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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Friday, July 28, 2023

I can’t get flamingos out of my head. I had a fleeting thought of them as plastic lawn ornaments, maybe because it’s summer and they have that tiki vibe going on. And I had an even more fleeting thought of writing about them because they’re pretty cool, but the idea seemed almost as tacky as the lawn ornaments.

Still, they are fluttering around in there and if there is one thing my brain is, it’s persistent. So I have to do this or they will just keep on flocking until there is no room for anything else.

By the way, do you know what a flock of flamingos is called?

We’ve already established that I love birds, and have a soft spot for pigeons in particular. But when it comes to sheer flamboyance you can’t beat a pink flamingo.

Think about it. That exists. They are like the giraffes of the bird world, impossible things that don’t even seem like they should be able to walk, let alone fly.

Here’s a thing I learned about them when I looked them up because my brain insisted on it: they eat by dunking their heads upside down in the water and using their beaks to scoop dinner out. You probably already know they’re pink because of how they metabolize the pigments from the food they eat. Babies, however, are born like puffy little snowballs.

There are a few good rules to live by when it comes to flamingos.

DO: visit them in the zoo.

DON’T: wear shirts covered in them.

DO: stick them into your cocktails.

DON’T: put them on your lawn.

Unless you’re a swinger. I’m not even kidding. Apparently, staking your yard with a pink flamingo is a super secret sign that you’re up for a good time. Also apparently, upside down pineapples mean the same thing.

These are things you never knew and can’t unknow.

So why are they lawn ornaments? Maybe their long legs make them the perfect spikes for securing them to the ground. But also capitalism.

Like a butterfly flapping its wings and changing the course of history, a guy from Massachusetts got a job at a plastic company in 1957 making lawn animal decorations. He made a duck, followed by a flamingo, followed by approximately 600 more lawn ornament designs that included elephants, swans and Santa Clauses.

The flamingo stuck.

I guess for ostentatiousness you can’t beat it. Bright pink, stilts for legs. You could buy them at Sears for $2.76 for a box of two to “beautify your landscape.”

You can debate whether they are hopelessly tacky or exquisitely kitschy but you can’t deny that they’re attention-grabbing.

The original plastic flamingo came with the last name of its creator etched on each one – Featherstone. That’s how you knew you were getting high art and not a gaudy imitation.

And like his creation, Don Featherstone was all curiosity and flamboyance. He and his wife wore matching outfits for 35 years. Don’t believe me? I dare you to check this out.

They also kept a flock of 57 flamingos on their own lawn, to commemorate the year this infamous bird was born.

Have you figured out what a flock of flamingos is called yet?

Like most things in life, lawn flamingos were all the rage, then they were reviled, then they reached a sort of cult status.

They started as every suburban homeowner’s endless summer dream, became uncivilized when plastic lost its status as Coolest Thing Ever Invented, were commandeered by the counter culture of the 70s as the embodiment of everything anti-establishment, turned into droll hipster humor, appended to artwork, banned from homeowner’s associations, and were eventually adopted as the official bird of Madison, Wisconsin after university students pranked the dean by putting 1008 of them on the office lawn.

I have to admit to finding them rather tacky, until I read their story and couldn’t help but be charmed.

As for the real thing, well they’re just spectacular. All spindles and fluff, glorious color and graceful movement. Flamingos are at the top of my must-see list when we go to the zoo, right up there with giraffes and tigers.

Did you know their knees don’t bend backwards? You’d be forgiven for thinking so, but that’s actually their ankles.

And by now you should know what a flock of them is called. I’ve left a few hints.

I’ll give you a minute.

In the meantime, watch this. It’s gorgeous.

And the answer, in case you missed it is… a flamboyance.

You’re welcome.

Photo: some flamingos hanging out at the Nashville Zoo.