The highways and backroads of this country are lined with a plethora of oddball roadside attractions. When we travel, we love to keep our eye out for weird shit along the way, and even seek some out, by taking along a stack of books which highlight many of these nutty attractions, like The Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame, which we actually visited, and totally loved. Our tour guide, an older fellow with a faraway look in his eyes, had so much trouble staying on topic, I don’t think any of us in the group had any idea what he was talking about. Priceless. One never knows what fun experience one might find at an attraction like that.
Or take, for another example, “JFK’s Twine Ball”, in Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin, where a man named James Frank Kotera began saving string in 1979, and today hosts a roadside attraction where his twine ball sits proudly outside, under a nice gazebo, you know, to protect his precious ball from the elements. Imagine one’s glee upon arriving at such a venue, and the awe one would feel upon gazing at such a thing! JFK’s twine ball, and other shall we say, quirky attractions, are yours for the viewing at a cool website named roadsideamerica.com.
So it probably would come as no surprise that I count myself among the persons who would create such an attraction, and stand proudly by it’s entrance, handing out leaflets and half price coupons to encourage repeat visitors. Find me a dusty little small town on the highway, lemme toss up a quonset hut, fill it with, oh, I dunno, ugly lamps maybe, since I love them so, and set up an espresso machine, build a huge stucco ugly lamp outside, get me a business licence, and wait for the inevitable flood of customers. I’m onto something, right?
In 1998, maybe a year and a few months after Marie and I had met, and fallen madly in love, we were driving the neighborhood one day, and near our house, in the window of a store called, “Fairly Honest Bill’s”, I spied, what I have now come to believe, were the ugliest lamps in the history of man. Right up my alley. Two huge table lamps, shining in the sun, with huge ugly lampshades. I insisted that we go in to look, and Marie agreed. There, on the window shelf, in all their glory, stood the most scary and hideous lamps I had ever laid my eyes on. The body of the each lamp was also huge, maybe 12 inches in diameter, and in the shape of a conquistador, Cortez perhaps, or Ponce de Leon, sporting one a‘those conquistador hats. Later, I found them to be made of plaster, and painted with a faux finish to resemble bronze, very fakey, but totally cool. As my friend Stan would say, “Inside, I was screamin’”. These lamps, folks, were so ugly, that in the days that followed, I couldn’t keep my mind off them. But Marie and I left the store, and drove away, me, with my heart pounding.
A few days later, my Roadside Attraction Mentality got the best of me. When Marie was at work, I drove to Fairly Honest Bill’s, and bought the lamps. I took them home, and much to the pleasure of my step-son Blaine, who was 18 at the time, and just figuring out what a nut his future stepfather was, I removed the table lamps from our living room and installed the Cortez Monsters in their place, and turned them on. We sat back, Blaine and I, and made comments like, “Oh, they are so beautiful”, and “Oh, wait ‘til Marie sees them, she is gonna LOVE them”, and, “are those the most extroadinarily beautiful lamps on the planet, or what? Marie will be so pleased”. The decor, at that moment, in our home, became kind of a cross between “Old Portland Craftsman”, and Hideous Mediterranean”, or as my mother might call it, “Early Halloween”.
When Marie arrived home, her two 13 year old male roommates waited patiently for her to notice. Of course, when she saw them, she just gave us the look and put her head in her hands, which pleased us immensely. It was perfect. Blaine and I giggled over that for months. And every time we would mention it, remarking on the lamps beauty, and how we loved them so, Marie would come through by moaning and saying things like, “Thank God you moved those ridiculous lamps to the basement, Ric, I thought I might have to move,” which of course would make Blaine and I laugh all the harder.
There needs to be an ugly lamp museum in this world. As soon as I clear my schedule a bit, I am sure Marie will quit her job and help me do it. This is exciting. I’m gonna go tell her right now.
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