"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Pink Flamingos And Other Lawn Furniture In The Time Of Corona - Enough Is Enough

It is now week 4 or 7, more or less depending on how you’re counting, or when you went Chicken Little.  Everyone is coping as best they can, some better than others.  Those families with teenagers whom they thought were out of sight out of mind but were now back, sequestered, and sheltering in place under the family roof  now understand the wisdom of sending them off to Choate, Loomis, and St. Grottlesex and let them deal with their offspring’s adolescent years. 

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One would have thought that the seriousness of Corona and its enforced shelter-in-place rules would have assured respect for the old rules of propriety, respect, and consideration - that selfishness, resentment, and hostility  would be at least be temporarily suspended; but that would be to underestimate the depth of adolescent ignorance and spite – the bitter, dismissive, angry fuck you-ness of these children who, thanks to money, high-quality childcare, top schools, and parental attention and love were not supposed to turn out like this.

So families up and down Brandywine Street, all of the same generational cohort, all of whom had children of the same age, having moved up from starter rentals in Gaithersburg or Dupont Circle to have them, now were trapped with them 24/7.  The music that banged on through the night was loud, aggressive, and painful.  The pissing matches between siblings were nasty and rude.  Food was shoveled in, eaten like pigs snorting and groveling from a trough.  “Got a problem with that?”, they said, challenging parents at their own wits’ end, desperate for this virus thing to end, knowing that they for once had the upper hand.

Old couples who had long ago learned to keep their distance to save whatever modicum of reasonableness remained in a long and boring marriage – tea parties, the gym, poker night, hanging out at the bar, bridal showers and volunteerism – found themselves tooth-by-jowl for the first time in years.  It wasn’t so much that the warts were so visible – aging was a very ugly and unpleasant process – but that marital sharing had become chafing, an irritant to what was supposed to be an easy elision down the tracks to the end of the line.  What was he doing watching a movie in the afternoon?  What was she doing hocking so loudly, long, and endlessly about nothing with her sister?

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Those in the middle – young to middling age loving couples ‘working at home’ with young children managed the best.  Love was comforting and helpful; and from their perspective would certainly carry them through this difficult time.  Their children were too young to be pests and it took little to satisfy them.  They took well to being home with Mommy and Daddy, and although they miss their buddies at school, they knew that this suspended moment was special.

But even these young couples began to lose their equanimity and sanguine patience after a month of confinement.  As the weather turned warmer, the petty disputes went outside.  The nasty little fights, usually well contained indoors, spilled out to public view. It was far too early for marriages to have cracks, but all but the most stoic of them, began to fragment in public view.

The neighbors on Brandywine Street tried to ignore the spats between the MacPhersons but after they turned nasty and recriminatory, they tuned in just as their parents had to As The World Turns.  Family feuds now that Spring had come and windows and doors were open, were a welcome relief from the misery of Corona uncertainty and isolation.  In fact, they were the only show in town, the only anodyne to shut-in, responsible social distancing.  One could sit on the front porch on Brandywine Street and watch the latest installment of ‘The MacPhersons’.  Of course it was busybody nosiness, but since everyone was doing it, intrusion and invasion of privacy became only relative terms.  Whatever soap operatic nonsense was being played out at 4936, just as much was on screen at 4940 and 4935.

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he Millers who had a house with a big, old-fashioned front porch across the street from the MacPhersons had front row seats; and like clockwork at 3 they could watch them unravel – unmasked hostility, anger, and spite.  Would they reconcile? Would tomorrow be a better day? 
There was no holier-than-thou sentiment or guilty pleasure  watching these episodes.  The Millers were in fact bursting at the seams with long-suppressed resentments which began to surface under the added pressure of Corona – her niggling, nitpicking budget obsessions; his transparently-denied girlfriends; their politics, their disgusts. The MacPhersons, had they they interest, the time, and the inclination, could have easily listened in on the Millers’ melodrama.

And so it was on Brandywine Street, a neighborhood ironically similar to Thornton Wilder’s Grover’s Corners – a placid, law-abiding, God-fearing place on the surface, but a troubled, doubting one below.  It took death for those departed from Grover’s Corners to realize the inept ignorance of the lives they led on earth; but the neighbors of Brandywine Street were slower on the draw.  The nasty bits had nothing to do with their lives and were only provoked by the constraints of the virus.

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First there were the pink flamingos tightly gathered and grouped on the MacPhersons’ front lawn.  Then there were the carefully 6’-spaced flamingos at the Overtons, and finally the gaggle of birds all over the Pinkles’ lawn. Followed by grotto Madonnas, plaster-of-Paris deer, and plastic arbors of finches.

Pink flamingos have a number of American iconic meanings.  They were the lawn ornaments of Down Neck New Jersey Italians – kitschy additions to the cheap, aluminum-siding, pre-fab homes of the Garaffas, Petruccis, and DeLoretos of Newark. ‘Bowling played here’, ‘Bud drunk here’, one week summer vacation ‘Down the Shore’ taken here.  They by extension, were the campy, retro, counter-culture of John Waters and Divine. So what were they doing on good, Protestant, middle-class and middle-American lawns?

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None of the families who placed pink flamingos on their lawn in the time of Corona had any idea of their campy origins; but there must have been something in the plastic, overly-pink versions of the real birds which suggests ‘I’ve had it’.   Pink flamingos are the ridiculousness of hunkering down in place; scrubbing the skin off over-washed hands; extreme social distancing; and downright forgetfulness about the meaning of life and death .

The rest of the neighbors on Brandywine Street thought the pink flamingos cute, a nice diversion in the time of Corona, and ordered plastic deer, gnomes, and palm trees from Amazon; but there is no fooling with icons.  Bambi, the Seven Dwarfs, and tropical palms miss the point entirely.

Those who planted pink flamingos know something.  There is an image of Van Gogh which has gone viral.  He is shown with a Coronal mask pulled off , and the caption is ‘Fuck’.  We have had enough. We have been told too often and too much to stay at home, shelter in place, and to be good, orderly, God-fearing Americans. Van Gogh and pink flamingos say fuck you to all that.

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