I was accused of doing just that by a favorite faithful reader after I used “tail” instead of “tale” in my last post, referring to the story of a beloved stuffed mouse. Yeah, it was an eye-roller, although I prefer to think of it as playful. And I didn’t stick in a bright winking emoticon or superfluous quotation marks or irritating asterisks to announce that I was messing around – I trusted you to know that.
Husband doesn’t appreciate it when I mess around, either, but he was more tactful than Retired English Professor; he has more at stake. “You might just have a typo at the end there, Missy – you used tail for tale. Or was that deliberate?” Husband, hoping to get lucky at some point, is always careful not to push his luck.
We all strain after cuteness in our anxious bids for attention (with the possible exception of Retired English Professor). Take my neighbor Betty the Avon Lady, for instance. For starters, she has Betty the Avon Lady emblazoned on both sides of her car.
The holiday season may be over, but Betty has just added another inflatable Santa to her seasonal front-yard display – this one riding a motorcycle (I figure she hit a good after-Christmas sale). Harley Santa is parked right beside a huge inflatable snowman and large inflatable snow globe that in turn contains three more inflatable snowmen (lit from below at night), near an inflatable teddy bear in a Santa hat and an inflatable reindeer wearing a wreath. These figures are all cleverly arranged to direct the eye to the reason for the season, a near-life-size crèche surrounded by moving light-up wire reindeer and another group of three inflatable snowmen. A cast-concrete angel under the birdbath lends a note of solemnity to the scene, and the Star of the East casts color-changing LEDs over the manger (which for the other 10 months of the year stores disreputable lawn equipment).
The crèche in Betty’s yard stands out because it is not inflatable. Too risky, I suppose – a blow-up doll wouldn’t really do for Mary.
Ha! Even an irreverent heretical sacrilegious lapsed-Catholic like me can apparently feel some need for conventional decency. How interesting! I even cringed a little as I wrote that. Too many bathtub Madonnas where I grew up. Too many May Day processionals. Too many Hail Mary penances and prayers for intercession. We girls all aspired to be Mary – she was the ultimate Cinderella (and the only whiff of estrogen in that testosterone-drenched church).
I once hoped rather passionately to find a religious vocation (too many romantic nun novels at a young and impressionable age. Bet you didn’t know that romantic nun novels even existed). I even went to daily mass for a week or so, until I realized that the tired old priest was only going through the early-morning motions and the black-mustached Italian widows down front were just gossiping and waiting for the service to end so they could scuttle outside for a smoke. Even the vile-smelling homeless guy in the back was only there to get warm. I went to God’s house to find Him, but discovered that He’s an absentee landlord.
Worse, the Italian widows pinched my cheeks until I cried. Those old ladies were holy terrors in their high heels and black lace mantillas, wearing too much rouge and bright red lipstick. And did I mention chin whiskers? I would stare in morbid fascination while they pinched me.
Then again, maybe they pinched me because I was staring in morbid fascination at their chin whiskers. Time grants a different perspective on things.
Betty the Avon Lady does not have chin whiskers, although she does favor Obama is the Anti-Christ bumper stickers, which I stare at in the same sort of horror. Her house is on a corner lot. Her side yard features a 10-foot inflatable dog in a Santa hat that moves his head and wags his tail. He’s accompanied by a chorus line of inflatable raccoons, a penguin with an inflatable igloo, an elephant, and Snoopy siting on his trademark doghouse. Santa hats on everyone unify the theme.
When I’m depressed in the dreary dark of winter (and this is a near-constant), I have only to walk past Betty’s house for a cure. Best of all is catching it when the power is off – then, everything crowded into that small yard is slumped in tragic puddles of nylon like the wet Wicked Witch of the West. It looks like mass murder took place. It needs yellow police tape and chalk lines. Betty could offer that tableau in February, a segue into her blow-up pastel bunny rabbits in the spring. Christmas, then a crime scene, then Easter: that’s the Christ story in a nutshell, anyway (and that sentence, my friends, strains after cuteness. At least I’m aware of my sins).
I live in a place – thank Allah and Jehovah and Zeus! — where neither our homeowners’ association nor our father in heaven takes such things seriously. Betty’s yard may be an affront to good taste, but it’s not an affront to God, who after all made her in his own image (i.e., apparently tacky as hell). Her exuberant tribute to the holiday season is not heresy. It’s kitsch. We needn’t stone her. But we might poke a discreet hole or two in a few of those snowmen, come March.