Imagine the confusion facing aliens about Barbie if they ever land on Earth without humans to explain why people project social obsessions and professional aspirations on an 11½-inch plastic doll.
Take the Doll Walk of Fame at Rudy's Can't Fail Café, which opened Monday. This will be either the second or third time that I begin this column with Rudy's. It's unavoidable this week because there is a ribbon-cutting ceremony 6:30 p.m. Friday which Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt will attend. He is an investor in Rudy's and a rock star. It made sense to put a rock-star event at the top of the column.
Along the wall at Rudy's, above a row of booths, in a chrome and glass case, stand dozens of dolls in blue shirts, black pants and white aprons wearing pins that read, "I am Rudy."
Most of them have real Barbie bodies stamped with "Mattel Inc." But the heads or clothes have been replaced on Cyborg Barbie, Bride of Frankenstein Barbie and others -- at least it looks that way. Xena the Warrior Princess might be original. It's hard to tell from a distance.
A Mr. Clean doll is at one end of the row near the bathrooms, a fitting location. MC Hammer is at the other end, near the entrance. His pants are also black, but they're the genie-style wraparounds he wore when he sang "U Can't Touch This."
Hammer and all the dolls are standing at attention, like an army of mutated miniature waitresses ready to take someone's order. Can I tell you that I was a little horrified that only the male dolls have joints in their arms?
Arms notwithstanding, co-founder, toy collector and music merchandising impresario Jeffery Bischoff said the dolls add a dash of playfulness and match the classic all-American diner theme with a punk sensibility that Rudy's is trying to pull off. Bischoff calls himself the guy that asked some people to "follow me off the cliff" by investing in his diner brainchild that began in Emeryville close to a decade ago.
The "I am Rudy" and matching uniforms are about being different but being welcome in our diverse culture, he said. "We're all in this thing called life together," Bischoff said.
Micky Chittock is said to have collected more than 600 Barbies. Some of them are on display at the Stork Club, a house of punk founded by Micky and her husband, Wes.
They are "overflow from the house, that's what I call them, or my inheritance "... besides this bar," their son Tom Chittock said. He runs the bar and watches over Harley-Davidson Barbie, Holiday Visions Barbie, Wedding Day Barbie, Cinderella Barbie, Irish Dance Barbie, Cleopatra Barbie made to look like Elizabeth Taylor in the movie, and "Gone with the Wind" Barbie.
I look up above me and the bar I am standing in front of to find Rhett Butler, Scarlett O'Hara and others whose names I don't remember. Next to them are Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins, from the "My Fair Lady" Barbie collection.
Moonbeam Barbie is up there too, but does not look like Gov. Jerry Brown.
Tom said a thief stole the Wheelchair Barbie and the Elvis and Marilyn set. He still has a solo Marilyn Barbie and a Barbie Loves Elvis duo, but he moved them to a safe place above and behind the bar.
"Some of the Barbies are really old and some are new, but they're all collectibles," he said. All are in their original packages.
Besides Rhett, the Professor and Elvis, the only males are Big Brother Ken and the little boy he is holding. Entombed in plastic, they are forever separated from what could only have been their soul mates, Barbie and Ginger.
I count 24 dolls above the bar plus the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Tom counted 31 behind the bar. We decide to call it an even 60 on any given day because some of them get swapped out. "I have seven sisters, so I grew up with all these," he said.
"Most of them are adopted."
"The Barbies?" I asked, revealing the signs of wear and tear on my brain even though it was only Wednesday. "The sisters," he said patiently.
Oaklandish does not sell Barbies, but they could come up with Oakland Barbie to enhance Rudy's and the Stork Club collection. She could wear the iconic Oaklandish design of an Oak tree with roots stretching outward. The nomadic Oaklandish, which sells its T-shirts, hoodies and other wares out of what looks like a modified taco truck, will be opening a permanent shop in early July. It actually used to have a home but it was more of a modern-day urban museum than a store. The new address, 1444 Broadway, is more about business, reflecting the direction in which Angela Tsay has taken the enterprise. A grand opening date hasn't been set yet, but there will be lots more to say about Oaklandish and its new home in the meantime.