Until the late eighties, my parents’ house resembled the inside of a pirate ship. The going theme was rust, rope and wood. My father made everything from scratch. And if he didn’t make it, it came from his place of work- O’Reilly Construction. Cable spool tables, oil drum chairs, steel girder benches. My parents were very proud of how they decorated. I was just baffled. Why does Alan Levine’s family own chairs with legs? Why is Todd Cohen’s table square without a hole in the middle? Where are the splinters? Where’s the rust? Why are we the only family with whittled doorknobs?
When I was a kid nobody wanted to visit me. They found my house terrifying. There was the family den with a hundred witch dolls on broomsticks hanging from the ceiling. There was my mother’s doll collection right out of “The Shining”. And then there was my sister’s bedroom door with bars on it like a prison cell. My father carved them out of two-by-fours. Some other highlights were the hand-painted hot dog and hamburger wallpaper, the barbecue pit made out of Belgium blocks, the Steinway player piano that was in mint condition until my mother beat it with a chain and stained it shit brown to “antique” it, the truck tire that hung from my sister’s bedroom ceiling, the half dozen cuckoo clocks that were never in sync, the quilt portrait of me and my sister where we look like Bobby and Cindy Brady..and the spider plant jungle that made entering our house necessary to carry a sickle. No wonder I had no friends until college. Everybody must have thought I was the child of a serial killer.
And then in the summer of 1990, my mother’s cousin Edie and her bipolar girlfriend Anne visited us from New Mexico. With them came decoration ideas from the Southwest and a very different kind of crazy. The first thing they did was break out the oil paints and doodle all over our house like stoned teenagers. Literally squeezing paint out of the tubes and painting with their mouths, tongues and fingers. They painted walls, windowpanes, ceiling vents, toilet seats, dresser drawer knockers, whatever they could get their hands on. No longer was the inside of our house a pirate ship. It was now the art room of a psych ward. And you’d think my parents would be angry. But no. They LOVED it. For them it was the Renaissance. Here was a whole new way to make their house incredibly ugly. Shortly after my parents kicked Edie and Anne out for crashing their car, destroying the kitchen, calling my sister a retard, and forging checks, they made a pilgrimage to Santa Fe where not only did they come to love colors other than brown, they discovered “Indian Art”. And when they returned from their hero’s journey, they made it their mission to turn their house into a Native American shrine.
Twenty years later, there isn’t a single inch of wall space that isn’t dedicated to Indian art. With the help of Benjamin Moore, my parents have also transformed every lingering smidgen of brown into the palette of New Mexico. Our Steinway piano is now azul blue with day glow pink trim. My father’s projects now consist of items like the Eagle head toilet roll dispenser, buffalo skin lamps, tee pee garbage pails, a bow-and-arrow themed medicine cabinet and a coffee table with a built-in peace pipe. My parents have recently cleaned out Amazon’s Native American merchandise division. Kachina dolls swarm the guest room. Indian head dresses run amok. Spiritual tchotchkes line the stairwell. Dream catchers overfloweth. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start dressing their dog as Tonto.
If you’re a Native American, you might want to make my parents’ home your final place of rest.