Friday, January 30, 2015
Quelle Horreur: The lie that tells the truth
I want you all to know that this is no "found on Tumblr" interior desecration. This was taken, by moi, in my father's living room. My father, was not a man known for his "taste" (if you can call it that) in home decor. And that is the living room in the house of mirth where I lived from Kindergarten in 1968 until third grade until 1971.
But this lamp is what my Stepmonster, Shark, brought to the relationship. Tasteful, just like her.
"Don't you love it? It's art, don't you think?" she asked.
Yes, the woman who told my mother that she was going to redecorate the "kitchen and the bedroom first - because that's where a woman does her best work," moved into the house last touched in 1968 (this picture was taken circa 1995) and redecorated by plunking this thing down in the Living Room.
The picture simple doesn't do it justice. I showed it, back when I took it, to my mother who stared at it and then said "Of all the women through his revolving do he finally found someone who has taste worse than his - but what is it?"
Good question. "It's a lamp, but Frankensteinish."
She then tried to figure out what its creator was trying to accomplish.
"Well, it looks like someone took and ugly sofa lamp, and mated it to a pedestal for an occasional table. But why is the cord coming out of top of the pedestal? And that shade? It's too small and ugly. But there is something so absurd about it, it's funny. Your Aunt Nan would just die for this lamp."
I asked her what style she would call it and she decided on "Belle Watling Rococo Revival."
At one point the lamp stood in front of the living room picture window. Thats how I learned about. I started getting calls from people I knew up in Cleveland, and they usually started with "Have you driven by your father's house lately?" No. Why. "If you do, do it at night."
Finally, one friend described the sight as "A Jewish version of the major award" from A Christmas Story."
This I had to see. My father and I weren't speaking - one of our many not speaking periods, so I took a business meeting and dinner in Cleveland just to see it. The house sat at the top of plain hill, no trees to mask the view, and the curtains were parted. The library of the house - the original man cave where my father's barcalounger sat before the 25" Zenith and where he spent all of his time - was lit up.
But in the living room window on the other side, there it was, lit brightly as to show off its garish curves. It was beyond ugly. But it was something so over the top. As I have written about before, my father and his family members were the Jew's with the faux Louis XVI furniture. And cherubs everywhere. Even our Jewish Guilt was colored with faux gold gilt. So this lamp was something larger than life and so horrible that it went full circle into right into what we call "camp" - the lie that tells the truth. It was so horrible, it was magnificent.
The surface, as I would discover, was in gold and copper metallic paint, and the 250 watt bulb illuminated it, so it glowed. Like Jean Shepherd wrote in Ralphie's voice "we were bathed in the glow of electric sex" when his father turned on the infamous leg lamp, I too felt bathed in the glow from this lamp; bathed in glow of bad taste and Jewish Angst as only our family could do.
On my next visit to see the lamp in the window about a year later, it was gone. I had hoped that someone had accidentally knocked it over and broken it. But it was not to be. Stepmonster, who my mother referred to as the Imperial Concubine, had simply moved it to another location away from the window.
Eventually, when my father was stricken with the first of many attacks that would end his life, I made the effort to overlook his transgressions over me and at me and sucked it up and spent time with him. These visits were taxing. Even though I hated him for what he did to me, and my mother, he was still my father. Though he never drank a day in his life, his liver had cancer and he was dying, all the while the stepmonster was feeding him a diet high in sodium and off plastic plates. It was on one of those visits when I could get in the house and that was when I took this picture.
We all are going to die, sometime. It's what our destiny is from the day we are born. But something that over the top, and that garish deserves to live on. Maybe it's the Baltimore vibe. Maybe its living down the road from Divine's grave and up the road from John Waters, but I want it. I want that lamp.
Because no matter where you go in life, you can never outrun your past. It may not be who you are now, but your past can't be undone because its part of who you were. And that lamp is the perfect symbol of the burlesque that was my life in Shaker Heights at one point. Besides, every house deserves something that represents a joke or is pure "camp" - the lie that tells the truth.