FIVE BUCKS,” said the wiry guy with a scruffy beard and pirate’s bandana knotted about his head. Then he said it again, and again, expression hidden behind wrap-around shades. Then he smiled. “Just kidding.”
I was taking photos of his garden, one I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing, though it’s just around the corner from mine. It—and he—materialized while I was dragging Tallula, the grand-dog, around for her afternoonsies.
There was this bower of blatantly fake yellow and orange flowers arched above a sign inked with a pattern of flip-flops that said “Hello Summer,” hanging on the wrought-iron gate. Beyond it was a good-god-what-is-this pile of . . . stuff.
The perpetrator’s name is Skip, which I learned about 10 minutes after meeting him. He’s a native of Washington DC, 60-something and renting this house from a buddy who’s living in Texas. Then he told me much more—though I didn’t have a notebook with me so some of the details are a bit fuzzy.
Laid up a few years ago with the plague or something (see sentence about not having a notebook with me), he was inspired to renovate the patch of yard in front of the house and asked his friendly landlord, who said, “Sure, whatever you want to do.”
I’m not sure this is exactly the “whatever you want to do” he had in mind.
A towering row of sunflowers marches along behind the front fence, multicolored zinnias pick up where they end. “Miracle-Gro,” he said, unasked. “Twice a year.”
Behind those flowers, more zinnias and cosmos thread about the plot. These are interspersed with plastic tulips, multicolored pinwheels, stuffed pink bunnies in tutus suspended from a tree, plastic leis, a rainbow flag and a plastic pixie village alongside a winding trail of exceptionally unnatural-looking reddish-orange mulch. Among other things.
“I don’t like guns,” he added, nodding toward a “ban assault weapons” sign.
I’m eyeing a short mannequin with pointed breasts, the kind that used to be achieved with one of those bras with circular stitching around the circumference, at a time when conical boobs were desirable—bullet bras, they were called, a style Madonna brought back.*
The dummy is dolled up with a purple net schmata on her head, purple and silver beads around her neck and a purple sequined dress overlaid with purple netting. She’s holding maracas and also wearing sunglasses, as am I, come to think of it.
“Her name’s Conchita,” Skip told me. “I bought her online for 40 bucks.” Which is apparently a big deal in this wonderland of dollar-store purchases.
She came naked, so he clothed her and set her up with two cans of Corona, or maybe it was Dos Equis, for Cinco de Mayo.
“I’m gay,” he told me. “I decorate for all of the holidays.” The evening after he set up Conchita he went out, and when he came home she was gone.
“I called the police,” he said.
“Agggh?” I said, encouragingly.
“They came right away and took a report.”
Oh, to be a fly on a fake flower, I thought.
“I found her the next day, behind a bush, with her head pulled off,” he said, swiveling her head on its stalk of neck, “See? She’s like ‘The Exorcist.’ ”
“How do the neighbors like your yard?” I said, gracefully moving the conversation along while eyeing the adjacent plot, a soothing assortment of ferns and hostas.
“They love it! The kids especially,” he said. “I do something different for every holiday.”
There was some other major feature here before Conchita, but it dissolved, or deflated or something. Whatever.
My memory drifted to an inflatable Santa that once sat on the roof of the porch of the house next to mine. He went up one Christmas and was never taken down, just gradually wheezing air, the head dropping, then a shoulder, then just a great fat belly remained, and then he disappeared.
He might still be there, melted into a plastic puddle, if the house had not been renovated and sold for close to a million and a half last fall. Poof! Another blow to inventive taste.
Thanks be to the Skips of the neighborhood for holding that line.
*Breastward Ho! Would be a great book title, don’t you think?
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” reports in on things botanical (and/or weird) every Thursday.