Lovely junk 

Blooming incongruously to my predicament

There's been a one-armed baby in my tree all month, which I didn't think would be a big deal until the neighbors kept pointing it out like I misplaced it or something. Like I've been looking for it everywhere and I just need to be reminded where I put it.

"There's a baby in your tree," said the lady who delivers my mail.

"I know," I said.

"Where's its other arm?" she asked.

"I have no idea."

I also have two feet and a torso in my flower bed, but nobody points those out, even though I personally think they deserve mention. Daisies sprout up from the ankles of the feet, as well as from the neck hole of the torso, which wasn't easy to accomplish, because the torso did not come with a neck hole. I had to drill that my own self, and it turns out that old mannequin pieces are not made from lightweight Styrofoam like I always kinda thought. They are made from, like, heavyweight Styrofoam, covered with a thick flesh-colored shell that can crack off in chunks if you're not careful. And their arms come off easily, too.

"I love that the baby only has one arm," said Grant when we spotted it. We were at a vintage store called Paris on Ponce, which is not so much a store as it is another planet – or, more aptly, it is the smoking aftermath of a collection of planets that have collided to form multiple concrete-floored fields of beautiful debris, and that's not even mentioning the stage and the dance floor. And the loading docks. And the railroad. You could probably move in and inhabit one of the dozens of vintage vignettes they have set up in there before the proprietors, my former neighbors George and Judy Lee, discovered you and inevitably hired you to unload truckloads of lovely junk, all while plying you with plates of cookies.

I think that's how those two found Shane, an employee who is really good at creating the vignettes for Paris on Ponce. The place has a whole section just for pink flamingos. Or it did until I got there; now all the flamingos are in my yard. That was Shane's idea, as were the dismembered mannequin planters, though it was Grant's idea to put the baby in the tree, a brilliant move, if you ask me. You don't really expect a baby to be found in a tree, missing an arm.

George and Judy don't know this but their place reminds me of the store my mother opened after she left her government-contract job. It was a fraction of the size, but still I used to spend entire afternoons there picking my way through all the lovely junk, marveling, for it was largely stocked with all the useless loot my mother had stolen over the years, containing anything from the fireplace mantle from our 11th family address to the patio furniture taken from the apartment complex where she resided at the time.

And let's not forget the pool cues she commonly stole from all the bars in all the neighborhoods we ever lived in since the late '70s. My sister's theory is that our mother was trying to get the attention of our father, who called himself a trailer salesman even though you'd be pretty hard-pressed to sell a trailer sitting on a barstool all day with the grade-school asses of me and my sisters in the background perfecting our bank shots. But my own theory is more complicated; I think our mother stole the pool cues to populate our home with acceptable keepsakes so when she eventually broke it apart we'd have pleasant reminders of our past as opposed to the painful ones. It must have been effective, because all her children ended up blooming incongruously to their predicament.

So of course when I saw the stack of pool cues at Paris on Ponce I grabbed them in commemoration of my klepto mom, because in the end I'm grateful for the way my parents were, because it gave me something to write about once I quit being mortified by my past. Now my third book is coming out, and that is why I was at Paris on Ponce with Grant; so I could create a vignette to go with it. The book is called Trailer Trashed, and I was looking for kitschy things to populate the vintage trailer I plan to pull around the Southeast in celebration of its release, though most of the stuff I collected I brought straight home with me and distributed throughout my yard.

The pool cues now line the path that leads to my front door, which I think is appropriate. I like being reminded of the home I had then as I enter the home I have now, with the baby in the tree and the pink flamingos in the yard, which is itself dotted with dismembered mannequin planters blooming incongruously to their predicament. I couldn't ask for more, really, than to open a door every day after picking my way through all this lovely junk.

Attend the book launch party for Trailer Trashed! Aug. 5, 7—10, at Paris on Ponce, 716 Ponce de Leon Place, Atlanta, 404.249.9965. For more info: www.hollisgillespie.com.

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