Appendix 1.23 – I’m So Happy…

And now we have reached the final shirt of all the shirts. This last shirt of the group of vintage T-shirts that I inherited from my wife’s uncle is one that I had been waiting for the appropriate moment to wear—that is, when I wouldn’t be around any polite company, especially my children. As it turned out, no such opportunity ever arose, since I am one of those parents who actually chooses to spend time with his children. So I ended up wearing it underneath a Hawaiian shirt because as much admiration as I have for this shirt, I can’t just be wearing it out to dinner or anything.

So usually I describe the picture first and then get to the words, but this time I think I really have to start with the words, and to do so I have to do my best to properly include the line breaks because they elevate the words from a mere T-shirt slogan to poetry. Here is my best rendition:


I think that speaks for itself, honestly. And who is it, other than the wearer of this shirt, that is expressing this poetic sentiment? Well, we have a picture to illustrate that.

The picture features what I assume is some kind of anthropomorphic frog (because of course it’s a frog) sitting at a desk with its giant head in its hand. Next to the desk is a full wastebasket (symbolism) and upon the desk is a green inkwell with a pen sticking out of it (because of course anthropomorphic frogs use ink dip pens). The man-frog’s expression clearly shows its irritated boredom with its day job as a calligrapher or medieval scribe, causing the manimal to sarcastically liken his lack of enthusiasm with a defecation-inducing glee.

And if a sarcastic, expletive-spewing frog-thing is not a good way to end this run of shirts, then I don’t know what is.

Thanks for reading. Future posts will involve the progress of upcycling projects, which will likely be less frequent, but that’s how it goes.


Appendix 1.21 – The Big Cheese

Today we have a yellow shirt which has a cartoon picture of a small gray mouse staring up at a large wedge of cheese. Above this it says “THE BIG CHEESE”. That is about the extent of it.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to expect more out of it than that, but for whatever reason, I do. It kind of simultaneously feels like I’m missing something and also like I’m not missing anything at all and it is what it is. Obviously it’s a literal take on the figurative expression meaning an important person, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to indicate that the wearer is “the big cheese”, because I would expect in that case for it to say “I’m” in front of it, or have an arrow pointing up (or, more in line with sentiments on the other shirts recently featured, down) or something like that. But it doesn’t. So it just seems like it’s calling attention to the fact that the expression exists and that its figurative meaning is incongruous with its literal meaning, which of course is not only obvious but the whole point of using figurative language. The only thing I could think of was that “the big cheese” was at the time of this shirt only recently entering popular usage and therefore it was one of those shirts playing on the popularity of a new catchphrase, but a little research disproves that pretty easily.

Now that I’m done ranting on that, let me rant on another cheese-related topic, which is the depiction of cheese in a generic sense. Whenever someone wants to show something that is instantly recognizable as cheese, they do it in almost always the same way: as a yellow wedge with holes in it. I do not understand this. First, cheese with holes in it is typically interpreted to be Swiss, and Swiss cheese is usually a very pale yellow, almost white, not the bright yellow usually shown. This particular cartoon version is actually relatively moderate on the yellowness, although it appears less yellow than it is because it is on a yellow background. Typically it will be shown as a bright golden yellow, like one would associate with cheddar cheese. But the thing is, cheddar cheese is artificially colored yellow to make it distinct. Cheddar, as most cheeses, is like Swiss, naturally pale yellow to white. In fact, the vast majority of cheeses are not yellow, and the vast majority of cheeses do not have holes, yet the popular image of cheese is almost always yellow with holes. I say this as a resident of Wisconsin, home of the cheesehead, which of course is proudly displayed by shameless people by wearing foam hats in the color and shape of a bright yellow, holed wedge.

I know what you are saying—without that, how would we be able to, at a glance, know it’s cheese? A hunk of parmesan just looks like a piece of whitish solid stuff. You can’t cartoon its cheesiness otherwise. The nature of cheese is that it appeals to the other senses than sight. It’s about taste and smell and texture (and in the case of fresh curd, sound). Well, for starters, I have no problem with the wedginess, because most cheeses are made in round wheels and cut into wedges. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the holes either, because they are easy to draw and a handy marker. Just make it white, if it’s gonna have holes. If you want to make it yellow, get rid of the holes. That’s all I’m saying. You can’t have it both ways.

Appendix 1.20 – BMWMOA Rally 1982

Today we have an interesting yellow shirt from the 1982 BMWMOA rally. The BMWMOA is of course the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America. It features among other things the drop-shadowed outline of the state of Ohio, filled with the blue and white checker from the center of the BMW logo, which of course recalls the blue and white of the flag of BMW’s native Bavaria. Ohio is pictured of course because it was host of the rally. On top of the shape of Ohio is first a horse-drawn carriage, with its wheels replaced by the center of the BMW logo yet again. I have no idea why that image is there. Next is a cardinal, which I can only assume is because it is the state bird of Ohio. What that has to do with motorcycles, I have no idea. Finally there is the image of a guy riding a BMW motorcycle, which makes perfect sense.

