Monday, November 18, 2013

A Shag By Any Other Name

In my world, I remember when ‘shag’ really was a dirty word. Those were the days when the shag was the carpet, not what was done naked on top of it. Do you remember shag carpets? They came in such wonderful, vibrant colors. In my first home, there was a green shag carpet in the living room and dining room. One bedroom had a golden shag carpet, the other had a bright green one. The crowning touch, though, was the brilliant purple carpet in the master bedroom. The first time I cleaned it, the sun was shining through the window and created sort of a purple ectoplasmic glow down the hallway.

For those of you blessedly too young to recall shag carpets, they were the ones with the very long fibers, so long that the carpets came with their own rake. Yes, you vacuumed, then you raked, and still they would not come clean. It was the perfect melding of outdoors indoors, for those who liked to rake but didn't want to do it in the garden, with the added bonus of having the ability to harbor and grow even more scary organisms than those found in mere dirt. The proof of that was when that glorious day arrived when you were finally able to pull the damned thing up and replace it with hardwood, and you could see the years of crap and corruption that still hid in the depth of weave. Trust me when I say it was not for the faint of stomach.

But, to be fair, the shag carpet was a sign of success, a societal fashion high-water mark. Not everyone had shag. It went wonderfully with the lava lamps, the avocado colored kitchen appliances (or poppy red, or harvest gold – take your pick) that came with avocado colored dishes, mix master, crock pot, silverware, placemats and chairs, and the funky gold-flecked mirror tiles on the wall. It was... shaggy, and we loved the devil-may-care freedom of shaggy, so we added that effect to a lot of things, arguably none of them improved for the hairy texture. Yes, we were changing how our world looked. It was different... not necessarily better, but different.

We had embraced a ‘free and easy’ lifestyle, one that shucked the drab greys and earthtones from our lives. We were living in a brighter time, one where bright was to be embraced in our clothes, our sunglasses, our cars, our television programs and our homes. We were creating metaphoric rainbows after a long period of conformity and nickel-counting, and everyone was going to know it. Our linoleum was not two-toned checkers. It was a mash-up of blues, greens, yellows, pinks, all spattered together like a Picasso crime scene.

Color permeated everything. Nothing was, sadly, too daring. You realize that now when you walk into one of these homes, a remnant of years gone by, and you need to use the washroom. Purple toilets, pink sinks, yellow tubs... no, when it came to adding color, even bathroom porcelain was not sacred. As BJ Honeycut once said, ‘it was like a Tintoretto in barf.’

We had ‘modern’ furniture – for lack of a better way of describing it. We had giant bright artwork on the walls, swag lights hanging from the ceiling, throwing funky shadows everywhere, and the craziest, strangest lights you could ever imagine, all set off with flags in the windows and beaded curtains in the doorway. We brought plants inside. No longer were we stuck with just a geranium on the porch. Like with the shag carpets, we brought the outdoors in. We were daring. We worked hard to create these new treasures, embracing the knowledge that fashion could make a statement and still be affordable... or so we hoped. In some ways, you have to give some consideration to the rise in popularity of having a small potted cannabis in the corner, and wonder if perhaps it wasn’t to blame for a lot of what we gushed over at the time.

To be fair, it was a time when, finally, we realized the shackles were off. We started to want themes – mushroom (yes, in more way than one, I think) or the cows! Remember the cows? The cow coffee creamer where you grabbed the tail to tip it and pour the cream out of the cow’s mouth? There were cow flower pots, cow canisters, cow aprons hanging on the door hook, cow oven mitts. We did that with the mushrooms as well, and the gnomes and owls. We were wild and crazy. We were almost out of control. We put plastic flamingos in the yard – every yard had a pair of pink flamingos on the way to the front door.

Of course, shag carpets weren’t the worst idea for floor coverings. That title probably goes to the notion of putting indoor/outdoor carpets on EVERY floor. Yes, I do mean the kitchen and the bathroom floor. They were a delight when there was something spilled in the kitchen. You never got it clean. As for the bathroom? I swear to God, they could make the toilet bowl the size of Texas and men would still miss it, especially with those last few drips. They would collect at the base of the toilet, absorbed in the fiber of the carpet. Yeah, you could steam clean them, but you didn’t do that every day. At that time, it was a pretty monumental event to clean carpets, one reserved for two times a year.  

Relegated to the dark, not so gentle pages of history books, shag carpets are a thing of the past, and really none too soon. Shags were really not that much better when they became a hairstyle – yeah, we wore shags there too. I suppose, in a way, the curtains really did match the carpeting. In truth, the shagging should stay on the boulevard... or in Mike Meyer’s movies, and the people of the world should be spared from them, in all forms, as fashion statements. 

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