LOOK AT ME
Do you have a fish on your wall in your living room or office? You know, the one you caught on that trip to Mexico? Do you have a star on the front of your house? Or maybe your thing is Stars and Moons. Do you put lights up on your house during the holidays or a political sign on your lawn during election time?
Why do we decorate anything or adorn our places, spaces or ourselves with the things we do? Sure, sometimes it’s religious or patriotic and other times it’s a taste or preference. Sometimes we just stop caring and junk piles up all around us. Maybe there is a symbol or a sign that we relate to. From a promotional standpoint, we advertise to get people’s attention.
Sometimes we just want to exercise our freedom of speech and freedom to be who we are and how we are to the world. Why would one person wear a particular hat when all others wear none? Why would one person wear two different shoes or turn their shirt inside out on purpose? Why do some people put tattoos of scorpions crawling up their neck especially if it makes others around them uncomfortable?
A very strange weekend led me on a tour of others standing out in their worlds. I grabbed a glimpse of it with my camera and yet much of it needed to be seen to be believed. It all started with an overwhelming number of muffler men waving at me from different stores at different times… located randomly and miles apart from each other.
Ironically, the function of a muffler is to muffle the sound, keep an engine quiet and not bring attention to the car that is pumping exhaust from it. But there is nothing louder than a giant yellow muffler on a bicycle that waves at you as you drive by.
Out in the middle of nowhere existed another world. Twice a year, the Ammerman Family hosts the hugest sale and show you’ve ever seen. Literally in the middle of nowhere, cars lined both sides of this usually untraveled road for a mile in both directions as attendees parked and prepared to tour the event.
Originally the Ammermans simply sold the supplies for others to make cages and pens that enclosed exotic pets and kept them safe. Sometime in the 1960s they started opening their grounds to their customers, the cage and pen makers, to sell their wares to end users, the pet owners.
Word of mouth spread and before too long, folks waited for these events to look for special birds, reptiles, hairless pigs, strange cross breeds of dogs, exotic cats that look like little leopards and every imaginable type of bird. Is not the peacock the ultimate symbol of shake my feathers and come get me?
So in some parts of Florida, while certain businesses put a muffler man out front to attract business, the Ammerman family opened their front yard to the wild and wackiest of pets and pet owners.
When it comes to puppies… yeah, it’s hard to not think puppy mill. But when it comes to birds, it’s hard to see it any other way. Doggies may be one thing, but a bird and its cage is a whole other thing. To a bird, its cage is its home and protection from predators of all types. Tear stained puppies shivering against rusty wire walls is something entirely different.
And the characters that buy and sell these pets are just as unique as multicolored birds. Oddly, I started to see the vendors peering out from their 10′ x 10′ booths with little difference than the birds that peer out of their much smaller cages. Every once in a while you’d see a character with a notable face.
Baby parrots look their cutest served up in hot Tupperware bins. Magnificent Macaws starring intensely from behind bars. Baby bunnies with floppy ears get passed around like precious stuffed animals. It was all pretty adorable and borderline boring. Birds and bunnies… bunnies and birds. “Where are all the exotic animals?” I thought.
And just as adorable and cute couldn’t get any cuter… an adorable little girl appeared showing off her smile and her love for her little bird. They cuddled and nuzzled and I caught their cute picture.
“Look at my bird”… “Look at my bunny”… who are these people who make their lives about birds and bunnies? Both species contained by cages dependent on their owners for pretty much everything. I wondered if the being needed by the helpless animals satisfied a desire. I wondered if controlling the animals in cages was their way of controlling something in a world that has delivered unwanted attention, unwanted illness and unwanted chaos.
The omnipotent ability to control something while harvesting the good feeling of being needed. “Not such a bad outcome” I thought, for a life that has taken too many wrongful twists and turns. And not to get too deep here but there must be something also about being the one who opens the cage to let the birds and bunnies out to play; being the one who sets them free.
Maybe it’s something about being the liberator in a life where one feels imprisoned. Maybe it’s none of that. Maybe its just overly gentle people finding an affinity for fragile flyers and huggable hares.
Also…these birds and bunnies come in such exotic variations of feathers and fur. It must bring out the like minds in some humans who wish to accessorize with debonaire hats, rose-colored shades, little looped earrings and a beard that needs brushing.
Life is a funny thing. This whole darkest before the dawn thing or the whole pride before the fall thing. Here I am shooting this lovely lady being nibbled on by her bird, thinking, “well this is all very sweet but where are all the exotic animals promised to me by the sign?!”
