Bedtime Horrors | People & Places | Smithsonian
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Bedtime Horrors

Bedtime Horrors

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Those do-it-yourself decorating experts on TV ought to be forced to see the world through a boy’s eyes. The other day, while watching Martha Stewart, I was reminded of a horrifying project Mom and Dad undertook in 1957. It still gives me the willies. To my parents, there was one sure sign that a family had climbed up into the middle class: its stuff was embellished with flecks. We had three sofas, each of which featured shiny threads that looked like flecks. Our yellowish carpet had so many flecks in it that it was nearly impossible to tell where the base tone ended and the markings began. Mom referred to this rug as being "yellow on yellow, with a little yellow." That was her artsy joke.

A dark end table sported a huge light-brown fleck that oozed and dribbled out in a kind of sickly sunburst design. On this table, and in various other places throughout the room, sat Mom’s snake plants, flecked by Nature herself. The kitchen linoleum had flecks, as did the Bakelite countertop. Even my corduroys and sweaters had flecks: stipples and dabs of off-color wool, as if the sheep responsible had had a rash. I hated flecks. They were itchy.

We had not yet, however, reached the pinnacle of fleckdom. One day when I was about 8 years old, Mom announced: "Guess what? We’re gonna spray-paint the furniture in your bedroom."

I had to speak up. "If it’s pink, I’m moving." Mom said: "Let me know if you need help packing."

The name of the base hue was Caucasian Flesh. For days, Mom and Dad, surrounded by a sea of New York Posts, daubed away with their brushes, undercoating everything. When they were done, the furniture looked alive, like something hauled straight out of a bad sci-fi movie: The Invasion of the Bedroom Set.

Our collection of nonmatching items told the history of bad taste in furnishings. But none of the pieces escaped my parents’ Urban Uglification project. A sturdy mahogany dresser became an immense living blob, a scary creature with brass handles for eyes. A small chestnut dresser with Art Deco bookcase wings turned into an organic flying hulk. An enormous mirror frame was transmogrified into a pair of monstrous lips around a reflective, gaping mouth. My ratty old toy box was animated into a rectangular troll that had eaten all of my favorite possessions. Two delicate night tables that would not have looked out of place in the sewing room of a 17th-century French castle suddenly seemed to be manufactured out of cotton candy.

"Yuck!" I screamed. "The whole room is pink. How can I bring my friends in here? They’ll think I’m a girl."

"Believe me, when we’re done, your friends will be jealous," Dad said.

After the undercoat dried, Mom and Dad unveiled a special latex concoction: flecks in black and flecks in white and flecks in the pinkest pink I’d ever seen. Dad spent hours trying to hook up a rented fleck paint sprayer to the exhaust of our vacuum cleaner. "You’d think they could make these instructions in English. How am I supposed to know which part is A and which part is B?"

"Lemme try once," Mom suggested. "You’re getting crazy here." Mom was the real handyman in our household, because she knew the difference between clockwise and counterclockwise. With one quick emasculating twist, she got the gizmo attached. Then I watched in shock as the machine spit flecks everywhere. Before long, all of my things were covered.

"Disgusting!" I said.

"Listen," Dad responded. "You don’t know from what’s nice. That’s art. Look at it, it’s like marble."

"Nice flecks," Mom said. "We did a good thing."

 

by Larry Wallberg

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