk, and could collapse on my deck and sunporch just makes it interesting.
In which Jo discovers Mark had help
Mark didn't tell me he had finally decided to tackle the big elm. Which, if you think about it, was kind of him. I would have needed drugs. Charly, who knew it was coming down, didn't want her husband near the place. She went off to work that morning and left a note behind for him that read, "Don't you dare go over there until he yells timber!" C'mon. Like Marty was going to admit he'd read that. Mark was preparing to take down a tree using a chain saw, a forty foot ladder, some chains, a truck, and a couple of six-packs. No way was Marty not going to come out to play.
When I got close to my home that evening, I knew the tree was gone. Its green dome no longer topped the corner of my house. After I parked the car, I walked around the deck to get a look at the carnage.
The flamingos had done all of the hard, er, yard work.
One flamingo sat on the stump, surrounded by empty beer cans. Another was sitting on Mark's lawn tractor smoking a cigarette. Still another was perched on a 15 foot pole, probably to act as a look out. The tree - or what was left of it because the all limbs had been removed - was lying on the ground in the direction of Mark's driveway.
I didn't have a camera at the time to capture the moment, so this was taken about a week later. You can see the tip of the elm's trunk on the left. That picnic table in the background is where I found Mark, Marty, Charly and the kids enjoying dogs and burgers when I got home. Luckily, the flamingos hadn't drunk all the beer, so I had one.
In which Jo realizes she is totally flocked
I thought the flamingo lumberjack shtick was so inspired that that would be the end of it. I mean, I have a book to write. My head is in Regency England, and I'm pretty sure the ton doesn't know from plastic flamingos.
So I was surprised one morning (6 a.m. again as I prepared to go for my bike ride) to discover this guy on the left in my driveway. Apparently he pulled up during the night on his Segway.
A little tougher to see, this bird apparently got trapped in the lattice in my front yard. Notice the bird house on top. Was he trying to fly the coop? You be the judge.
The flamingos hadn't visited Marty and Charly for a while, so I paused in front of their house on my way to biking the trail and tossed 6 birds into their front yard from my car window. What I lack in creativity, I make up for in shock and awe.
|I thought the Segway was the wave of the future in flamingo transportation, then this cutie appeared on my deck in her Barney Rubble vehicle, proving, I suppose, that retro design is always in vogue. Her hybrid model, powered by wind and little flamingo feet, is especially timely given that going green is all the rage. Those wheels, by the way are actually made of concrete. Mark poured concrete into four PVC pipe molds he sliced up specifically for this project. The Flintstone-mo-bile actually rolls along quite nicely. While pencils served as the axles on the Segway, this coupe uses nails and some kind of thing-a-ma-jigs to support the wheels and allow them to spin. Is it an amphibious craft, you're wondering? Don't know. Experimentation is called for. Wood floats but concrete sinks. Hmmm.|
In which Jo realizes that surrendering will not stop the madness
I can't say how this will go on. What I know is that Mark is on vacation and now that I have pictures of his handiwork, I plan to post them on his house. I might hang some of the flamingos by their necks from his back porch a la A Barrel Full of Monkeys (anyone remember that game?). If I was ambitious, I'd dress some up. Girlie flamingos.
I'll keep you posted. Maybe.
In which Jo reveals A World Turned Upside Down
I made a nifty little booklet of my story thus far and gave one copy to Charly and left the other copy taped to Mark's back door so he would have it upon his return. I also taped some of the pictures (with new captions) to Mark's garage doors and placed 5 flamingos in a perfect nesting spot in a tree in his back yard. The first person I heard from was Mark's mom. She'd been looking after his house while he was on vacation. She told me how much she enjoyed the story and encouraged me to apply for any of the "Help Wanted" positions she'd seen about town as I obviously had too much time on my hands. Mark called me shortly after he arrived home to report, "Once again, the pen is mightier than the sword." Yes, I admit I had a moment of satisfaction there. I'd done good.
Yes, I know now that pride surely goeth before the fall.
