For this particular Toddfest my gift to everyone else was to fly Rich down to VA from Boston, where he has just started his second semester at Berklee. It was a surprise to the birthday celebrators for me to show up with a person everyone thought was 500 miles away, but Rich had a bigger surprise in store for me. Lovingly nestled in his bag was a 16 pound concrete bust of Mr. T's head. This was 1997, before Mr. T had come back into style so this was not only one of the heaviest gifts I've ever received, but definitely the most inexplicable. (Witt interjects: Mr. T has never been out of style)
Now just to be clear, at the time I didn't have any particular fascination with Mr. T, nor did anyone else in our circle of friends. Without missing a beat, the rest of the Chumps decided that Rich had it right: The world would be a better place if I had a collection of the most bizarre and unusual Mr. T themed gifts they could find.
Several years have passed. I have many more T-things now. Here they are...
Concrete TThis is the gift that started it all.
In Rich's words:
There's not too much back story behind it, except for the fact that I remember hauling that fucking thing around Boston the day I got it. Yeah, it was in Harvard Square at this sort of cheeky hippie shop. It was just on display in the window, I asked, "how much is that Mr. T head in the window?" and the rest is history.
It is heavy. 16 pounds doesn't sound like much, but considering that it's 6"x6"x10" it takes you by surprise with its density. It now sits on my fridge, protecting my kitchen from evil spirits.
Comic TIn March 98 came the next big T item. For Czerton's 22nd birthday Todd was buying gifts for everyone except Czerton. My package came with a letter from Todd, the first 3 issues of the A-Team comic and the first 6 issues of the Mr. T And The T-Force comic! The T-Force comics even had collectors cards and a couple double-issues so that I could have 8 unique cards! In Todd's words:
T-Force Comics were bought from a comic book store in Blacksburg, VA that was going out of business. I believe the comics were marked 10 cents a piece. I remember the comics all being in good shape, still bagged, and they had funny baseball-like cards included. They varied from issue to issue, and I seem to remember T in a college cap and gown. Good stuff.
Considering the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars that this gift must have set him back, I must consider Todd a true friend and a real believer in saving me from my non-T-loving self.
Puzzle TSometime later that year I received a large pre-school age puzzle of Mr. T. It consisted of 11 pieces and a base that held them (now lost :( ). It was made by Illco Enterprises. "Illco"... "Illco"... yeah, that seems about right. In Todd's words:
No real funny story here other than the seller of the puzzle told me there might be some gnawing on T's legs from a small child. I don't remember seeing anything wrong with it though.
In case you were wishing you could try the puzzle yourself, or you know of a toddler whose mind you'd like to start warping early, I've included a large, printable image so that you can make a paper version of the puzzle. If you do try the puzzle, DO NOT CHEAT and look at the pictures of the pieces below. The triumph will be that much sweeter if you can conquer this 11-piecer on your own.
Freshener TThe puzzle was unusual, but now we're getting weird. In Todd's words:
Found while scouring ebay for T related merchandise. Mr. T Air Fresheners were averaging $10-$20 a piece. I found an auction posted by an elderly woman who said she was cleaning out her attic after her husband passed away and she found a box of them. Her starting bid was 50 cents so I wrote her and offered her $14 if she would close the auction immediately ($10 for the box and $4 for shipping). She agreed and sent me a box of 14 Mr. T Air Fresheners.
Delighted once I received them, which was at work, I proceeded to open one, which gave off a ridiculously noxious odor. I ended up taking an early lunch break so I could get the damn things out of my cubicle. As soon as I arrived home, I hung it from a light on our porch and left it for a week. Once I brought it in, it still smelled pretty bad so I put it out for another 3-4 days at which point it seemed to have no smell so I put it in my car. Bad idea. It went as high as 90 degrees the first day I had it in the car, and being in the oven, it must have cooked out some extra smell. I had to seriously air out my car with lots of perfumey air spray and I left it out on the porch for another few days before returning it to my car.
Besides the one I opened, I kept one more in package for myself; gave one to Bart; one to Joe; and sold the rest for an average price of $18 on ebay.
Odd side note - a man who ran an herbal candle company actually emailed me and said he "wanted in on my Mr. T racket." That I "obviously had a strangle hold on the niche market of Mr. T air fresheners" and he could be a "powerful ally." Checking the IP in the email to the URL provided, he was legit, which just made the whole situation sad and funny. When I responded that I wasn't a T Kingpin, he wrote back frustrated and said I was "playing hard ball" and why wouldn't I let him in? I neglected to respond.
Action TAt this point in our story, I am living in New York City. A package mysteriously arrives at my desk with Todd's return address on it. Suspicious, I open it.... MORE Mr. T loot! Woo! This time it's a Mr. T action figure. In Todd's words:
The woman who sold this to me on ebay took 3 months to send it. She said this was my fault - but never explained why. She gave me other ridiculous reasons including her husband had heart problems so I was cold hearted to not understand her plight of spending long hours at the hospital and not being able to mail it out (when I wrote her back about my heart problems, in great detail, she shut up about her husband). She switched to saying that she lived in a small town and the post master had forgotten to mail it out. When I asked for the phone number of the post master, she said it was a small town and she "didn't want people to talk."
After some more bullshit, it finally arrived, but not until after I had demanded my money back - which I did receive.
(Does this mean that Todd got this for free?!?!)
There are holes in the hands where I assume accessories would have attached, but there was no trace of them when Todd got a hold of it. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I suppose), this toy was seriously loved before it got into my hands. The velcro zipper of the pants barely latch anymore and he spent many months on my desk at work with his pants halfway down looking like he was trying to pee.
