American Flamingos & Road Kill: A Monologue in Six Parts
Pink Flamingo One
(Stand. Perform flamingo arm movement and flamingo head. Sit.)
Pink Flamingo Two
While on the road across America with my Plott hound Truffle, I counted American flamingos. They are an intersection of culture—plastic and pink. The same month I drove into Massachusetts and straight to Emily Dickinson’s home, in fact, was the same month that America stopped producing flamingos. The day after I visited Emily’s light-filled room, I drove straight to Union Products Incorporated: Plastics Manufacturers. The parking lot was empty except for a spot reserved for Mr. Plante. The parking space label was pink with two flamingos on either side of his name.
Pink flamingos were produced in America starting in the Fifties, but they enjoyed a resurgence in popularity when what was out became in again, after it had previously been in and then out. If you study pink flamingos, you know that there is a subtle difference between those that are Made-in-the-U.S.A. and those that are Made-in-China, an important distinction for purveyors of culture.
It all comes down to the cost of plastics, which if you have kids, you should pay attention to because plastics from China have phthalates in them, which could really screw with a baby’s mind, but—did you know?—the European Union doesn’t allow phthalates, so China has a separate line of plastics for Europe, but, then again, I’ve never seen a plastic pink flamingo in Europe. Have you?
I showed up at the Leominster, Massachusetts factory to speak to the owner because I figured he’d want to talk to a girl on the road with her hound dog—that’s me—but all he said, when I walked in the factory door—past the UNITED WE STAND banner on the wall and straight up to the counter with a fish bowl full of severed flamingo beaks—what he said to me, this maker of flamingos, a man who understands plastics, who is of medium-roundness, medium-height, medium-age—he said, “You? I don’t have time to talk to you.”
“But I’ve come all the way from Idaho.”
“You came unannounced. Didn’t you? Did you phone ahead? E-mail me? I’m sure you can understand I’m very busy.” He stood forlorn in the midst of rows of empty desks.
“But I’ve counted pink flamingos all across America,” I said. “Are you really closing the factory?”
“Yes,” he said. He turned. I watched his butt switch from side-to-side as he walked back to his desk. He wore Levis. Are Levis still Made-in-the-U.S.A.?
Road Kill One: Badger
(Play dead badger.)
North Dakota Badger. Killed September 19, 2006. Sighted driving from Carrington, North Dakota to Ada, Minnesota.
Pink Flamingo Three
I felt like the road kill I’d also been counting all the way from Idaho. North Dakota. Minnesota. Wisconsin. Michigan. Indiana. Even Canada has road kill, and those folks aren’t supposed to be as violent as we are. There were a lot of dead squirrels in Massachusetts but far more mash, indistinguishable road kill, in Michigan. Montana has a lot of dead deer, but it also has a food bank program where road killed deer, if discovered soon enough, can be given to a needy family for meat. This is a far better use than letting it rot. A local game warden works as a road kill broker, connecting meat with demand. Now pink flamingos… how do they find a home? I marched myself back into the factory, noticing this time that the wall clock did not have a bird decoration. When the owner saw me again, he rolled his eyes.
I said, “No, wait. Please. I came all this way from Idaho, and I forgot to ask if I could buy a pair.”
His face changed into a business carnival mask. “I only have three pairs left. One pair costs fifteen dollars.”
At this juncture, I personally thought that given that the maker of flamingos was going out of business, given that I had zealously counted the birds through many states, given that I had showed up unannounced—given all this—that he might have GIVEN me one last endangered pair, knowing that I would faithfully guard their lives. Nevertheless, I am not a girl who feels entitled to free handouts—except soap and shampoo in a motel room—so I pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. The maker-of-flamingos pulled out his wallet and gave me a five, although he very carefully put my money in a desk drawer, not in his wallet. He handed me one of the last three remaining pairs of American flamingos.
Road Kill Two: Raccoon
(Play dead raccoon.)
Indiana raccoon. Killed October 1, 2006. Sighted on road in front of the KOA Kampground and Kozy Kabin in Granger, Indiana.