And just as I said that I saw something very strange in the distance. Was it three ladies stuck together? Was it a chubby lady with large gulp cups attached to her hip? Or did that lady just come out with curlers in her hair or some weird barrette? I had to get a closer look to see…
As I got closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Maybe because it was something I’d never seen before. It started to look like an odd braid in this woman’s hair, then some strange hair accessory, then it felt a bit like I was in a Spielberg Movie, like Gremlins or something? Then I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming as I zoomed in on this lady’s head.
There were these things crawling all over her hair… and they were wearing tiny diapers! I had a tough time getting a good look so I moved around to get a better shot and the whole time this lady was touching them and acting like she didn’t even see the crowd that was gathering around her staring at her hair.
Suddenly I saw three tiny faces. Each a little different with a different kind of hair-do themselves. Each with a tiny different colored and patterned diaper the size of a band-aid. One had a tiny mohawk, the other sprigs of hair shooting out of its ears and the third all smooth and brushed back.
It’s so fascinating the moment we see something for the first time that our brain doesn’t have a place for. We stare and try to make it fit into what we know. If I wasn’t so busy taking pictures I would have Googled “miniature monkeys” right there on the spot and would have learned about Finger Monkeys.
I probably would have then gone up to the lady and asked her, “excuse me, but what’s the deal with those monkeys crawling all over your head?” You know in a similar way, sometimes women expose their breasts and cleavage also to the point of distraction and I feel like going up to them too and saying, “excuse me but do you know your breasts are pouring out?”
Perhaps this too is some form of control over others through provocative display.
Anyway, after staring some more, I went on my merry way. I continued to think about what people do to get and avoid attention. I thought some more about all the ways we promote what we are all about to everyone else. As if the sight of the symbol brings them into our world to talk about our special thing we are sharing.
Just then the sun broke through the trees and shined on another loud attention-getting bird eating a carrot like bugs bunny.
Deep in the woods, hidden behind one of the many bird booths were two Rednecks gabbing. Now I have a special fondness for those Americans who are the core of this country, having once been adopted by a whole village of them and kindly lived, drank lots of beer and partied among them for about a year; but that’s a whole other wonderful story.
Anyway, I imagined that the one was showing the other a whole new set of Redneck APPs that he downloaded. “Hey Frankie, check out my beer price locator, this thing tells me who has the cheapest price on 20 packs in a five-mile radius! And this APP here reminds me when it’s time to cut the lawn and this APP here calls me a cab when I’m just too drunk to drive home!”
Well, it was finally time to leave the exotic animal show. I had had my fill of wandering, fluttering feathers and mini monkeys. I walked to the car and escaped the parade of parrot watchers and breeder buyers and headed back out that country road in the middle of nowhere.
Once I finally reached civilization again, I was greeted by yet another muffler man. When I stopped to take his picture, I noticed another weird sign in the back ground…
The sign said, “Pistols & Panties” … “Archery Items 10% off. CWP Night Class”…
I fairly quickly got that CWP was Concealed Weapon Permit… but started to picture in my mind how a woman would fit a pistol in her panties? That couldn’t possibly be what they were advertising was it? All I know was that I had to stop and take a picture. All around me seemed to be provocative devices shouting out at me, “Look At Me”!!
I was starved from staring, driving and trying to figure it all out. I stopped at a hidden barbecue place for some low-key pulled pork and a little quenching quiet and smoked subtle. As I munched on the delicious brown shreds of sweetness, making no association to the animal it was before it took the form that was on my fork, when I looked up only to be shocked by the sign on the wall in front of me.
On the way home I was delighted to finally come to an ordinary neighborhood where there stood one ticky tacky house after another. Relieved from the rash of outstanding promotion I came to a red light and sighed…thinking I was almost home to my stark abode with nothing on the walls.
That’s when I turned my head to the right and got a glimpse of this house and front yard dedicated to the first person shooter game known as Call of Duty. That’s what I thought anyway. I couldn’t possibly imagine that anyone would adorn their house like it was christmas, with a gas mask wearing soldier mannequin in the front yard, a make-believe village up against the house next to the air conditioner… or a picture of an Iraq Woman in the window.
I suppose it could have been left over from a garage sale but if they didn’t want to attract attention to themselves perhaps they wouldn’t have recreated their little war scene in their front yard.
I wondered if we all feel so much like each other, that we are in a constant mode of standing out, defining our own little niches and trying to get noticed from the crowd. I wondered if everyone realized that if everyone was trying to standout from the crowd that just makes them more like each other.
Like a whole room full of people wearing the exact same sign that says, “Look At Me, I’m Different”. For a moment, I thought I was free of this behavior till I realized that perhaps this blog I write is my humble attempt at getting my fair share of attention.
Maybe the difference is when someone shows us something we are glad they shared vs. being forced to view something we have no interest in. I don’t know… how do you see it?