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In Defense of the Tacky

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One of the most rewarding experiences of my life occurred on my younger sister’s 40th birthday (everyone thinks I look younger). I arranged for a glorious display of forty lovely, plastic, hot pink flamingos to be flocked on her upscale, historic district front yard (the city will remain nameless to protect the cranky).

Perhaps it was just a desire for revenge that had festered for many decades (we will not say how many) after I discovered a dead, frozen three-foot fish in my bed one night, but let’s just face it, the morning they flocked my sister — well, things just don’t get any better.

Okay, maybe it was the fact that the cops caught the guys flocking the house (which is located across the street from one of the country’s more famous art museums) and had reached the point of selling tickets to the whole affair when my sister was aroused from her long winter’s nap.

I can still see her now, clad in red plaid jammies and scurrying around her front yard, removing the flamingos. I don’t know what was funnier: the cops watching her, or the fact she was absolutely furious over the event. Nah, it was the fact that her neighbor, a prominent local politician on his early morning jog, caught her outside in said jammies as she hid said flamingos behind the house. He laughed so hard he woke half the neighborhood. Soon, everyone in town knew what was going on. Let’s just say the parade of well wishers and spectators was worth it.

You see, my sister is one of those humorless people who does not appreciate the magnificent tackiness of the plastic pink flamingo. She doesn’t like pink, she doesn’t like flamingos, and she thinks pink flamingos of any kind are disgusting. Naturally, I have adopted the noble bird as, well, maybe an attempt at flipping the proverbial bird at my sister. Okay, they really annoy our mother. She is one of those people would never have a dollop of dust on her two hundred-year-old antiques or her showroom size collection of Waterford. Everything in her well-decorated world is perfect. Thus, I rebel. (Childish, isn’t it?)

There is one rule when dealing with something as tacky as a pink flamingo. If one knows said critter is incredibly tacky and in terribly bad taste, it is entirely acceptable to let it appear at various formal occasions. If one is using it as a decorating centerpiece and feels it is entirely acceptable to do so, then, frankly (let me put this as politely as possible), you have a serious problem and need to take two decorating classes and call Martha Stewart in the morning!

Pink flamingos are wonderful items. They are so incredibly tacky they rank up there with rhinestone sunglasses and stiletto heel mules. They can be used as a political statement, which is something I only recently learned when my absolutely adorable hairdresser informed me they were the lesbian equivalent of the gay rainbow. Who knew? They can be used as a decorating statement, especially when one wishes to annoy one’s mother. And, once in a while, they actually have great worth, such as an original Audubon print or my wonderful Armani statue. They are also very good things when hanging from a hot pink tabletop Christmas Tree (it’s the reward of your holiday guests laughing so loud they spill their Champagne cocktails).

Palm trees can also be tacky when properly manipulated into situations with pink flamingos, stiletto mules, skintight jeans, and rhinestone sunglasses. I love palm trees, but then I’m originally from Florida, the land of the eternal tacky. Don’t get me wrong; I love living in New Mexico, but sometimes I long for the sound of the ocean and the clattle of palm fronds. Okay, I would love to have one of those six foot well-lit palm trees to use outside my condo at Christmas, but do you actually think I’m gonna fork out nearly two hundred bucks for it?

Along that line, decorator textiles such as state dishcloths, napkins, and table coverings can also cross the line from the tacky to the sublime. Unfortunately, when used with cottage style or shabby chic, they are no longer tacky. When added to a decorating motif that includes shell lamps, sapphire blue gazing balls, and little Dutch boy and girl salt and pepper shakers, they are just plain pathetic. They then transcend fun and show a terrible want of actual style. We must not make fun of such people, especially when we’re probably related to half of ‘em!

Years ago, my grandmother felt sorry for an aging, hard drinking artist who was rapidly losing his eyesight and selling his renditions of the swamps and shores of old time Florida for maybe a hundred dollars a pop. No one wanted the three paintings she purchased. When she finally did get around to redecorating her very traditional and very 1950s south Florida house (now long gone, much to my eternal sadness), my aunts decided those horribly tacky paintings on masonite with their primitive frames needed to find a new home on the trash pile. Naturally, I wanted them.


Little did anyone know they would become part of a genre of art called The Florida Highwaymen. The Florida Highwaymen were and are African-American artists who at one time were itinerant, painting and selling their wares for food and lodging. Today, it is an entirely different story. The few artists who are still living are much sought after instructors, and they are legends. Their original, older pieces, of which I have several, are now approaching the lower five figures in value!

Same thing with those wonderful ‘Charleston baskets’ you could pick up for a song anywhere along the coast of South Carolina. Then one day, the top basket maker, Mary Bennett, was declared a “national treasure” and her work is now in the Smithsonian. There was a craft show in Greenville, South Carolina every Christmas. Mary Bennett would send her absolutely adorable husband to sell her baskets. For me, he was the highlight of the whole show.

Remember those tacky black pots your grandparents purchased when they were driving through New Mexico many years ago? I suggest you check the bottom of the pot. If the name “Maria Martinez” appears on one, you’ve hit the jackpot. It is worth a fortune. I wouldn’t throw away any southwestern ‘Indian’ pot until I had someone appraise it, if I were you. Same thing holds true with rugs and that ‘yucky’ sterling and turquoise jewelry that dingy great-aunt of yours bought and left to you in her will.

Then there are the arts and (as my family refers to them) craps. Many years ago, when my now very dignified and very reverend cousin was about seven, she went to the nursery during one of her evangelist father’s long-winded sermons. When he collected her, he asked her on the way home, “Well (name removed to protect the guilty), what did you do tonight?”

“We did arts and craps,” she chirped.

And so, for my family, it has always been ‘arts and craps.’ True story. I swear it is true. The very reverend cousin would deny it, but what the heck — let’s go for it.

Back to the arts and craps…

I have a very dear friend who has an absolutely wonderful mother-in-law who has one secret and very disgusting vice. She simply cannot pass the arts and craps table for unique and charming gifts, which she really, really does (I’m not kidding) like. To put this into context, this is a woman who has a magnificent collection of art that is worth at least a cool million, if not more. Put a lace doily toilet paper holder in front of her and she is putty! We’re talking Reader’s Digest Santas, tissue paper wreaths, you name it, nothing is too (is uncute a word?) uncute for her to dismiss. Yep, sequined decorated giant fork and spoon, kitty-cat bird feeders, you name it, she’s bought it.

All right already, I will admit I painted a small chest gold and hot glued fake pearls and fake precious jewels on it. I needed a jewelry box. It fits into my completely over the top Egyptian decorated bathroom and that’s it. If it weren’t on the counter in the bathroom it would be in the donation box for the next church bazaar.

Now that I’ve probably insulted everyone, I’ll call it quits. I need to get back to making those cute little sunglasses chains. You know, the ones made out of puka shells and rhinestones!

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About SJ Reidhead