Tyrannosaurs for Everyone

“Dinosaur” is as flexible meme: but a flexible one. Not just on a t-shirt, but across the culture.

“Dinosaur” can connote something that’s old and behind the times; something crazy and weird; something menacing or primitive; something subversive, or sometimes just something huge. (They do NOT connote sushi; that’s Godzilla, a whole different animal.)

Behold some dinosaur t-shirts: and a full range of connotations.

Huge and Old: Pizzasaurus Rex

“Pizzasaurus Rex:” sounds gigantic. Sounds formidable. Just what hungry young people want in a party (or two) on Saturday night. And if your pizzeria is two blocks from a college campus, like this one, free delivery makes it even better.

PR is a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint near the Cal State Northridge campus. The preppy dinosaur on this tee wears the red and black colors of the CSU Northridge Matadors. The starving students give PR their business, and it gives them cheap specials, the aforementioned free delivery, and donations to college athletics. Call it a symbiotic pizza relationship.

“Dinosaur” also connotes “old-fashioned” and “behind the times.” Pizzasaurus Rex is that also; but in a good way. It’s been there since the ’80s, under one family. They cook like it’s the ’80s, too: make their dough and sauces from scratch, chop their own fresh produce, and so forth. Not because they’re fancy, but because that’s the way to make a good pie.

Fifty years ago corporate pizza joints did it that way. I worked in one, we chopped or made nearly everything ourselves. Today’s chain pizza is more — industrial. Ingredients come pre-packaged, pre-prepped from suppliers, even the dough. It’s about efficiency, labor costs, chemical additives (sometimes) and less kitchen/prep space. Not so much about taste.

So Pizzasaurus Rex is behind the times, a dinosaur: at least for a non-gourmet pizza restaurant. But when the times are out of whack, it’s good to be behind them. Newspaper reviews agree: great pizza in the medium price range.

And as we now know, in this world even dinosaurs can come back, if they ever left at all. They’re outside my window every afternoon, cawing from the trees and flapping their black wings. Like the crows, the pizzasaurs are simply biding their time. You just wait.

Crazy: Dug the Tyrannosaur Fashion Plate

Sometimes a dinosaur is just a dinosaur: no symbolism is implied. Freud said that about cigars once. Which brings us to this t-shirt for Dug, an eight-foot tall metal lawn tyrannosaur that stands in front of a home in Redwood City’s Emerald Hills neighborhood.

Dug is just a metal dinosaur. But in context he’s crazy and weird. It’s a matter of style.

Dug’s owners bought him about ten years ago from a place that sells arts, crafts, plants and lawn dinos. May sound weird to out-of-staters, but every town in California with good weather and money has one. Mine has two; I could drive to one of them in five minutes.

The couple bought a tyrannosaur. They put it on their front lawn. They named him Dug. Soon they started making costumes for Dug. This went on for years.

There are pictures of Dug dressed as Elvis. Dug as Marge Simpson. Dug as Santa, consuming a reindeer. Dug as a giant Thanksgiving turkey. Dug as Cupid for Valentine’s Day. Doug as Iron Man, with his “parents” standing by dressed as Captain America and the Mighty Thor.

Locals drove out of their way just to see what Dug was up to. Kids loved him. Everybody knew Dug.

Dug even entered civic life. He “authored” a petition to support neighborhood improvement plans. Dug t-shirts like this one were sold to raise money for local schools, .

A couple of years back, Dug’s parents left town on account of work — they’ll be back someday — and Dug was fostered to friends in the neighborhood. He has a new lawn to call home. It’s very near the elementary school. All the kids can see him every day. Dug sets a good example for them; he has been known to mask.

Old and Primitive: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

I don’t buy t-shirts from barbecue joints. Ninety percent of them show a smiling pig. Pigs are boring. And in context, ghastly.

Okay, the pig may wear pants; it may be barbecuing other pigs while wearing a chef’s toque (and smiling). But barbecue pig totems are unimaginative and, yeah, kind of ghastly. “Welcome to our barbecue, please eat me.” I mean, scientists proved that pigs can play simple video games, and win. They’re probably smarter than some customers.

But this barbecue tee featured a dinosaur instead: traipsing the pitted highways of upstate New York. With a guitar on one shoulder, a bluesman’s pork pie hat, and a tyrannosaur’s smile. Upon some research. “Old” and “primitive” applies to this dino.

The history: back in the ’80s a group of bikers began cooking barbecue at motorcycle rallies. Rally concession food was crp, and they needed to make a living. So they sawed an oil drum in half for a smoker, and they were in business.

It worked out; they cooked at other kinds of gatherings, too. But they were constantly on the move between gigs with an old truck and old motorcycles, cooking their own food on the road over open fires. Among their number was a big hulk of a guy named Dino, and they all ended up calling themselves dinosaurs: modern primitives.

The dinosaurs eventually opened Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (aka The Dinosaur) in Syracuse NY. They were tired of the road. Also, there was no good barbecue in upstate New York. Upstate New York is a sort of dinosaur itself: its once-mighty industries were fossilized by “liberalized” world trade. They’ve still got attitude upstate, but not a lot else.

Maybe the locals were drawn to the name. Maybe the barbecue is really good. Because over time the Dinosaur became an upstate barbecue ’n blues chain which persists to this day. Lately the Dinosaur has wandered to New York City itself, and beyond. Not bad, from a start with a bunch of bikers and half an oil drum.

I told you earlier that I don’t like pigs on barbecue tees. This tee does have one, on the back side: an angry, cigar-chomping Upstate New York kind of pig in (yes) a pork pie hat. with the cryptic legend WDFA. It stands for the Dinosaurs’ secret motto: We Don’t Fuck Around. I like this pig.

Subversive: Jesus on Dino-Back

Jesus riding a dinosaur? “Like a boss?”

Disaffected young people in the American Bible Belt made this t-shirt popular six or seven years ago. It’s a wearable mind game to play on the more rigid type of Christian.

Of course Jesus is the son of God and thus can do anything he wants. Some would nod. But if you’re a Bible literalist, as some are, dinosaurs couldn’t exist. The world was created in seven days. \ Jesus couldn’t have ridden a dinosaur. And yet….

Some of the most conservative Christians used to say that since God is all-powerful, “he” could make two plus two equal three if he cared to. And if you think that way, it follows that the Son of God could triumphantly ride a creature that never existed. God is all-powerful, after all. He could make it exist. Right?

Some of those who wore the tee in public posted about it on social media: they got very little blow-back in public. People just looked at it, and looked away. Maybe it confused them. Maybe to them it just said, “Jesus is lord of all,” which they already believed. Or maybe they had other things to think about.

Fun shirt, though.

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