October 21, 2015


It's here! Sweet October with its brilliant blue skies, yellow trees, and cool, smoky nights. I don't have a full blown Halloween countdown in me this year, but I thought I'd share some stuff I've been doing to make the most of this all-too-precious season.

First, it's my 2015 Halloween mood table!...

This time around I went with a pared down, more focused approach in comparison to last year's overblown creation. This table tells the story of a spooky house and its many skeletal guardians. It's actually an eventless, boring tale, but it's pleasing to look at. Many of the ornaments were previously seen in my skeleton countdown of 2006 including the #1 entry which is now in the uppermost position of honor. The pyramidal composition was an artistic convention developed during the Renaissance; here it has been perfected.

In the tradition of most spooky houses, this one has a secret. It was built, not on a graveyard, but on a foundation of 80s horror movies!!

I found this VHS storage cabinet at the Salvation Army last month for seventeen bucks, and it is a beauty. It comfortably houses much of my Halloween entertainment.

Most of the movies came from nearby video stores that have somehow* managed to stay in business. Before I brought them home, these tapes spent decades in the same showroom, waiting to entertain. During those years they've been granted access into homes, vehicles, and gatherings that I could only dream of today. Just seeing their paths plotted out on a map would be exciting to me. What's that, the mayor's daughter had Goulies II checked out for two and a half weeks? I wonder which movie has spent the most time shoved under the seat of a pick-up truck? Ironically, many of these tapes have probably "seen" horrors far worse than the stuff depicted in their respective films.

I enjoy knowing that some of these videos are the very tapes that I ignored week after week in my youth. If young me would have known that I'd be interested in them during adulthood, well, I would have been pretty bummed. After all, many of these were actually below my personal standards as a teenage cinephile. Little did I know that frequenting the Horror shelves each week would wire my brain to associate low budget scares with dopamine-soaked weekend leisure. Today they're still oddly comforting.

*By adding tanning beds, paycheck advances, and liquor.

One of these stores still fires up the same sign they installed in 1987. So I put together this commemorative GIF...

What else?
I went to a Halloween Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma. It's got about a half dozen haunted walkthroughs, but this year I brought my son whom I have not deemed ready to be chased by a teenager in a Jason mask. So we roamed around the grounds and soaked up the spooky atmosphere, music, costumes, and night air.

In addition to watching scary movies, I've been using my screens to play a couple creepy video games. I got Alien: Isolation for pretty cheap and my favorite thing about it is getting to wander around the 70s retrofuturistic environments which have been reproduced in painstaking detail. The in-game technology is reminiscent of an Atari 5200, and there are novelties scattered about, including the classic drinking bird...

I'm not really a zombie guy, but for some reason year after year I keep coming back to Left 4 Dead 2.  The B-movie vibe is great, and it's super fun, provided you can find the right people to play with. I like to crack the sliding glass door so I can feel the chill, and hear the real crickets as I brave the virtual spookiness.

Lastly, this Halloween season is unbelievably special for me because I got to be a part of this month's issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine! Mail-Order Mysteries turns four years old this month, so these days I'm happily shocked when someone asks me to do something related to it, and then THIS of all things! I'm still trying to get my head around the significance of it all, considering the role this magazine has played in my life. It's on par with the time that Johnson Smith Co. sold my book about S.S. Adams. I'm blown away.

I'll probably post the interview here in the future, but for now you can find it at your favorite book mart or magazine hut.


October 08, 2015


For anyone unfamiliar with Accoutrements or Archie McPhee I have provided a handy study guide.

Accoutrements is a manufacturer of novelties, gifts, and toys that was started as a mail-order business in the 1970s by Mark Pahlow. Initially he sold unusual 'found' products, but today the company has a vast line of original merchandise that's wholesaled to stores everywhere.
Archie McPhee, Seattle is essentially the Accoutrements brick and mortar shop which opened in 1983, however they also sell stuff from other manufacturers, as well as some vintage store stock and other curiosities. 

McPhee.com is their online shop, and The Archie McPhee catalog offers direct to consumer mail-order.