Above the images it says “PLAIN & FANCY” with “plain” being rendered in a relatively plain typeface, and “fancy” in a relatively fancy one. The ampersand I would judge as being also relatively fancy, although in a different style than the word “fancy”. Perhaps it was thought of as a compromise between the two typefaces as being a little fancy but not too much. Anyway, I have absolutely no idea why it says this at the top or what in the world it has to do with a motorcycle convention.

Below the images in an arc it then says “-10th Annual BMWMOA Rally – 1982-“ which is about the most sensible thing on the shirt as it at least tells you what the hell is going on. I like to think of this shirt as starting with nonsense at the top and becoming increasingly sensible as your eyes move down it.

I don’t usually do this, but I am going to offer unsolicited design advice to the good folks at the BMWMOA if they perchance to hold another rally in the state of Ohio. Scrap the state outline and bird stuff. You take the Ohio state flag, which already by itself makes your shirt awesome by virtue of the fact that it is one of the weirdest flags in the nation (in a good way). Then you notice that said flag incorporates in it a circle as the focal point. Then you place the BMW logo—the whole logo, not just the center part of it—on top of the flag in place of the circle. Bam. Shirt design done. On the back, you put “BMWMOA 20XX” (with the XX standing for the year of the rally, natch). Of course that won’t work on a yellow background, so pick something complimentary, like maybe a blue ringer. Just sayin’.

As for the backstory, I know that at least one of my wife’s uncles’ has owned a BMW bike, and she’ll probably comment and correct me on all this, but the one I know of was not the same one that I got the shirt from. It does seem generally that her father’s family, all boys save for her grandmother, had an affinity for BMW bikes. Which I found a little unusual what with them coming from the home of Harley-Davidson and all that, but I’m sure there’s an explanation why, I just don’t know it.

Appendix 1.19 – Schaak Electronics

I find this shirt pretty amazing. First, let me acknowledge that although in the photos, the shirt appears white, it is actually more of light tan, because shirts in the 70’s weren’t allowed to be white, apparently. I’m sure white shirts existed, but they were probably reserved for use as undershirts. An interesting thought, as of course the very nature of the T-shirt is as an evolution of a men’s undershirt, and so when originally worn without another covering was considered a somewhat scandalous (or at least low-class) showing of one’s undergarments at a time that undershirts were the norm (cf. Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire; observe the popular legend re: Clark Gable in It Happened One Night; compare the current usage of “wife-beater” to refer to a sleeveless undershirt). While T-shirts are common (nay, ubiquitous) today as standalone casual garments, perhaps the coloration I’m seeing repeatedly was due to a stage in the evolution of the T-shirt in which there were still a significant population who thought of them as undergarments and so color (as well as decorative embellishments such as ringed cuffs and collar) was a way to make distinct the separation between someone wearing a T-shirt as a standalone garment choice rather than a repurposed undershirt, a distinction which faded over time as the generation for which that held moral and class connotations declined and younger generations adopted it as the sartorial norm. Pardon my speculative pedantry.

If my assumption above is indeed the case, this shirt in particular is an ironic display of how little that mattered in practice as its design prominently features not only an undergarment, but one that would typically be considered even less polite than usual. On the front is what I dare say is a gigantic image of a jock strap, approaching life-size. Above it are the words “Thanks for your SUPPORT”, and on the area of what would be the label of the jock it says “schaak ELECTRONICS”. On the reverse are the words “Get your PIONEER at SCHAAK ALLIED.

The thing that amazes me the most about this shirt is that someone would think that it is a good idea to promote one’s electronics company by using a jock strap. The “support” joke is funny enough, but not what I would expect from a marketing department. This also raises some questions which merited some research on my part. For starters, whence goest Schaak Electronics? What did they sell? What is this “pioneer” connection? And what’s with the superscript “c”? There’s a pretty informative Wikipedia article on the now-defunct company, so I’ll let you do your own reading for the details, but the basics are that they were a Minneapolis-based audio and consumer electronics company that went under in the mid-eighties. And it’s pronounced “shock”. “Pioneer” seems to be in reference to the still extant audio electronics company, and that because Schaak owned and operated a chain of retail stores in the Midwest, they sold that brand there. I still haven’t figured out what is up with the superscript c, though. My first instinct since it was that way on the jock but not on the back was that perhaps it was mimicking the logo of an actual brand of athletic supporter, probably one that started with “Mc” as in an Irish surname. But further research indicated that it was the company’s standard wordmark style to use the same superscript c.

Also gathered in my research was the fact that this style of marketing was not unusual for them. I came across an old radio spot in which an older man and a young boy conversed about what products were available from Schaak which ended with the older man looking at a pornographic magazine.

