flamingo

Across the desert we walked, the sere heat flushing my face. Perspiration sublimated so that my skin was left with a fine powdery coating of my own salt. We had our eyes on one thing: the oasis, the pools, the cool drinks. Our respite waited in the decreasing distance marked by a flaming O.

Flamingo. Marked by a flamingo. The bird. The pink one. Sheesh.

Well, what do you want? We were in Las Vegas.

Pink flamingos are, as we all (I hope) know, an emblem of mid-20th-century American kitsch: lawn ornaments bespeaking a balmy plastic paradise. Florid like Florida – a blazing blushing colour like that ghastly “white zinfandel” that wine infidels marketed to the brunch set. Emblematic not just of middle America and its TV-dinner cult but of the louche underbelly of the same, the trailer park of Pink Flamingos, an early John Waters film that I would not recommend watching unless you are exceedingly fond of obscene deeds.

Or, you know, pink like shrimp. You are what you eat, and flamingos eat pink things. Those that don’t eat enough carotenoid-containing crustaceans and algae turn out pale. (This is a nota bene to my sea-insect-avoiding wife: if you wish to be in the pink of health…)

Did you think such obvious food-plumage linkage didn’t have a leg to stand on? It does. One leg. Flamingos are well known for standing on one spindly leg at a time, the other one retracted like landing gear. This is proof that they eat a balanced diet, for they could hardly be so balanced otherwise, no?

They probably stand on one leg for the same reason that people shift from foot to foot: to give one leg a rest. Mind you, they’re not standing on hard floors. They mostly hang out in water with muddy bottoms, and they scoop their pink food from the muddy water and filter it with their upside-down-smile beaks. Again, just like people: we are all standing in the mud, but some of us… are eating from the mud too, and grimacing while doing it. Never mind.

But a flamingo is not a big flaming zero in life. It’s in the pink. And it’s flaming, o, it’s flaming! That’s what the name comes from, after all: Portuguese flamengo, Spanish flamenco, and so on, all meaning ‘flaming’. Bright, blazing pink. Burning like a flamenco dancer.

Or a neon sign across the desert. Or the hot desert wind, and the neon signs beckoning to the pool…

IMG_2977 IMG_2994Me with my weight on one leg, standing in the water, having eaten plenty of shrimp, at the Flamingo.

Addendum: See comments below – it turns out the designer of the plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament died the very day the above photos were taken.

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