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The happiest place on earth is not Disneyland or any of the related -lands, -worlds or -planets. It’s actually in a neighborhood in Seattle known as Ballard — though this summer, it’s apparently moving to Wallingford, another Seattle neighborhood. That place is Archie McPhee, Outfitters Of Popular Culture.
If you know their website, you might know what I mean — but chances are, you might even be thinking “Isn’t it just a novelty store?” No, it isn’t. Or, perhaps, it IS, but to say so seems to be missing the point completely. It’s a whimsy factory, and a great place to kill large swaths of time. It’s also free to enter, unlike other Happiest Place On Earth contenders… assuming you can escape without buying anything, of course, which is basically impossible.
Archie’s was founded in 1982 by Mark Pahlow — who also happened to write this book, so he should know; it started as a place that just sold weird cast-offs of culture — forgotten and strange toys, political campaign geegaws from long-past elections from far away, forgotten medical supplies and whatever else seemed cool. It still sells all that stuff, but early into their run, the company branched out to include Accoutrements, a designer and manufacturer of other doohickeys and useless thingamajigs. And some of them ended up actually being useful — either intentionally (like the various cool lunchboxes they make or the Bibo alarm clock), or unintentionally — like the pallet of dummy U.S. Navy torpedoes they bought from the UW Physics Department… which the Department of Defense demanded returned, as they turned out to include a Top Secret guidance system more advanced than similar ones our country’s enemies were using. Oops.
Despite the subtitle of the book, Who Would Buy This? doesn’t have much in the way of the story of Archie McPhee’s — that’s mostly taken care of in the introduction. The bulk of the book is made up of catalog excerpts — but the catalogs (if you don’t know already) are so entertaining, it still works. Still, my favorite sections were the “Busted” pages listing times Archie McPhee got spanked by the authorities and the “What Were We Thinking?” section of discontinued products that didn’t sell… including, sadly, the Parasite Pals, which I loved (and did buy stuff from!) — a parody of the Hello Kitty line centered around Holly Hostess and her adorable friends, Blinky the Eyelash Mite, Zzeezz the Bed Bug, Dig Dig the Head Louse and, my favorite, Tickles the Tapeworm.
The book is very nicely bound — full color with some of the stories behind the favorite (and less so) products — if you’re a fan of Archie McPhee, and if not, why AREN’T YOU?, definitely worth picking up. It might not be as meaty a read as I was hoping, but it’s a dandy coffee table book. Besides, where else would you be able to find an update on Fuzz?