Eric's Heroes: The man presiding over Archie McPhee's theater of the absurd

Behold the spectacle of Seattle's Archie McPhee's (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE -- The world's largest rubber chicken, yodeling pickles and thousands of other delightfully bizarre toys and gifts.

What in the world is going on behind the scenes at the Seattle institution known as "Archie McPhee"? Well, sheer lunacy and joy.

A brain-storming session at the company is anything but ordinary. Something beautifully, brazenly bizarre... and, slightly confusing.

"Slaw straw. I don't know what it looks like, but a straw with a claw on it. Claw for your lawn. It's a Claw-n ornament..."

At one point, the idea of a "haunted pickle" is thrown out.

"Just so we are clear, this a regular pickle, but it is inhabited by a ghost," one said.

It's a strange meeting.

"They're clam-flavored candy canes..."

The man presiding over this theater of the absurd is Mark Pahlow, and the ideas that make it out of the brainstorming sessions end up in what has to be the oddest toy store in all the world.

"It's iconically Seattle to us.," said one woman.

Archie McPhee is known for, among other things, its light-up unicorns, cat masks, little hands and feet... for your fingers, lobster claws, crazy hats -- all kind, two-headed babies, punching nuns, and bacon flavored floss.

"I came in to buy a Ruth Bader Ginsburg air freshener for my car," said one customer.

Touring Archie McPhee with the man who created it all is an experience.

"I think I am a terribly humorous guy, but others find me almost abnormally introverted," Pahlow said.

What exactly do you ask a guy who gave yodeling pickles to the world?

"What is this store really all about, anyway?" I tried.

"That is an interesting question," Pahlow replied. "It's about finding some kind of comfort and pleasantness in an absurd and difficult world. It's a really deep personal thing for me."

He started it in 1983 and used to walk around with bags of strange toys selling them on the street.

Pahlow, David Wahl and their band of eccentric curators of the ludicrous, the curious and the peculiar have designed more than 3,500 products and one of each of them is stored.

"We made this armadillo purse,," Pahlow said. "Very handsome; didn't do very well."

"I have had an incredible rich and lucky life to indulged such a ridiculous predilection of absurdity and funny and goofy things year after year after year and make a living from it," Pahlow said.

There is one item at Archie McPhees that Pahlow favors more than any other.

"If you don't think the rubber chicken is funny, then I don't want to know you," he said.

Ahh yes, the rubber chicken. Archie's designs and manufactures their own. They sell 'em like hotcakes.

And in the back of the store is the world's only rubber chicken museum, including the largest rubber chicken in the world!

"It really makes you feel small, doesn't it?" I asked Pahlow.

"Yeah, it's humbling," he said.

McPhee is a lot like the rubber chickens that are sold there. Weird and funny, and we're not really sure why. And mostly, we're just happy to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

"I like to think of (myself) as uniquely enlightened into the absurdity of life," Pahlow says.

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to

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