September 23, 2003


One of the blessings of living in Florida is the close access residents get to crap souvenirs.

I'm talking more than your garden variety $150 glass etchings of Mickey Mouse's rodent ass. You gotta go deeper than that.

To truly absorb the pungent, humid, coconut-oil soaked atmosphere that is the Sunshine State, you owe it to yourself to find an authentic shell shop.

For the uninitiated, shell shops offer an unbelievable array of weird, odd and downright unbelievable trinkets that sell for far more than they are worth. Baby sharks preserved in bottles. See-through Lucite toilet seats with shells embedded in them. Piranhas perched on a stick, their mouths frozen with permanent TMJ. That's the level of crap we're talking here.

With that kind of reputation for crap at its shitty best, you're going to attract attention. And so when Mike, a colleague from Atlanta, expressed an interest last week during our convention in finding a tacky shell-related item to take back home, I felt duty bound to show him the best of the best. That is how we came to find ourselves on Saturday at The Florida Shell Shop.

To understand how authentic this place is, consider that it opened in 1955. Think about it; 48 years in business. In Florida, that's ancient history. This is the equivalent of the Vatican gift shop. The Rosetta stone of crap Florida souvenirs.

But Mike wanted to go. Another colleague, Tom, decided to forego a boring lunchtime speech and join us. And, truth be told, I've always held a fascination for the garbage you can find in these places.

Your initial strategy upon entering a truly crapperific shell store is to just stand and absorb the atmosphere. With thousands of items on shelves and dangling from the ceiling and windows, this truly is Attention-Deficit Paradise. Here, Mike attempts to gauge the scale of tackiness by immersing himself in the coral aisle.

Note the abundance of stuff here. It's everywhere. There's even a brain coral on the floor that has since been outlawed for removal in Florida. (It was taken before the law went into effect, I was told.)

My favorite part of this photo: the small sign reading "CORAL" on the left. Like you wouldn't have figured this out.

Mike went ga-ga over this shell-encrusted box. I'm not sure why, since there were only about 50,000 others in the room. It's not like it was a one-of-a-kind item.

But the heart wants what the heart wants. Go figure.

We had only been in the room a few minutes, but I could tell that my instruction to Tom that the shop should be treated as a retail shrine was rubbing off on him. Just look how tenderly he's cradling the driftwood pelican, so as not to scar or injure its perfect crappiness.

This piece truly took my breath away. I call it, "Shell Epcot." Perched daintily on a teak napkin ring, it is encrusted with shells. It serves no other purpose than to mystify with its symmetrical dimension and repetition of form. It was also a steal at $4.99.

Sing along with me: Oooooh, dreeeeeeeeeam weavah, I believe we can reach the morning liiiiiiiight...

These figurines were in such stunningly bad taste, that I looked around the shop to see if perhaps I was being videotaped by, "Craptabulous Bloops, Bleeps, and Practical Jokes" to gauge my reaction. Mike bought these for four subordinates at his workplace whom he dubs, "The Bridesmaids." (I bet they just love that joke...)

I call it, "The Shell Mikado."

Four little maids of shells are we,
Pert as a souvenir-girl can be,
Filled to the brim with crappy glee,
Four little maids of shells...

Mike enjoyed the crapiliciousness of the idea that a semi-naked mermaid would be clutching such a huge alcoholic phallic symbol. I just looked at the wine. I believe I read somewhere that Wine Spectator magazine suggests that this ceramic Ariel be displayed with a very dry near-classic 2001 Pinot Noir. Or maybe something with a screw-top.

Sometimes, you can't help but make a friend in a place like this. Here, Tom accepts some purchasing advice from his personal shopper, Socks.

When the hijinx was over, it was time to pay the pauper. In this case, it was Robert, a very nice gentleman who has been working at the store for 11 years, after a previous career as a convenience store personnel trainer. Tom noticed the Buccaneers jersey I was wearing - no surprise, since it was a size 5,000 XXXL - and thus proudly produced this Super Bowl ticket from San Diego, signed personally by Coach Jon Gruden.

It's a good thing he keeps such a valuable item behind the counter.

Posted by Jeff at September 23, 2003 08:10 AM | TrackBack
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