I had lawn-ornament envy. I know it's the wrong season to be thinking about putting out birdbaths and little jockey boys, but I had recently driven by a place in New Portland with a huge, art deco, concrete turtle in the front yard. It was just what I needed, impervious to the weather, to the neighbors, to good taste. But it weighed 1,500 pounds, which also made it impervious to any larcenous tendencies.
And then there was the life-size statue, gracing a garden in Sydney, of a girl releasing a dove.Impressive, although not really my style. I wonder if they make one with a girl releasing a vulture?
I just wanted something in front of my house besides that awful birdfeeder my wife put up. It looks like a sunflower. Needless to say, it doesn't attract my kind of birds. Although, maybe if I filled it with carrion. . . .
Lawn ornaments are, according to Wikipedia, "often used by others as a gauge of social respectability." So, what does that ridiculous sunflower say about my respectability? It says I'm a dweeb, that's what. To cure that, I need a counteracting ornament.
I didn't want little ceramic bunnies or cheerful gnomes or roadrunners with propellers for feet. And I'm not inclined toward painting old tires and half burying them in the ground beside my driveway. Even though I found a Web site that called plastic flamingos "deformed mutant bottom-feeding birds," I don't consider them edgy enough. And I don't think the town would let me leave an old washing machine and some rusty auto parts in the front yard just because I claimed they were folk art.
So one fine Saturday morning when I should have been making productive use of my time, possibly by feeding the vultures, my wife and I jumped in our car (okay, I jumped, she climbed in somewhat reluctantly) and headed down Route 17 out of Augusta to Coopers Mills. In short order, we pulled into the parking lot in front of Elmer's Barn.
For thirty years, Elmer Wilson has been selling locals and tourists antiques, art, old tools, musty books, wooden boxes, unclassifiable junk, and all manner of clutter. You need a stuffed skunk? No problem, Elmer has one. Parts to repair your space shuttle? They're probably up on the third floor in the room between the one full of Avon bottles and the one with about a thousand old soda crates.
Is there anything he doesn't have? "Yes," Wilson said. "Money and space."
Elmer does have plenty of lawn ornaments. His front yard is full of rusty metal silhouettes of jesters, guys dancing with their shadows, hobgoblins, skeletons, southwestern Paleolithic rock-art creatures, dogs, spiders, and scarecrows, all created with obvious skill and artistic vision by a mysterious craftsman. Elmer once told a visitor the sculptures were the work of an old man he kept leashed out back. "Every now and then," he said, "I throw him a biscuit."
The truth about the ornaments' origins is almost that strange.
About fifteen years ago, a leftover hippie wandered into Elmer's, looking for some tool he needed for his off-the-grid homestead in Fayette. The two got to talking, and Elmer discovered the hippie was a skilled metal worker.
"He took me out back," said the hippie (who asked that his name not be used because "it makes it more mysterious") "and there he had everything I needed — materials, plans, designs — all worked out. I started with Victorian designs, shadow-box stuff, but he gave me free rein. He said, 'Do what inspires you.' "
"Do you have any sunflowers?" my wife asks.
By now, I'm piling stuff in the back of the car. A four-foot-tall skeleton. An Airedale. A couple of Paleolithic beasties, one of which looks like a mutant embryo and the other like the same embryo after it's been born and refused all nourishment. I'll stick them in the ground next to my back porch and call the installation "The Food Here Sucks — I'm Going Back to the Womb."
But I can't help wondering who besides me would display this stuff.
"People buy it who want something unusual and semi-permanent," said the mysterious hippie. "It'll still be there seventy years from now. And they want something the neighbors don't have."
"To hell with pink flamingos."
I couldn't agree more. Now, if he just had some vultures.