It was not until later that evening when I was sharing a beer and some hard laughter with these good folks that I came to comprehend a fact that took my breath away. So that you might share in this moment of "what-the-hell??!!", I offer the following picture of the flamingo aerie:
I thought it was a rather bizarre tree when I began placing the flamingos inside its natural cradle. It stood about 7 feet tall, so I had to go up on tippy toes to reach the nest. I couldn't figure out why Mark had chopped the branches so short but still left the trunk standing in his yard. But, hey, I wouldn't presume to know the answer to that. It's Mark.
Now I offer this information: The flippin' tree is UPSIDE DOWN!! That's right. Mark cut the tree down, then turned it on its head. That nest is actually the roots! It's a maple tree, for cryin' out loud. Do you know what trauma I could have suffered if I'd leaned against the thing and it had toppled?! Actually, no trauma, because I discovered I couldn't have toppled the tree if I'd tried. Mark actually dug a hole 3 feet deep to "plant" his topsy-turvy tree.
|A couple of days later when I could no longer contain my curiosity, I asked Mark why he'd done it. He explained that in the fall of 2005 he'd had some life altering events - family, work, health - and it occurred to him that when he woke up one morning his life had been turned upside down. That's when he got the idea for the flipping the flippin' tree. As a whimsically poignant monument to the unexpected twists and turns our lives can take, I think it's perfect.|
In which Jo has an unexpected visitor
Sometimes when my neighbors are having a bonfire and beer and I'm too tired to join them, I shove some earplugs in my ears so their laughter doesn't tempt me to leave my bed. That's why I didn't hear the pickup truck peel out from a nearby side road, crash through my split rail fence, barrel and bounce through my yard, and come to an abrupt stop in my ivy bed, wedged against the stairs (which snapped like toothpicks).
|Luckily, my neighbors saw the whole thing. They started running uphill from the bonfire to the scene of the accident as soon the pickup's headlights split my fence. Charly managed to rouse me with a phone call although I don't think I actually believed her at first. When it finally sunk in, my response was #&*$! Even wakened from a dead sleep I try to be articulate. I walked outside to see the thing for myself. Sure enough, Charly hadn't been pulling my leg. The kid driving the pickup apologized all over himself while I'm still saying things like #)($^#& and @$(%&*! The only reason the young man is still by his pickup is because Mark tackled him when he tried to run. Marty called the police. When the dispatcher asked if alcohol was involved, Marty replied: "Hey, I wasn't driving." As it turned out, no alcohol was involved (just no sense), but the 20 year old driver was charged with suspended license, failure to stop, possession of alcohol, no seatbelt, no valid inspection, and no insurance. Good thing I'd moved the flamingo a couple of days earlier. He might have been charged with bird endangerment!|
In which Jo is taken for a ride
I've mentioned a couple of times throughout this story that I regularly ride a bicycle. My little town has a very nice rails-to-trails path that I like to use. Other than getting on the bike and pedaling, I'm pretty clueless about its mechanical operation. I've got some sense about the 24 gears and how to stop, but I couldn't even put the chain back on the one time it slipped the gears.
One lovely Sunday morning in September I was on the trail and noticed that I was having a terrifically hard time pedaling. The trail has only a small grade, but I felt as if I was pedaling up hill both ways. There was a long-legged runner up ahead and though I set my sights on catching him I didn't manage it until I was almost at the end of my 8 mile ride. Now, I'm no Lance Armstrong - not even close - but I've never not been able to catch and pass a runner on the trail.
When my ride was finished, I mounted my bike on the rack and gave the back wheel a spin to test it. It got stuck almost immediately, and I realized it was rubbing the brake pads. The marathon runner helpfully suggested taking it to a bike shop. I called on Mark instead. Since he occasionally rides his bike on the trail and I've observed him doing wheelies in his driveway, I figured he knew how to fix the problem.
He did. Turns out spokes can be adjusted. Who knew? (Not, apparently, any of my women friends. However, every guy I talked to knew that spokes aren't just for weaving crepe streamers through for the 4th of July parade. Are guys, like, born with this knowledge?!)
Mark not only adjusted my spokes, he had to replace one also. He even cleaned the bike. The price of this neighborly service?
People do smile when they see me coming!