Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Blatant Plug 

An opportunity for a grant of sorts has given us an occasion to give kudos to one of LATDA’s favorite toy manufacturers, Accoutrements. Their retail outlet, Archie McPhee is selecting five blogs at random that link to products on their site and awarding them $100 gift certificates. And while that will buy a lot of interesting artifacts for the LATDA collection, we honestly love Archie McPhee and will sing its praises regardless.

Located in Seattle, WA, Archie McPhee’s has been a Mecca for my child since she was 7. Every summer she and my mother would travel by train from LA to Seattle to visit my sister. The highlight of this trip would be an afternoon (and often it was a whole afternoon) at McPhee’s spending her birthday gift certificate. The first time she experienced this indulgence, she spent hours pondering over cocktail monkeys and Monster Women , picking up this item and putting back that, while keeping a running total of dimes and quarters in her head. Even though she studied her mail order catalog well in advance, she was always sidetracked by the myriad of items (and bargains) that only existed in the store. When she finally got up to the check out counter, the salesperson was amazed to see that she had stayed within her $20 budget by 20 cents! And amazingly (but not unusual for her) many of the treasures she brought back were gifts for friends and family.

My daughter often said that her dream job would be to work in the Archie McPhee store. I think she would like to work in product development now.

I met the founder of Archie McPhee’s, Mark Pahlow, at the 2003 Toy Fair in New York. I was quite surprised to meet this buttoned-down, black-suited, soft-spoken man and wondered if this was the head of some faceless corporation that had bought out the original company. But when he told me how he started his career in amusements by selling alligator clickers as roach clips to Billy Shire (the genius behind Wacko/La Luz de Jesus Gallery/Billy Shire Gallery), I knew he was truly the mind behind McPhee’s.

A year later, I was interviewed by someone at the Seattle Times who was writing an article about Archie McPhee. The reporter asked me if I (as a representative of LATDA) thought the Smoking Babies were funny. I wasn’t sure if she was actually offended by the smoking baby, but I told her that I owned one and that I bought it because it reminded me of the original smoking monkeys. I was quoted as saying: ‘Archie McPhee brings back those objects of childhood that gave us our first appreciation of art.’ As a standalone comment, that doesn’t make much sense…I think I had been talking about toys as art (appreciation of an object in and of itself without reference to function other than its ability to evoke emotion).

I did tell her that I remembered my brother buying a smoking monkey at a seedy little novelty store in Venice. I think the store was a front for something even seamier, but they did sell novelties from a glass counter. We were fascinated by the magic smoke rings that came out of those pungent sticks which I now know were made of Fiberglas. Imagine the carcinogens we must have inhaled while leaning up close to watch the monkey smoke! (The Archie McPhee cigarettes are nothing more than incense-style punks. No smoke rings. Pity) When I saw the smoking baby this entire memory flooded back into my mind.

If we win the $100 gift certificate, I ‘ve got my eye on the Nun Chuck . If we don’t win, then maybe my daughter will buy one for our collection next summer.

ADDED 7/06 - I was given a Nun-Chuck for my birthday in April!

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