My mother-in-law is Choice. Now, that's not code for something. Not some nifty, new-fangled way of saying dope or all that. Although you can tell I'm far from dope since I use words like nifty and new-fangled. Choice is her given name. Choice Lee to be exact. And if you think there must be some interesting family story as to why she's Choice, you'd be mistaken. Choice is Choice and that's all there is to it.
For Christmas we went to Michael's hometown of Alton, Illinois, which is just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. Most of Michael's family lives there, in fact, Choice still resides in the house in which Michael was raised.
Now, I've done my share of traveling, and I figure outside of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Paris, major bastions of metropolis and culture, Alton, Illinois is the place I've spent most of my life. It is the antithesis of the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle I'm accustomed to. What can I say about Alton? It's high cholesterol, it's low expectations, in a word, it's Midwestern. And you can read more about my Alton observations in a previous blog entry: Alton: A Love Letter.
When in Alton, we spare no expense and stay at the plushest of accommodations, the Holiday Inn on the Beltline. It smells like chlorine and decades of cigarette smoke. And although we sleep there, it's fair to say we spend most of our time in the house of Choice...
Choice's design aesthetic is wedged firmly in 1974. From the beaded doorways to the feathered flower arrangements, the decor is an unsettling blast from the past that makes me wish I was a recreational drug user. And this blog entry is dedicated to my mother-in-law and the style she so fervently holds on to. But I warn you, the rest of this might be easier to stomach if you turn on your lava lamp and take a toke or snort of some sort.
Let's start in the bathroom. It's a kaleidoscope of pattern on pattern, black on white.
The towels, like many things in Choice's house are for show only, not for use. The seagulls are crafted out of the finest of plastique, as is the potted fern. (Actually, none of the plants in Choice's house are real. Real plants, as real Christmas trees are too much fuss. Bah humbug!)
To offset the black and white zigzag she hangs a vertical macrame wall decoration, and includes splashes of mustard yellow in the form of a radio slash telephone slash toilet paper dispenser. Whereas it dispenses toilet paper just fine, don't expect it to play music or make calls. (Don't let the antenna fool you, I doubt this thing ever worked.) If you look closely you can see the telephone coil tucked cleverly into the macrame.
Now to the living room, which is a dizzying display of sparkle and kitch. Brightly colored gold and mirrored surfaces are the central motifs.
You might think some of these things were brought out for the Christmas season, but aside from the two black Santas that jive to Jingle Bell Rock when you push a button, this is how Choice's living room is year round. I'd like to point out a few things. Note the gold candle on the gold and faux diamond candle holder. (I understand if you're having difficulty finding it.) It's in the center of the mirror-topped table. Well, Choice was displeased with the choice of candle colors that were offered, so the candle you see there is spray painted gold to match its exquisite holder. (Once again, for show, not use.)
The big television in the background doesn't work, but Choice has no designs to get rid of it, especially when it beautifully displays so many of her knickknacks, which are cleverly stuck to the television's veneer with chewing gum.
I'd also like to focus on the bust, on the shelf at the right side of this picture. Underneath the head is the name Wagner. Now, maybe you have a sense who Wagner is. Certainly I could bullshit my way through a response. But if you were to ask Choice Who is Wagner? I'm sure she wouldn't know. But then, why should she, as long as it suits her very specific design scheme.
And lastly, I'd like to point out the shag carpeting. It just screams seventies doesn't it? And yet, it's new. If something needs to be replaced, as the carpet did, well then, gosh darn, it better be as close to the original as possible. Choice looked high and low to find carpeting that vaguely resembled it's predecessor. Needless to say, she was highly displeased with the outcome.
And there's no getting away from the bling, because all that glitter and gleam is reflected on the wall opposite.
Like the Wagner bust, there are art pieces that really have no connection to Choice, except they fit the three G's: gaudy, golden or gratis. There is a print of a female flamenco dancer. Why is there a flamenco dancer in the living room? Could Choice have a fondness for the art form? Might she have always wanted to go to Spain and immerse herself in Spanish culture? NO. It's a gaudy painting and the dancer wears gold jewelry. Likewise, this gem sits on a side table next to plastique tulips...
Just this trip I asked, why is he eating radishes? This is the response I got, "Oh, is that what he's doing?" as if all these years there has been no consideration what the golden boy has been up to in the corner
The kitchen fares no better. Just check out the feathers, the plastic, the ceramics...
As far as I know, no one has ever used these mugs. They sit in a place of honor on top of Choice's almond refrigerator. The reason I know it's almond is that Michael and I bought Choice this refrigerator when her old one, which was thirty-five years old, went kaput. Choice was highly displeased with the almond fridge. Her other one was chocolate brown, but that color went out of style along with mustard yellow, avocado green and burnt orange.
Somehow Choice got her hands on a brochure that told her the refrigerator and freezer doors could be covered with a smoky mirror, accomplishing two things: getting much closer to the desired color, and satisfying Choice's peculiar fondness for reflecting surfaces. The thing is, the smoked mirror door coverings cost more than the refrigerator with the warranty. We refused to be that generous.
I picture every time Choice opens her refrigerator she grumbles something like, "I wish those boys got them smokey mirrors."
There is one place of calm in her living room. It's in the far end where a bean bag chair ought to be. It's where I make my way when the gold and glimmer are just too much. I head to this chair...
...and promptly fall asleep.