A pink flamingo is a three-dimensional plastic figure of the flamingo bird, most often with metal sticks for legs, often seen in people's yards. They originated in 1952 as a flat yard decoration by Union Products; four years later, the company hired Don Featherstone to make three-dimensional versions of their flat decorations. The type he made first was made of foam plastic and proved too easily chewable for dogs and other animals, so a hard plastic version debuted in 1957. He modeled their poses -- a pair with one bird's head raised and the other lowered as if feeding -- on photos in National Geographic magazine. The birds became extremely popular yard ornaments, and Union Products manufactured three-quarters of those sold before 2006 when Union Products closed. (That brand had Don Featherstone's signature under their tails after 1986, and has a yellowish beak with a black tip.) In 2007, HMC International LLC bought the rights and the molds to continue manufacturing Union Products' flamingo.

In the 1970s, an attempt was made to give the birds more realistic yellow legs, but these hardly sold at all; the metal stick legs were brought back and even retained in a white version of the ornaments known as the "snowmingo."

The birds have gone up and down in popularity at different times, but they have a sort of kitschy cool now after more than 50 years, leading to all kinds of variations -- different not-found-in-nature colors and patterns (including a blue flamingo intended specifically for neighborhoods that had prohibited having pink flamingos on the lawn), holiday flamingo statues, lighted versions of the bird, and other flamingo products; even businesses such as "The Original Flamingo Surprise" and "Flamingos by the Yard," which specialize in surprising people by filling their yards with the statues. Don Featherstone wrote a tongue-in-cheek 1999 coffee-table book about his creation called Pink Flamingos: Splendor on the Grass; he had become the president of Union Products by that time, but retired the next year. The band Love and Rockets have a song called "Pink Flamingo" and Rebecca Lynn Howard has one called "Pink Flamingo Kind of Love."

Pink Flamingoes is also the title of a really freaky 1972 John Waters movie about two families competing for the title of "the filthiest people alive," featuring sexual acts with chickens and Divine eating dog shit. Presumably the movie uses the title to imply the tackiness some people associate with the lawn birds.


In many ways, Pink Flamingos is like a polished version of Mondo Trasho, an earlier John Waters movie. In both, the soundtrack is very important, and there are lots of scenes of a trampy blonde walking around Baltimore while some 60s R&B song you've never heard of plays in the background.

The characters in Pink Flamingos are Divine's extended family and her rivals, the Marbles, as well as the Egg Man, the Marbles' butler Channing, and a spy named Cookie. Divine lives in a trailer with her mother, Mama Edie, her son Crackers, and her 'travelling companion,' Miss Cotton. Mama Edie lives in a playpen and is obsessed with eggs (and, consequently, with the Egg Man). Crackers spends his mental energies thinking of strange sex shows he can put on for Cotton (that's where the chickens come in..) who is herself a voyeur, but it's not really clear what else. The Marbles are a couple trying to steal Divine's title - 'The Filthiest Person Alive.' They run a baby ring, sell heroin to school kids, dye their hair unnatural colors, and suck each others' toes.

Everyone who's heard of this movie is likely already aware of the ending (mentioned above). But there are many less shocking but equally credible scenes in the movie. There's incest, hermaphrodites, Divine 'warming up' the night's dinner by sticking it between her legs, cannibalism, murder, Divine peeing on someone's lawn, Divine giving her son (for purposes of the film) a blowjob, Channing jerking off into his hand, putting the results in an eyedropper, and squeezing it into some poor woman in order to impregnate her, sex with chickens (which the cast later ate).. You get the point.

But personally, as shocking as this film was, I have to say what I found most shocking about it was that I was able to rent it - uncut - from Mormon-owned Hollywood Video. Wow.
We shared a summer's worth of life in the woods that weekend. He was gay, but I leaned against him that night in the yurt as others drank of my body. He caressed my hair, my face, spoke my mumbled words out loud to the others. He became my guardian. We showered together. I even found myself surrounded by flamers in a cozy hot tub. But I felt more comfortable with them that weekend than I did my girly friend that I had made the journey with. Perhaps I should have listened to those vibes then and saved myself the angst I feel towards her now. I regress..

We were drawn to each other because of our voices. The night of my arrival in Tennessee, we sat across from each other within the crowd. Drums were played, and I was inspired to chant, though I'm quite shy about my singing voice being that it's underdeveloped. He became enamored with it, encouraging me, singing along, inspiring me. That night, I was dubbed Ambrosia by one of his kinsmen...I left that part of me in Tennessee.

The tent next to me was giving away their pair of pink flamingos, and I gave one to him. He gave me a mardi gras necklace that my flamingo now wears as a choker. Ambrosia now stands in his garden in Georgia while Russell has become an apartment broken pet. He indeed seems to enjoy the company of my stuffed animals...perhaps I'll bring him out to a party one of these days. I've used Russell as my symbolic God in a ritual. That plastic flamingo carries some warm energy with it, perhaps solely because of who it represents.

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