kitsch n. art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way
I thought of this word a few weeks ago while dusting my collection of vintage salt and pepper shakers. I suppose if you walked around my home you would call some of the decor kitschy. But I started my collection of strange and “ironic” things a long time ago before the hipsters stole my style and turned it into an insult. Now when I think about the word “kitsch” I don’t think about my cheeky, cute salt and pepper shakers or my vintage 60’s self help books. I think about hipsters. I have a love / hate relationship with these smelly, overindulged beings. I am definitely not a hipster. I shower regularly and I tend not to take myself too seriously. However, I listen to hipster approved music, enjoy ironic art and tchochkes, and once lived in Brooklyn. It seems my life is irrevocably intertwined with them.
It all started back in Rhode Island, maybe around 2002 or so. I had my first apartment in the attic of a building on Medway Street in the Wayland Square neighborhood of Providence. I graduated with an English degree from Providence College and wanted to live on my own, but really had no money. I fancied that I would become a journalist since I had interned at the Providence Phoenix and Providence Monthly Magazine, but quickly found out that writing for a paper meant a salary of about $500 (before taxes) and no health insurance. I also had a series of bad interview experiences, one in particular where I didn’t get the job because my hand shake wasn’t firm enough. So I commuted to Boston, trained and became a mutual fund accountant – the most bland and boring job I could have ever conceived for myself – but it paid the bills. Because money was tight and my apartment was pretty small, I began decorating with cheap things I found at tag sales and thrift stores. My boyfriend (future husband) and I couldn’t afford to eat out at expensive restaurants, so we frequented a dive bar on the corner of my street called Mavericks and a little breakfast spot – Ruffuls. We would always pray that the Starbucks a block away from where I lived would screw up and give us the free drink coupon so we could get the vente frappuccino – which counted as an entire meal. This is as close as I got to a hipster lifestyle – but I wasn’t cool and I always showered. And I respected other people. Back then this was just called “poor.”
In a few years we moved to a lovely home in Oak Hill, Pawtucket. I ended up working in Product Development for a watchband company called Speidel and found my career path. We kept our ironic sense of decor and our love for indie music. In 2004, I came home with a record player I found at Home Goods in Seekonk, Ma. My husband thought I was crazy until we went to the Salvation Army and spent a few dollars on some old records and I convinced him that it was a wonderful thing to hear the crackling and static. We also inherited a huge and wonderful collection from my aunt which makes up the basis of our growing collection. These days my husband brings home more records than I do, traveling to places on business and seeking out strange (and kitschy) vinyls. Our neighbors back in Pawtucket were also a little strange and crazy. One always smoked a pipe and let his yard grow like a jungle. The other had vines growing through her roof and played the piano all day. You could always hear various concertos wafting out of her window. We adopted a dog, the infamous Stella, from Petfinder.com. She was a rescue born in a Kentucky shelter who we picked up in the parking lot of a hotel in Connecticut. She was supposed to be 40 pounds full grown, but was 40 pounds at 5 months old when we picked her up. She, our red leather sofa, our record player and records, and my collections of various kitschy junk lived a happy life – until we made the leap to NYC. We still showered and respected people, but we were ready for a change.
Our first apartment was in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn right near Fort Hamilton Parkway. We rented it from a landlord named Forest who we found through a tank top, lip gloss, flip flop wearing lesbian who drove the biggest Mercedes I have ever seen on the hottest August day ever. It was a duplex with a yard and no sub floor. When we moved in our dog Stella used to pee because she hated the city and it would drip through the slats in the wood flooring to the downstairs. For weeks we would come home to find what seems like aerosol sprayed urine on the downstairs floor. I thought we had rats or animals, until I spilled some red wine one evening and my husband saw it dripping from the ceiling while downstairs. Nevertheless, all of our kitsch fit perfectly into our first apartment – as if made for it. We enjoyed all that Brooklyn had to offer…loved Williamsburg and it’s strange hipster people that dressed funny and wore face paint – until the hipsters moved in upstairs. Until then, hipsters were just people that liked the same things as us – just showered a lot less and didn’t have serious jobs. Suddenly, there were random cats strolling around the duplex…and beer cans in our vegetable garden. The door would slam at 5 am…repeatedly…and we were never sure exactly how many people actually lived there. One day, we went upstairs to knock to have a reasonable conversation about what was going on – and found the door open with no one home. I will confess, we walked in…just for a peak. It smelled. There were full plates of food on the floor amidst piles of clothes. A cat carrier, little to no furniture. It looks like a bad version of a homeless shelter or drug den. And apparently these people went to Cooper Union…? We took our showering, respectable selves and all of our kitsch to Carroll Gardens, where the hipsters couldn’t afford to live and the Park Slope mommies hadn’t fully discovered yet.
We now live in Maplewood, NJ and it’s hard some days to live in such a distilled environment. I confess that there are days where I miss the crazy hipsters and their artwork and kitschy ways. We have a child now and Stella will be turning 10 soon. We now have a whole house to house our collections of music and kitschy decor. We have a hipster in the family now…my brother in law is an artist in Bed Sty – so if we ever feel like we are losing our edge, we have him over to do a spot check. I guess you could say we are kitschy suburbanites – “kitschanites.” But it isn’t about being ironic or cool for us. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s just a vein that runs through a lot of the stuff we like. We don’t even curate it on purpose. It just happens. We sort of resent that the hipsters turned the things we like into a “thing” that a lot of people despise. If they would just shower, we could try to be friends…swap Instagram photos, make ironic Itunes playlists…