Monthly Archives: November 2019

T-Shirts from the Collection: Mule Deer from Hell

Let us be clear: I dislike mule deer. On California’s Central Coast, I am not alone in this.  Mule deer (their ears look like mule ears) throw their bodies in front of your car.  Mule deer knock people off bicycles. Mule deer will charge you if they’re in rut, or if you try to get close to a Bambi when her mother is nearby. Mother is always nearby.

Mule deer pillage gardeners’ prized roses, and just about every other garden plant.  The nurseries sell  “deer resistant” plants that deer might avoid. But a truly hungry deer will eat about anything.

So while the Central Coast Chapter of the Mule Deer Society made a fine t-shirt, I was unimpressed.  The society’s charter includes population control, but here’s the word: they fall short.

Mule deer are everywhere in my county: in the hills, in rural neighborhoods, crowding the edges of town, and especially on the university campus where they lurk at the roadside among the trees and burst across the pavement at random intervals. I’ve left a lot of tire rubber on  the pavement.

My favorite mule deer story: I was driving away from the university in thick fog when a deer loomed out of the murk perhaps 100 yards ahead.  He was a magnificent buck, large and stately with a full rack of antlers.  He leapt a five foot fence at the side of the road with thoughtless ease.  Then he stood there on the shoulder, appraising my approaching car.

“Don’t you, I say DON”T YOU EVEN MOVE,” I shouted at him through the windshield. And I drove past him without incident, except for a blood pressure spike.

I looked into my rearview mirror in time to watch him jump over the hood of the car behind me.  It was the single most beautiful athletic feat that I have ever witnessed: a poem of grace and power and elegance.  And I’m sure it turned the driver’s hair gray.

They’re aliens.  I’m sure of it.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Out of the Past

Sometimes a t-shirt just jumps off the rack at me. It’s usually a t-shirt that touches on my own past — on things that I used to know, but haven’t remembered for years.  Here are a few.

Western Airlines

Western Airlines Alumni Tee

This 90s-era t-shirt made my eyes cross.  I hadn’t seen “Wally Bird” in 40 years.  And I grew up with him.  He was the television spokes-bird of Western Airlines when I was a kid. And I watched a lot of television.

Back in the midcentury, Western Airlines was the luxury line  of the Western States.  Western tewardesses served free champagne on every flight (21 and over only).  Steaks, cigars, punch “volcanoes” made with dry ice (on the Hawaii runs),  typewriters in the sky for the use of passengers: You got what you wanted on Western.  Hollywood stars flew Western down to Mexico, up to Canada, over to the Rockies, west to Hawaii and even to the East Coast.

“Wally Bird” was an animated bird who’d given up flying because it was much more fun to let Western take him there.  He appeared in endless cartoon commercials. In all of them, Wally relaxed on a pillow propped against the tail fin of a Western airliner in flight.  A cigar or champagne glass dangled languidly from Wally’s hand while he spoke with the rich assurance someone who knows the Good Life. .

Every commercial ended with this slogan: “Western Airlines,” Wally would intone, “the o-o-o-only way to fly….”

I lost track of Western in the ‘80s; I took my eye off it, and it vanished.  Well, not exactly.  During the era of airline deregulation, Western merged with Delta Airlines.  Delta flew the East, Western flew the West.  The marriage made sense. When the deal was signed, Western employees put on Delta uniforms . The planes were repainted in Delta colors. Life went on.

But there were no more punch volcanoes in the sky.  And no more Wally.  Rumor has it that he’s been seen atop a Singapore Airlines 787.

This tee was produced by the Western Airline Alumni, a group of former employees who hang out on Facebook and remember the days when flying was glamour.  Or at least fun.

Sista Monica

Back in the ’90s, “Sista” Monica Parker was a high-powered recruiter for talent-hungry Silicon Valley companies.  But she dreamed bigger than that.  She was a big woman with a big voice, and she loved to sing: blues, soul, jazz, gospel.

Santa Cruz Sista Monica Tee 1

For a lot of years she was everywhere on the Santa Cruz music scene.  She never became a big name, but she toured the world, recorded CDs, and lived the life.  She self-promoted like nobody’s business, kept high-tech money coming in the door, and, in the end, fought cancer for years.

I heard her sing.  The wife and I were video-taping a service at the Unity Temple, one of those success-and-positive-thinking ministries that looks like a Christian church but isn’t exactly.  The minister gave me a tarot reading once.

Santa Cruz Sista Monica Tee 2

Nobody was more positive than Sista Monica; she’d been invited to perform that day, and she ripped out a version of “People, Get Ready,” the old Impressions hit, that just about curled my hair.  You’ll have to take my word, because I no longer have the tape.  She never sang “People, Get Ready” for the camera again that I know of.  And that’s a shame, as I’ve never found a better version.

Sista Monica passed away around 2010.  I won’t say “she’ll never be forgotten.” But no one’s forgotten her yet.

Spenger’s Fish Grotto

Spenger's Fish Grotto Tee

This t-shirt from the early ‘80s came from Spenger’s Fish Grotto in Berkeley, California. Spengers was a venerable seafood restaurant much beloved by my parents’ generation.