To summarize: They make and sell a lot of stuff, in a lot of different ways.

I collected Accoutrements products for years before I knew the company existed.  It had never occurred to me that one place could be responsible for such an eclectic mix of my possessions. Things like: a leopard skin fez, a potato gun, rubber monster women, boxing puppets, a shrunken head, fake mustaches, monkey drink ornaments, a martian stress reliever, finger puppets, swizzle sticks, wind-up creatures, and a prized glow-in-the-dark figurine named Senor Misterioso.  Maybe it should have been obvious.

Somehow their product line infiltrated my life without any help from my local retailers. Many of which would stock 'fly masks' for horses, but never horse masks for humans. I picked up much of my Accoutrements merch during road trips by way of souvenir shops, hip toy retailers, and costume suppliers. (This has all changed in recent years. At this moment I'm in walking distance from a brand new pair of squirrel underpants.) The other half of my collection was gifted to me, usually for no real occasion aside from "I saw this and immediately thought of you." I've received several items from people that I hardly knew, remote co-workers and friends of friends, acting on a personal calling to unite me with a pocket rubber chicken launcher, for example. Some things are just meant to be together.

Further proving this point, In 2008 an email appeared in my inbox from David Wahl, Accoutrements' longtime "Director of Awesome." He had recently helped create a book about their company called "Who Would Buy This? The Archie McPhee Story," which he offered to me since I'm one of the few other humans to make a book about a novelty company. (I raved about their book here.) We stayed in touch, and before long I was a staff writer for Monkey Goggles, an experimental McPhee offshoot that featured original online content. Eventually I got to know more of the Accoutrements crew in a cyber sense.

A visit to their home offices always seemed imminent, but it took me nearly seven years to get the ball rolling. Once I did, the logistics fell into place effortlessly, from my schedule, to my funding, to my friends' available couches that popped up on the path between me and Mukilteo, Washington. As soon as I left my driveway, speed took over. The trip was one week of constant motion with no resistance, as if I was riding a cosmic people mover. The sense of inevitability was palpable, I could have taken my hands off the wheel and still made it there. Sure, I would have crashed, but the ambulance would have mistakenly delivered me to the Accoutrements headquarters.

All of the days, miles and dollars that had gone into my trip made me feel tremendous pressure to make the most of my visit. I didn't just happen to be in the neighborhood, which was twenty-two hundred miles from my own. This was my destination. This was my Wally World, my Wonderland, my Wonka factory, but I only had about seven scant hours to experience everything. I'll go as far as comparing it to my wedding day in that it was another great time that was in constant danger of being crushed by it's own momentousness. These thoughts kicked in the night before my big day as I attempted to fall asleep. The couch I was laying on was in Portland, which meant I needed to leave by six to get there by ten, hypothetically. So I set my alarm to five. I laid awake until one, and my nerves woke me up at four.

I started my car and the gas light flashed orange. My fear of running out escalated for a half hour before I found a station that was both accessible and open so early. The rest of my odyssey could be described as a three hour stress drive through fog with an intermission, courtesy of Seattle's morning rush hour. I took the advice of my dumb GPS and ended up in a semi truck sandwich, plodding through industrial zones. That's where I realized the two bottles of frappuccino were a mistake.

I cackled when the Accoutrements building finally came into view. I was late, and in dire need of a restroom. As I approached the front door I grew surprisingly self-conscious, wondering how my morning tribulation had affected my appearance and demeanor. I glanced down at my Nikes and thought "Wait, isn't Nike based around here? Do these people have strong feelings about Nike?" I opened the glass door, suddenly certain that my shoes were offensive.

Then I saw something in the breezeway that made everything right again...

Prior to this, I had never been publicly welcomed. In that moment I discovered that a 'felt letter board' welcoming can make a guy feel extremely welcomed. Plus it removes all doubt that you're in the wrong building, or on the wrong day. I savored this moment since it is probably the first and last of its kind.