Appendix 1.18 – Have a Nice Day

Hey everybody, sorry it’s been a while since I posted any shirts. Been busy.

So we’re back with a blue ringer. Today’s entry has a sparkly iron-on design with a half-sunburst saying “HAVE A NICE DAY Before Some BASTARD Louses It Up!” I like this one. It’s straightforward and to the point. The joke is relatable but not too pandering. Mostly, the design is interesting. It’s effectively just text, but they made it interesting by playing with the layout and the typography instead of just plopping it on a scroll for some reason.


Appendix 1.17 – You’re Doing It Wrong

So what can one say about this shirt that isn’t already being said by the shirt itself? I will only draw attention to a few things; that we’re back to the blue ringer, and that the donkey is wearing a hat. And I suppose that they felt it necessary to really make their point clear by giving it a black eye.

I do want to say something about the context of the shirt though. Regular readers will recall that I got all these vintage shirts from my wife’s late uncle. One can get a reasonably accurate picture of his personality from the shirts he used to express himself. I don’t mean that in any judgmental way; he simply was who he was. He was a thin man prematurely aged by his constant smoking and horrendous diet; he enjoyed hunting and fishing; he had a rather juvenile sense of humor. He lived with his mother almost all his life, and got taken in by scammers who took his money and left him believing, until his dying day, that they were going to make him a millionaire. He loved his cats and his family. I don’t want to mock him or give the impression that he was a one-dimensional character or that though he was very different from me that he was in some way inferior.

There was, however, something about him that while he was alive I always suspected, but never explored outside of private conversations with my wife. For a long time, I thought he may be gay. This was a vague impression more than anything, based mostly on circumstantial evidence and intuition. He married once, young, very briefly, divorced after a year. This was not much talked about and it was said that it fell apart because she cheated on him. He seemed to spend most of his time that was not at home with his mother (in the household my wife grew up in as well for much of her life) or at work in the company of one male friend at the friend’s house. I suppose in my mind I had developed this tragic character for him, where he wasn’t able to reconcile his very blue-collar, north-woods Wisconsin life with his internal desires. This was probably mostly of my own invention. To me, it seemed like I was seeing a man trying hard to fit the description of what he thought was expected of him and not always succeeding, but enough so that everyone was able to go about their business and not ask too many questions. This T-shirt, to me, was a classic example of overcompensation.

After he died and we were cleaning out his things, we found a stack of old Playboy magazines. One could easily argue that as proof against or evidence for my theory, were one so inclined. I don’t suppose I’ll have any confirmation one way or the other, and moreover it doesn’t really matter anyway.


Appendix 1.16 – Just a Little

I don’t claim to understand the motivations behind all these thirty-year-old designs. I understand the populist themes of lust, gluttony, and sloth, but I don’t understand the brown, the sparkly borders, or the choice to place words on scrolls for no apparent reason. This one is nicely held to my chest by a knife.

The one thing I can appreciate about this one is that the lettering is drawn and not typeset like it would be if the same sentiment was expressed on a shirt made today.


Appendix 1.14 – There’s No Place Like Colorado

A brief respite from the blues and browns today with a Kelly green shirt from Colorado. I myself have never been to Colorado, unless you count the Denver airport, which I don’t, as everyone knows that airports don’t count. But apparently there’s no place like Colorado, specifically Boulder. I like how they just threw in the name of the town down there in small print on the flourish. Another nice travel shirt that you wouldn’t see today. I appreciate the way that the “COLORADO” is obviously hand-lettered, not just some off-the-rack typeface. Hand-lettering to me is the equivalent of live music. It is always worth the effort. What is lost in polish that you would get on the recording is more than made up for by the obvious heart that goes into the performance. Just like any thinking person would not accept going to a live concert to hear pre-recorded music played to them, because they are going for the express purpose of experiencing a live, vital, and necessarily imperfect performance, one should always appreciate the craft and care that goes into a hand-lettered work above that of one created digitally. I often wish I had the skill to do so myself, but as with professional musicians, it is a talent that I lack beyond the most rudimentary attempts.

Appendix 1.13 – Ft. Walton Beach Wave

Here we are back in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida (this time with a period to properly abbreviate “Fort”) and back to a blue shirt. This one features all the stuff you would associate with a good Floridian souvenir shirt: a sunset, palm trees, seagulls (I guess), and a wave crashing. This is a good souvenir shirt. I would bet that if you went to Ft. Walton Beach today, you would find some souvenir shops that sold shirts but none of them would probably be as nice as this one. They would probably be either of the variety of advertising how drunk you can get there, or just saying “FLORIDA” with no graphics nearly as nice as this. This shirt is really more about the graphics than pointing out where it came from.

Unfortunately it has had a little wear, and around the wave with all the little lines to indicate foam the printing has started to come loose in places, so I don’t wear it much anymore to preserve it.