Mom and Dad dragged me there a time or two in the ‘60s for fried cod or clam chowder.
Spenger’s wasn’t fancy, but neither was the Bay Area in those days.  Really cool, but not fancy.

In the early ‘80s, when my Spenger’s t-shirt was printed (a t-shirt’s vintage can be determined by its collar tag),  I worked just a couple of exits down the Nimitz Freeway from the restaurant. My co-workers and I would lunch at Spenger’s sometimes when we could give ourselves an excuse.

I remember the souvenirs tor sale behind the cashier’s stand; among the toys and dolls sat stacks of t-shirts.

This brings us to one of those circular moments in collecting: it is conceivable that the Spenger’s t-shirt I found at the thrift store was in one of those stacks. The shirt was made in the early ‘80s, and I visited Spenger’s in the early ‘80s.

Thus it is not beyond the pale that, after I left Spenger’s, the tee went its own way for 36 years and then placed itself into my hands.  In mint condition, too.    Stranger things have happened.

Spenger’s was bought by an out-of-town seafood restaurant chain in ’99 when the last Spenger retired; fried fish was out, ahi tuna was in.  The new Spenger’s never really clicked, though; Spenger’s closed for good in 2018 after 130 years in operation. That’s a lot of codfish and fries.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break


I found the above on at Goodwill for a fast  $2.99: a framed needlepoint portrait of William Claude Dukenfield, aka W.C. Fields. The great man glowers across a poker hand at the world, like some shifty Buddha.

I had to have it; needlepoint is a home craft, mainly, and a painstaking one.   My wife the knitter tells me that she can knit ten stitches in the time it takes to pull the yarn through one hole in an embroidery canvas.  So what inspired all this, instead of “God Bless Our Home” over a bunch of flowers?

You don’t hear the name W.C. Fields much these days, but the ‘60s and ‘70s were different.  Nostalgia was in; attitudinal superstars from the ‘30s and ‘40s became superstars again: people like Bogart, the Marx Brothers,  and yes, W.C. Fields.

I’d have ignored Fields even so, if I hadn’t had to watch “The Fatal Glass of Beer” 300 times. Conservatively.

“The Fatal Glass of Beer” is a 20-minute parody of morality fables and Yukon Territory adventure movies. Fields made the short in the early ‘30s.  It fell into the public domain and ended up on a 16mm reel of “family friendly” shorts and cartoons in the late ’60s.  The pizza restaurant I worked in as a teen played it over and over for the customers.  After awhile, the kitchen crew could repeat entire sections of dialog.

But it was funny stuff: Fields as a settler in the snow-blasted Yukon, cutting through the badly rear-projected snow with sled dogs whose legs were too short to reach the ground.  Fields, singing a long, awful song about the loss of his fine son to the city, where he drank the “fatal glass of beer” and turned into a ravening criminal who stole a fortune in bonds and went to jail for it.”  While Fields’ audience, a roving mountie, blubbers uncontrollably.

And every time Fields opens the door of the cabin to look outside, he lugubriously drawls, “And it’s not a fit night out for man nor beast!’ And a grip, off camera, hits him in the face with a cloud of fake snow.  We kitchen slaves would say the line along with him, adding a “sploosh” on the end for sound effects.

Of course his son comes home, released from prison, and promises to never stray again or drink another drop.  His parents greet him joyously. And, quietly, ask him if he still has the money he stole.  As it turns out, no: he burnt those horrible bonds to disavow his sins.  At which point, Fields and wife accuse him of coming home to mooch, beat him senseless, and throw him out into the blizzard.  The End.

Yes, Fields was right for the ’60s. The man held nothing sacred, respected no conventions.  His most famous persona was that of a florid con man or huckster who threw bombast in all directions but was nowhere near as sharp as he thought he was.

The character did had a subversive comment for every occasion: “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with,” or  “If a thing is worth having, it is worth cheating for.” And of course Fields named his final film “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

For a while, you could see old Fields movies everywhere, but that passed.  This needlepoint pattern is from the ‘60s or early ‘70s; it’s long unavailable. Back then I had the same image, as a photo poster, on the wall of my bedroom.  The only more popular poster image at the time was Raquel Welch in a fur bikini from “One Million Years BC.” I couldn’t get that one past my parents.  I wonder if you could get it in needlepoint.

Original Caption: W.C. Fields in typical poker face pose.  Undated photograph.

But in looking at the Fields needlepoint, and the image it came from, something strikes me: take away that stovepipe hat and add a thick, artificial wave of orange hair. With Fields’ scowling face, you have a pretty good approximation of Donald Trump: a man who takes seriously all the things that Fields made fun of: greed, low cunning, lechery, excess.

About his on-screen persona, Fields himself once said: “You’ve heard the old legend that it’s the little put-upon guy who gets the laughs, but I’m the most belligerent guy on the screen. I’m going to kill everybody. But, at the same time, I’m afraid of everybody—just a great big frightened bully . .”

Fields knew that his screen persona was a joke. But Trump doesn’t; he’s playing to it perfectly.  It’s his gospel.

Sadly for him: every day, a little more of the audience is starting to laugh.