I found the receptionist adjacent to a bank of highly personalized cubicles. I recognized faces from the Archie McPhee catalogs, and blog, and twitter feed, and packaging. One of the employees, "Fuzz," was even made into an action figure.

Most familiar to me was Shana, the "High Priestess of Rubber Chickens" (a.k.a. the lady who runs their retail store.) She had emerged from her office to introduce me to the room, which was just as welcoming as that felt sign had been.

The good vibes in there dispelled any notion that this was just another job to them. They seemed to embrace the fun-maker lifestyle. It was apparent in both attitude and decorating choices which included a giant cactus wearing a panda mask wearing a crown, as well as a poster for the 1970 film, Bigfoot. But was this all just a put-on for the office tour? In an act of investigative journalism, I passed through again later in the day, and snapped this candid scene of playful comradery...

This is exactly what you want to see at a place like this.

After my brief introduction, David Wahl appeared next to me. For the first time ever, we communicated with our voices instead of digital text. Among his first words to me were directions to the restroom. Then David led me to his office where he stood up nice and straight for a photo...

His work space did not disappoint. Surrounding a hub of chairs were an assortment of artifacts that included: a collection of revealing wall art, a life-size skeleton..

celebrity ventriloquist dummies...

A  bookshelf beautifully dressed, and full of titles both familiar and intriguing...

And a standing desk infested with rubber creatures...

I set up camp knowing that my bags would be secure in this sanctuary. It was time for my official tour!

But wait! Lets take a moment to dwell on the significance of what you are about to see. There is no other business or place like this. Their thousands of original creations have achieved cultural relevance without relying on the movies, artists, comics, characters, and properties that overshadow our pop culture. Yet their work shows up all over the internet, in entertainment, and in the news.

They have established new classics. The now iconic Horse Head Mask is the Groucho disguise of today. Accoutrements also keeps our novelty heritage alive by offering many that were orphaned by their original creators such as the rubber chicken, the Martian Popping Thing, and yes, the Groucho disguise.

You are seeing a company in its heyday, as big as its ever been.  Not only that, it's still a first generation run business, so the passion and inspiration is still there. Accoutrements wasn't formed to fill a gap in the market, it exists because the founder loves this stuff. A glance at his personal Twitter account is proof of that. That said, let's get on with the tour...

The upstairs halls are decked with printed histories of both Accoutrements and McPhee. The walls tell the story of a one-man operation gradually gaining a foothold in the culture. The display traces the catalog's progression from hand-xeroxed, zine-like issues, to today's colorful publication, which looks to be crafted by a large team of beatnik robots. David said, "You can see exactly when Mark first hired a graphic designer."


As we continued, David pointed out this Zombies of the Stratosphere poster as if I might have missed it otherwise.

This giant eyeball was just one of several jumbo things scattered throughout the building, echoing a philosophy that was mentioned later: make big things small and small things big.

Our next stop was the Archive. A large, orderly, well-lit room full of box-bearing shelves. Hand-written labels tantalized with claims of PUPPET HEADS, KNIVES AND CIGARETTES, VOODOO, COCONUT BRAS, and HALLOWEEN. The room was divided into two sections: an area that held one of every existing Archie McPhee product (!), and another that was reserved for third party samples. 

For most businesses, this level of documentation is unheard of. Nobody has the space, or the desire, or the manpower to do it right. Products are often intended to be as ephemeral as the daily newspaper, so no one expects today's stuff to mean anything tomorrow. The greeting card company I used to work for reluctantly shoveled original art into an overflowing closet, and that was more effort than most places make. I also recalled the S. S. Adams headquarters, and how I found original illustrations that had been reproduced millions of times hidden in filthy boxes tossed behind machinery. But again, more effort than most.

I knew I didn't have much time so I had to be selective. I instinctively went for pranks and spooky themed boxes. My instincts were correct!...


 This box was both irresistible...

...and accurate!

Not just puppet heads, spooky puppet heads!


Nothing was as it seemed, eyeballs were ping-pong balls, bones were really maracas!

 The historic sign from the former Archie McPhee location.

Dummy bombs, medical models and propaganda posters, all in one corner!