Pink Flamingo Four
When I walked out of the factory building, an elderly man was sitting in his truck, smoking. “You’ve come a long way,” he said. He pointed at my license plate.
“I’m traveling with my dog.” On cue, Truffle rested his head on the top of the open window.
“Good looking animal,” he said.
I held up my box of pink flamingos. “I’ve been counting pink flamingos across America.”
“Oh, it’s heartbreaking,” said the man. He stuck his hand out his window, so we could shake. “I’m Ed Boudreau. In the Sixties, I started as a floor boy. A few of us became owners in ’96, so there would be a continuum. You could see, what do I want to say?” he paused for a moment, “the relief on the workers’ faces.”
“Because you bought the company, and they still had their jobs?” I asked.
“Yes.” Ed cleared his throat. “It’s a cliché, but it was a fun place to work. We often laughed at each other.” He paused. Shook his head. “Well, I retired over five years ago, and we sold the company to Mr. Plante. But earlier, we were losing business. Our customers were closing: K-mart, Sears, Woolworths. You know, Wal-Mart. We had an awful lot of competition from the Orient. Then there was the cost of the raw goods. The powder itself. We were unable to raise our prices. There was a time I saw them in my sleep. I can remember when we were making them night and day.”
“Did you have pink flamingos at home?”
“I have to admit, I did. Well. Even if I was a baker, I’d still eat bread.”
Pink Flamingo Five
(Stand. Perform flamingo arm movement and flamingo head. Sit.)
Pink Flamingo Six
(Put on Made-in-China flamingo puppet, which has been stored out of sight.)
The following meditation has been designed for your relaxation and peace of mind. Sit in a comfortable position. The important point here is not what others think of you but how you feel inside.
Visualize a pink flamingo. If plastic pink flamingos make you angry or sad, feel free to visualize a wild pink flamingo. If you have trouble finding a real plastic pink flamingo to have on hand as a part of your meditation altar, flamingo paraphernalia are readily available for purchase; there are: pink flamingo soy candles, pink flamingo puppets, pink flamingo porcelain items, including a stand to hold a sponge or a side dish to hold your used tea bag. There are pink flamingo earrings, pink flamingo crossing signs and banners, pink flamingo socks, pink flamingo pajamas, and pink flamingo underwear.
Enough about shopping. Back to the meditation directions.
It’s all about lightening up. Lightening the load in your heart, the fuzziness in your brain, the aches in your muscles. It’s not about Made-in-the-U.S.A. or Made-in-China; it’s about Made-in-You.
Once you have made yourself comfortable and visualized the flamingo, still your mind, soften your heart, melt your muscles. This is not an authoritative directive; for example, stop thinking!—lighten up!—relax! This is simply a very gentle suggestion, a reminder, if you will, to still your mind, heart, and body in the way that a plastic pink flamingo is still. Quite still.
Once your restless totality quiets, and the flamingo is center stage, then quietly say, “Pink flamingo one.” If you begin to smile, that is great. (If you don’t, don’t worry about it.)
Take a breath. Say out loud, “Pink flamingo two.”
Again, take a breath. You should feel a little calmer. (If you don’t, don’t worry about it.)
Now say, “Pink flamingo three,” and take another breath. Feel peace descend.
Your job is off-shored; doesn’t matter. You go to college but get a job in retail for eight dollars an hour; doesn’t matter. Your house is foreclosed; doesn’t matter.
“Pink flamingo four.” Worry fades away.
Visualizing a plastic pink flamingo has a way of helping me let go of little irritations and complaints. It helps me focus on the big stuff. Which is what? The purpose of life: breath; presence; kindness; grace.
Once again, breathe deeply. If needed, and it may not be needed, say out loud, “pink flamingo five.”
Continue, and repeat, as needed.
“Pink flamingo six.”
Pink Flamingo Hope: Plastic
(Stand. Perform one more flamingo arm movement with puppet arm extended forward.)