He comes with four phrases that he can say if you pull the string on his back. The mechanism that played the phrases played them back about 6 half-steps too high, which resulted in a hilariously high-pitched Mr. T voice. I've done some audio processing to correct the samples, bringing them to proper pitch. The four phrases are:
- "I pity the poor fool."
- "Always listen to your parents."
- "Study hard in school."
- "Murdoch, you're crazy!"
For that last one I took the time to work some extra audio magic to fully restore it. Here's the original sound capture and the fully restored version:
- "Murdoch, you're crazy!" (raw capture)
- "Murdoch, you're crazy!" (remastered)
Bobble TA special gift from a special girl.... In Alice's words:
I was visiting Jenny in Albany some time around/before Christmas 2001 and picked up an Entertainment Weekly magazine with an article about unique gift ideas and saw the Bobblehead T. I think there was a URL that I tried to memorize then but subsequently forgot. Around February, I wanted to give you something romantic for our first Valentine's day together (though in actuality I think I gave it to you a few days earlier) so I casually asked Jenny if she still had that magazine with Britney Spears on the cover. Mind you, this is a weekly magazine so she had to dig through several weeks worth in order to find the right edition and the right article. We discovered that Spencer Gifts (yep, that novelty junk store) carried it online but was out of stock. The Spencer Gifts at the South St. Seaport (the only one I've ever known in NYC) went out of business. Being the good friend she is, Jenny popped into Spencer Gifts whenever she went to the malls and kept a lookout for it. After several attempts, she found one that had a Bobble T...the very last one...and so she picked it up for me...and I wrapped it up for you...wasn't that romantic?
Oh yes, dear. It certainly was.
In the gallery below I've included a short video of this thing in action.
"T"-shirt 1For my birthday in 2002 Witt got me this sweet puffy Mr. T shirt. How awesome is this?! Honestly, it's kinda big for me, but I love the scowl he has here. It's also hard to convey just how amazingly blue it really is. And how puffy the Mr. T print is.
Chia TThis baby is so unique that it has a special page devoted to it. The short version: one of the partners where I used to work, Fuel North America, left the company and gave this puppy to me on his way out. He had seen the Action T and the Bobble T on my desk, so he knew it would be a good home. It sat idle for a month until I finally planted the seeds and time-lapse captured the results. After drying out it developed water stains (calcium build-up?) :( . Anyways, this thing doesn't really look like Mr. T. It actually resembles the concrete bust above, which also doesn't really look like Mr. T.
Bubble TThis is the first of a two-part themed gift set from Witt. This was a birthday gift, the next item was an xmas gift 3 months later. It is a Mr. T Soap-On-A-Rope. No kidding. My armpits explode with delight!
Unlike the air freshener, this thing actually smells good. It's a light flowery scent, very much like real flowers. I wish real soap smelled this good. I also wish real soap wasn't so delicious. (Note: I don't bathe so this has never been used)
Squeaky TThis is the other half of Witt's themed gifts. A Mr. T rubber ducky. It has to be the weirdest item in my collection. It is a blue Mr. T/rubber ducky Frankenstein creation. It's like a Centaur, but instead of a horse, it's a rubber duck, and instead of a man, it's Mr. T with a duck bill. And it squeaks. (Note: Again, I don't bathe so this has never been used... but this toy is really tempting...)
In addition to the action video I've included in the gallery below, I also present to you a high quality recording of its squeak:
"T"-shirt 2This shirt was a gift from Czerton... I think? I'm starting to get confused in the pile of T stuff now. This shirt fits me much better than the other one, but because it has "Pussy" written in large letters, it's unlikely that I'll ever wear it out.
Celebrity Deathmatch THonestly, I'm not sure where these things are coming from any more. I think this was a gift from Chuck M? I really don't remember. Whatever the case, it is distinctive for it's lack of earrings. Wow, that's a lot of branding. In less than 10 years Mr. T went from an obscure 80's icon to a serious commercial property. Interesting trivia, it was manufactured in Brooklyn (Zip: 11201) only about a mile from where I was living at the time (11206).
Bazooka TThis last one absolutely blows my mind.
Sometime in 2006 when Buckaroo was heavy into a practice regimen, Pat shows up at my apartment giddy with excitement. In his words:
On the way home from brunch one day, my wife spotted some old beat up boxes of trading cards with a neighbor's trash. Upon closer inspections, it turned out to be unopened boxes of Dukes of Hazzard, A-Team, Tron, and Dune trading cards. I freaked out, since the latter three would be perfect gifts for Bart, Randall, and Rich respectively, so I took them out of the trash and gave them to those chumps the next time I saw them. Ines made fun of me a great deal for giving garbage away as gifts, but those idiots were thrilled when I gave the cards to them.
Not one, but FOUR amazing Topps card sets just sitting out on the street. The four awesome 80's properties: Tron, Dukes of Hazzard, Dune, and The A-Team! What are the friggin' chances?!
Before anyone asks: no I have not opened a card pack and tried the gum inside. Don't be ridiculous, it's being saved for a special occasion.
ConclusionWe all grow up with the myth of Mr. T in our bedtime stories and fairy tales. But I believe Mr. T really existed. Of course, some elements of the myth are created to appeal to our need for entertainment, like his wrestling career, the adventures of the A-Team, and him being a genetic experiment to combine a man, an army tent, a peacock's plume, and Fort Knox. But the important aspect is that his teachings live on in those stories. The positive messages of Mr. T are timeless. Respecting your parents, valuing education, pitying fools, and that Murdoch is crazy are words to live by. I thank my friends for being my T-pushers even when I wasn't always enthusiastic. I feel honored to have such a (totally ridiculous) collection in my trust and I hope that as the usual gift-giving occasions come and go my collection will grow.
Thank you all for your T-ness. I'm going to go spend some quality time in the tub now.