Our stop in the archive was all too short, but I was promised that we would return, and I promise the same to you.

In the very heart of the building we found a sanctum of creativity. Four wizards dwell there, endlessly conjuring products, packaging, promotional materials, as well as the web site. Mark has called their line of products "affordable art." These are the artists. (I'm trying to sound epic here, but to be fair, there are a number of others who also contribute artistically.)

The back wall was full of prototypes and sketches of future products, all of which flew straight into my eyes. In the days after my visit I thought of a thousand designer-type questions I wish I would have asked. I was right there, and yet their process is still a mystery to me. I blame it on my fan addled state of mind. Truth is, I was already taking in so much that asking for more would have been sadistic.

Normally these gentlemen spend their days manipulating pixels, but in a twist of irony I captured their likenesses with the pixels of my camera.

 Scott King

Curt Hanks

 Scott Heffernan

Jim Koch

Jim's work has also made it into my collection by way of the Circus Punks series he released a while back. He shows as much decorating restraint as I do, so I've provided a closer look at his stuff for the benefit of everyone...

There's a great article on these guys HERE.

Endless pallets of boxes may not pack much entertainment value, but they say a lot about the scope of the company. The warehouse is vast, much larger than I ever anticipated. It was fun to think about the concentration of wacky products in this space. How many yodelling pickles have made a pit stop here before scattering across the nation?

Bulk product storage goes over here...

Individual items are within reach here...

Your order is lovingly packed here...

Even in this utilitarian space the mirth cannot be contained. Again, this is exactly what you want to see at a place like this.

Fez appliques, the ultimate form of self-expression. 

Naturally, their products are utilized in-house. Being resourceful is rarely this much fun.

Here is why my perspective on all of this is pretty unique. Almost exactly ten years prior to my Washington trip, I traveled to the opposite side of the the nation to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where I was turned loose in the S.S. Adams prank and magic factory to archive material for a book celebrating the company's centennial anniversary. So I couldn't help but see everything at Accoutrements in the context of the history of the American novelty biz.

Adams was among the first American companies to go beyond simply importing novelty items; they invented their own goods. They established a new canon of trick products with: Sneezing Powder, the Snake Nut Can, the Dribble Glass, and the Joy Buzzer. In terms of quality, Adams initially set the bar pretty high. For instance, the Super Joy Buzzer was a marvel of German engineering.

The way I see it, Adams ignited a torch a century ago that is currently held by Accoutrements, though few of their products are designed to deceive. Accoutrements has returned to Adams' early philosophy: make products that are high in both originality and quality. They also uphold the principle of novelty for novelty's sake in a world where joke and magic shops are all but gone, in favor of costume shops and party stores. The notion that an occasion is necessary to buy something fun is appalling. Fact is, Mark Pahlow doesn't embrace the term "novelty" due to its association with cheap little junk. He has described their offerings as "a vast array of spectacular, eclectic, useless things." Speaking of Mark...

After our warm-up round through the building it was time to meet Mark. We entered his office which seemed to be a metaphor for the entire operation. There was lots of fun stuff, but it was dominated by the necessity of business. My nerves returned to muddle our introduction, but David took the pressure off by pointing out some of the many conversation pieces, and I started noticing more treasures in every nook.

I asked Mark if I could photograph his work space. He replied,
"You want to take pictures of my mess?...Go ahead!"
You bet I wanted to. I also wish someone would have taken pictures of S.S. Adams' mess.
Anyway, here it is...

Mark dug out a couple of choice items for us to admire and laugh at.

One was a fake cigar from the World War II era that concealed an American flag fan. I can't imagine a situation when this would be necessary, but that can be the sign of a great novelty.

We also examined a set of party enhancers that looked to be from the 1940s. Evidently, it was a time when Victorian-era photographs were real party savers.

We set out on phase two of my tour which took us past this impressive display of current products. A world where Shakespeare, Poe, and Freud are at home next to Bigfoot, and underwear for your hands.

Discarded signage was put to decorative use in this hallway.

