Flamingos inspire me like no garden gnome ever will

Plastic yard flamingos, which so enrapture TNT columnist Stuart Grover of Tacoma, are a rich local tradition. These members of Calvary Presbyterian Church in Enumclaw once “flocked” yards as a fundraiser for a mission trip to South Africa.
Plastic yard flamingos, which so enrapture TNT columnist Stuart Grover of Tacoma, are a rich local tradition. These members of Calvary Presbyterian Church in Enumclaw once “flocked” yards as a fundraiser for a mission trip to South Africa. News Tribune file photo, 2010

With oversize feet, never-ending hunger and large noses, flamingos serve as my avatar.

They eat noisily and voraciously, sticking their head upside down into shallow water. They use their tongues to strain the plankton they stir up tromping in the muck that lines their native waters.

Five continents harbor them, excepting only Australia and Antarctica. Ranging from pale to bright pink, they obtain their color from shrimp. Emerging gray from the egg, the chicks pinken only as they slurp up tiny crustaceans.

In person, flamingos amuse me for their intrinsic ludicrousness and their improbable habit of standing on one foot in large flocks.

Their highest and best use, however, remains as a model for carefully molded and modeled lawn ornaments. Pink plastic flamingos decorate lawns everywhere. They evoke embarrassed giggles, pity for the owners of the houses where they roost and amazement that they persist even in the most exclusive communities.

They epitomize tackiness and terrible taste.

I love them. I have coveted my own flamboyance of flamingos for the past 20 years.

Don Featherstone, a Connecticut craftsman at Union Products, holds responsibility for my fixation, creating the first exemplars in 1957. John Waters cemented the place of these insults to American culture with his 1972 film “Pink Flamingos.”

The cult movie classic forever established the connection between these avian magnificences and regrettable ornamentation decisions. In a clear case of cultural appropriation, people who should know better have substituted the birds for garden gnomes, lawn jockeys and miniature deer.

Late August marked my 72nd birthday, a milestone without special distinction. My true love, Pamela, decided that it could serve as the moment to reward my long-thwarted desires.

Through the magic of Amazon, she discovered a source for faithful replicas of the original design and gifted me with a pair of flamingos. My joy at her generosity overwhelmed me.

I immediately placed her gift in a garden I’d created in our now defunct swimming pool, where they joined plants thriving under a regimen of benign neglect. Like the succulents, drought-tolerant shrubs and deep-rooted grasses, the flamingos needed almost no care and offered year-round bright color.

My adoptees filled me with pleasure and joy as they sparkled in early morning light and shone garishly under the setting sun. They remained visible in moon glow and contrasted perfectly with the white hydrangeas and subtle heathers that surrounded them.

For a week, although they should have fulfilled a man’s fondest fantasies, the new acquisitions didn’t fully satisfy my flamingo lust. They screamed for company. Under their compelling spell, they drove me to a garden store that offered additional examples to complement my initial duo.

I purchased two more, slightly smaller and more orange than pink. I hurried home and completed a tableau of birds that evinced pride and wretched taste. My life partner shuddered when she saw what she’d fomented.

She petitioned me to cease my collecting, but I refused to pledge that four would suffice forever. As visitors laughed and expressed astonishment with my fixation, my desire to find more flamingos only grew.

For the moment, in deference to Pamela’s good judgment, the quartet stands in unaugmented, regal splendor. They prompt the desire to purchase more, to populate their realm with members of their species.

How else can I enjoy silent brilliance that perfectly despoils an otherwise calm and dignified space? In the spring, carmine azaleas will bloom, providing the perfect clash of colors with bright pink birds. By then another brace of birds will accent the ensemble and my happiness will be complete.

One caveat remains. The Tacoma Garden Club invited my mate to join as a provisional member and at some point its members will descend on our house to see the gardens we’ve cultivated. She’s informed me that when they come, she will activate the flamingos’ migration.

She refuses to flush more than six, forever limiting my menagerie. Perhaps.

Stuart Grover was a News Tribune reader columnist in 2016. In retirement, he cultivates fuchsia, salvia and strange fixations. He lives in Tacoma and can be reached at sgrover@harbornet.com.