Monday, April 16, 2012

Taste for Tacky

After passing the pink gates and fake deer menagerie of a Bristol home along Route 114 en route to Newport, I began thinking about the profusion of tacky lawns in Rhode Island. With streaks of forsythia and daffodil clusters yellowing the commute, and the pinks and whites and pastels of the blooming and budding spring bushes and trees serving as colorful distraction, Rhody’s endless fascination with lawn animals, mini-lighthouses, glass orbs and leftover holiday decoration can go unnoticed. But operating on the theory that there is nothing in the universe that can’t be Googled, when I got to work I plugged into the Matrix and, wouldn’t you know it, there’s already a blog called Tacky Lawns dedicated to documenting the wonderful world of yard kitsch.

Our purpose and mission is to document the hordes of tacky lawns and lawn ornaments that blight American yards. We seek out everything from the ordinary tacky (pink flamingoes, gnomes on the roam, resin animals of every stripe and shape) to the extraordinary in tackiness.

My search led to a post on the tacky lawns of West Warwick, a photo sequence accompanied by the following note:

As of April 1, 2000 there were 13,186 housing units in West Warwick. As of November 2, 2009, 90% of these housing units featured Tacky Lawns.

Rhode Island, Land of Giant Termites and Six-Foot Mr. Potato Heads, has long loved its kitsch. Somewhere inside most homes you are liable to find one of the following: Pope-on-a-Rope Soap, Smoking Monkey, Yodeling Pickle, Boxing Nun puppet, a Buddy Christ Dashboard Statue or something equally cheap and tawdry that indulges the bad taste impulse in all of us. (Full confession: My thing is plastic lobster. One crustacean lives in the kitchen; the other’s on a bookshelf.)

Like the circles of hell in Dante’s “Inferno,” there are levels to tackiness. At one end you have pink flamingoes and garden gnomes, deserving induction in the first class of the Kitsch Hall of Fame. Somewhere lower you’ll find the Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure, a pajama bottom-wearing, slipper-clad, wild-eyed, sloppy-haired elderly woman crawling in cats. Or Fred Toothpick Holder, a bulbous, vaguely man-shaped figure, stuck mercilessly in dozens of toothpicks, like an acupuncture session gone horribly wrong, available in “Ouch Gray.” Or a Lookin’ Good for Jesus mini-makeup kit, a selection of Tattoos for the Elderly or Instant Irish Accent Mouth Spray, all novelties in the marketplace of ideas that make you go “hmm…”

So where is the tackiest yard in Rhode Island?