A customized smock that was once worn at trade shows...

...hangs on a trinketed plaque awarded to Mark by "the staff." (Yes, 'trinketed' is a real word.)

We stumbled on a true "only in the novelty biz" moment when we rounded the corner to find a mini horde of battery operated zombies lurking in the middle of the floor. As it turned out, the inventory was being tested after a consumer complaint. The alleged faulty zombie was an isolated incident.

Our second visit was a bit more leisurely and had the added bonus of Mark's commentary. He explained the origin of the samples, which are products that may have been considered for the catalog in some form, or served as a springboard for other ideas. This collection is the result of numerous trips overseas where Mark ended up seated at tables where vendor after potential vendor marched into the room and dumped their product in piles before him. As much as I revere novelties, I love the idea of this stuff being manhandled like any other commodity, be it coal or pork bellies. I romantically envision smokey rooms and a parade of stoic-faced peddlers slinging around heavy sacks of nonsense, presenting their wares to the buyer like a plastic harem. Then Mark fills suitcases with his kingly treasures, and carries the bounty back to his homeland.

Chinese plastic trinkets have long represented the lowest depths of the industrial food chain. It's a world where the knock-offs get knocked-off, a world of euphemistic artwork by anonymous artists that is reproduced and re-purposed for decades, a world of baffling design choices, and a delightful mishandling of the English language. The long-running products use cheaper materials with each generation until they're nearly unrecognizable. Mark said this phenomenon is called "quality fade." Hearing this was immensely satisfying because it's something I've often observed but never had words for.

The boxes in the Archive don't seem to date very far into the twenty-first century because the sales process usually happens digitally nowadays. This collection chronicles a very specific, very mysterious slice of industrial culture at the end of the analog age, and that is what makes it so important. Tell me, where does another collection like it exist? No, really, please tell me because I want to see that one too. I truly could have spent the entire day in there, systematically opening and documenting every parcel.

Simply opening a box like the one pictured below is rewarding enough, but it's the behind-the-scenes obscurity that made it extra-thrilling. I didn't see anything in these boxes that I've seen on store shelves or on ebay. Sure, I've seen tongue appliances before, but never this Comic Tongue with its unique style of "FUN!"

The photos on the "Joke & Funny game set" feature items that are not in the set. Also, it's not a game. This is the careless confidence that I love.

I adore little generic creatures. Granted, they look better when they're not encased in cellophane.

To quote from Who Would Buy This? The Archie McPhee story,
"If it's hollow and made of soft, pliable rubber, just slap the word "squirt" onto the name and you've doubled its value."

Mark was saying something about these soldiers, but sadly, I cannot remember what. I really should have had a video camera.

Mark contemplated the unpredictable nature of tiki products. Some are extremely successful. Many are not.

Believe it or not, these are elements of early Archie McPhee catalogs that Mark used to produce by hand. I love that a skull keychain photo is visible.

 (I found a color picture of it on ebay...)

Farewell sweet archive. I left with so many boxes unopened, and so many delights unseen.

Moments after Mark, David, Shana and I were seated in a Japanese restaurant, I experienced something for the very first time— I was asked about my visit to the S.S. Adams headquarters. Now, I've dumped my unsolicited Adams stories on many a captive ear, but this was different. This time my tales could be appreciated without explanations and backstories. This was a fantasy scenario for me. There I was, power lunching with novelty execs, recounting my escapades as they clung to every word, even laughing at appropriate times. It's what my life could be like if I understood politics or sports.

After lunch I had some time to roam the building freely so I ended up in Shana's office. Because she heads up the retail shop, her work space has quite a few non-Accoutrements items including these two 60s-era masks that, as she explained, resemble her parents.

I was also able to get a better look at some of their corporate art, which happens to be radically anti-corporate. There were several hand-painted, possibly unofficial movie posters. Ghana is known for this phenomenon, though I'm not sure about the origin of these. I believe Willow put it best when he said, "You ARE great."

An artist's rendering of what the land of McPhee might look like, circa several years ago. I agree with the emphasis on the Martian Popping Thing, however I've always viewed Pee Guy as being more peripheral...

The break room is everything it should be. This giant burger painting is about four feet wide and absolutely beautiful if you don't look at that bumpy green part.

And there's this thing, for crying out loud...

Later in the afternoon a creative meeting was held. It was partly an exhibition for my benefit, but I think actual business took place. I was even invited to participate, though I feared my contribution would be as valuable as a contestant who had won a walk-on role in a movie.

I was among the first to show up, which gave me a chance to look around the room and ponder the many brainchildren that were birthed on this very table.

A lineup of multicolored skulls oversees every conference.

The room filled up with the four artists and my lunchtime companions, Shana, Mark, and David. Somebody dumped a variety of rubber noses in the middle of the table. The samples were examined, tried on, laughed at, discussed, and a verdict was swiftly agreed upon. The meeting had begun. This was exactly what I was hoping for.

I immediately noticed the absence of a Marketing rep per se.  This was a revelation. Where I come from the Marketing Department drives this type of meeting. The outcome would be distilled into instructions for the designers to follow. At Accoutrements it seems that the creatives make marketing decisions, rather than the common opposite.

Everyone seemed to be somewhat aware of past sales data. Success stories that were mentioned included: Crazy Cat Lady items, zombies, and products that use the word 'emergency' (i.e. Emergency Toast). Items that are proven lousy sellers include every one of my favorite products. Somehow I am the Bizarro Archie McPhee consumer.

The meeting consisted of a handful of updates on upcoming items followed by a chance for each attendee to voice new ideas. The second half of the hour was spent sifting through a backlog of potentially inspirational images, articles, trends, and products from around the web, and elsewhere.
Wild ideas were held under the lens of practicality. It was a reminder of the reality that I, the fun-loving collector, have the luxury of ignoring. Throughout the day our conversations were peppered with bits of sobering realism in the form of legality, finances, customs, government regulations, rip-off artists, and jerks in general. Yet, somehow everyone still seemed to be having their share of fun.

I know that pressure to succeed can take a toll on creativity, so I asked how much freedom they have to fail. The response was that, obviously, they can only fail so much before they lose their livelihood. However, they still take chances. Their catalog is a testament to this fact.

On occasion, they've even moved forward on a product that was expected to fail. David brought up the Kim Jong Il 'Dear Leader Tongue Scraper,' a seemingly misguided concept they were so intent on bringing to life that they agreed to make it happen in the name of art. (In fact, it wasn't a failure in the long run.)

As the meeting came to a close I said what I thought would be my final thank yous and farewells, but before we disbanded Mark casually asked me if I'd like to see—Room 6. I don't remember exactly how I responded, as I was filled with shock and adrenaline. Room 6 is also known as the Archie McPhee Secret Museum. It's Mark's stash of handpicked treasures that have accumulated throughout his career. Occasionally these prizes will appear in Mark's twitter feed, and they always merit a click of the 'favorite' button. I was not expecting to see Room 6 because it had been made clear that it's simply not part of the tour.

I was led to a locked door wisely located deep in the structure. Inside were clusters of shelves and stacks of boxes that ate up the room's square footage minus a narrow pathway. The boxes were labeled, but less orderly than the Archive had been. Many were too high to reach, or inaccessible without solving some spatial puzzles. The parcels blotted much of the lighting. All of these factors gave the place a welcome aura of mystery.


We began to dig. We independently rifled through the dusty containers, pausing to show our favorite finds to one another. Here are a few of my favorites. In hindsight I realize that these mostly monster-centric picks don't come close to representing the scope of all that was in there, but oh, well...

60s-era rubber monster

Trinkets as an artistic medium was a reoccurring theme. This is the next step in the evolution of Bedazzling.


These things are about hand puppet size. The sculpts are amazing...

A sack of teeth...

This was in a box labeled "Halloween Keep." I couldn't get the lid off fast enough in order to see which Halloween objects had been deemed worthy of keeping. The Halloween Team Fantasy Collection met all my expectations. One of the features is "Horrible "EEEE" sound." (Don't bother checking ebay, I have been for months.)

These were just sitting in a box rather than being pictured on the internet where they belong...

After a while I noticed that our chatter had completely stopped. I was so focused and curious that I'd forgotten where I was. Everyone seemed to be in a zen-like state. It was a time of quiet exploration that was only interrupted by occasional gasps and the clicking of digital cameras. Even Mark seemed to be making new discoveries. 

I was allowed to open baggies that had been stapled shut since the 1960s. It felt like I was one of the family.

Some of my favorite boxes were the ones that started with the word 'tiny.' Tiny people, tiny things, and so on.

I fished out a dime-sized monkey eraser that whisked me to my childhood, to a car ride home from Tulsa after dad and I had dropped mom off at the airport. I sat in what was usually her seat, holding this fruit-scented rubber head, a newly won Ski-ball reward from Crystal's Pizza. I studied its face in the blue-green dashboard light while one of the few songs I was familiar with, For Your Eyes Only, played softly on an Easy Listening station. It was a peace-defining moment that I've fondly recalled many times, however, I wasn't prepared to have a mini catharsis there in Room 6. But really, wonders and revelations are to be expected in a secret museum.

After the Room 6 experience I plopped down in the graphics department where I tried to carry on conversations as if I wasn't overloaded with the day's sights, experiences, information, and feelings.

I glanced over to see that I was sitting near one of my favorite discontinued products, the Bibo alarm clock. The sight of him was appropriate, like something in a fever dream...


Then there were a few more of those 'this is exactly what you hoped to see' moments. 

I learned the sordid history behind a decades-old series of familiar rubber novelties (NOT created by McPhee). They were once intended to represent ethnic stereotypes!...

Then Curt showed us one of his recent creations, a set of Slurpee-style plastic cups he designed for SARLACC featuring some of the early Kenner Star Wars toys. These stirred up some excitement that I didn't know I had left.

As the Accoutrements workforce were wrapping up another day in the life, I was treated to one last Willy Wonka moment, a visit to the product samples area— as in "free samples."

I stood between two lengthy aisles containing nearly every current Archie McPhee item.

I was handed a cloth sack.

I knew that this moment held tremendous weight. It was one of life's touchstones. It could only be a divine test, perfectly designed to measure my capacity for greed versus self-control. I perused the shelves, trying to hide my inner war where animal-like desires clashed with reason and social norms.

Somehow I managed to think of my family first. I found a few key items that would bring delight to my son and make the days-long drive home more bearable for all. I packed a Harry Houdini action figure, a Handicorn, Finger Hands, and some wind-up hopping Lederhosen. I also grabbed a yodeling pickle, something my son has wanted for years, but for sanity's sake I withheld it until we were nearly home.  All of this worked beautifully. The next few days were filled with scenes like this...

And I'm still finding this sort of thing around the house...

Back in the sample aisle, David handed me the thing I was most excited to find. A set of miniature, glow-in-the-dark Halloween decorations!...

Then I gasped when I saw the long-discontinued Frogmen Vs. Radioactive Octopus set. It was just the right thing, something I've wanted, yet isn't easily found this side of ebay. 
I had done it. I had restrained myself. The gifts, decorations, and frogmen were more than enough, and within the bounds of reason. As we were walking out I grabbed a Bigfoot Christmas ornament.

Here's a shot of my prized souvenirs that also includes some squished pennies, stickers, some stuff from Casa Bonita in Denver, a thimble from Multnomah Falls, a breakdancer that Shana gave me, Monster holiday wrapping paper, and a drawing of a disembodied thumb that Jim Koch whipped up during our meeting.

Dazed, I found myself in my car again, driving back towards reality. I turned off the stereo and let my brain cool down. The bag of goodies sitting next to me was assurance that I didn't dream the whole thing. I spent much of the next two thousand miles mulling over my experience, jotting down notes, spontaneously smiling, and occasionally cringing at some of my own banter. It was as epic as I had hoped. Though it came and went all too fast, I will always have the memories...