It's Gary Norman who answers the phone, explaining: "My brother's on the floor picking up lint."
Lint. The brothers Norman--Gary and Michael--are the T-shirt titans of West Hollywood, a merrily irreverent duo who immortalize Angelenos' politically correct and incorrect thoughts on pre-shrunk 100% cotton.
FREE O.J. with every breakfast (for a Hollywood restaurant owner).
I'M TWICE AS NICE AS HEIDI FLEISS.
FREE THE MENENDEZ TWO.
CALIFORNIA: WITH ALL YOUR FAULTS I LOVE YOU STILL.
Good taste is not an issue, Michael says, "because we have no taste." As the Wizard, he's been turning out custom Ts for 27 years. You say it, they'll print it--on shirts, bats, sponges, rolling pins.
But don't ask for Snoopy or that perky mouse (copyright laws). And they won't print anything blatantly racist or truly mean-spirited. (It was "no" to someone wanting Nazi flags on Ts).
Otherwise--well, this is Hollywood. Where an aspiring screenwriter may send a producer a script wrapped in a T-shirt hyping his masterpiece. Where a job resume may arrive on a T.
Michael likes to tell about the time a studio ordered a T-shirt printed all over with dirt. It seems a very big star wouldn't wear a truly dirty shirt for a fight scene. "We took a shirt outside and ran over it a few times with a car," Michael recalls, before popping it into the laser printer.
On a recent afternoon, artist Richard Cronin was picking up a handful of shirts with which he hopes to woo backers for his self-published book, "How to Tap Into Your Unlimited Self." His design: An androgynous black-and-white figure, arms outstretched to the night sky.
John Gowans of Van Nuys, a member of the American Mt. Everest Expedition, came by to pick up 3,000 shirts with which the team hopes to help fund its 1995 climb. The design, a whimsical landscape of snow-capped Everest and a Tibetan village, is by a Sherpa guide. The slogan: "Because It Is There!"
Eclectic hardly describes the Wizard's clientele. Says Michael: "We're a neighborhood mom-and-pop shop. It's just that our customers aren't Mom and Pop." They include top-rated TV shows, blockbuster movies and chart-topping rock groups.
And bears. A publicist once ordered a customized shirt for a trained bear featured in a movie; the bear was going to the Cannes Film Festival. No problem, said the Normans, who ordered an XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX-Large shirt from a supplier in (where else?) Texas. Within seconds of lumbering off a cargo plane in France, it was reported, the bear ripped off the shirt.
Just in case another bear came along, the Normans stocked several mega-shirts and hung one outside. "Some Arabic sheik came along and bought it," says Michael, a bit bewildered.
As he talks, Michael is at the Mac, playing around with a slogan about Judge Lance Ito and his feud with the media. (No orders--yet).
He's recalling the time the Wizard silk-screened salad plates with the likeness of a big TV deal-maker for a big deal dinner. Everyone was happy--until the vinegar and oil salad dressing dissolved the silk screening. "When they got to the bottom, there was this pool of black ink."
He boasts cheerily: "We've ruined one of everything." They've turned fabric to soup, shipped blank shirts. "If it's misspelled, I probably made it," Gary says. He did a job for a constuction company and, Michael adds, "We also did stuff for the mayor of Palm Spings ."
The Normans did not set out to be T-shirt makers. Michael wanted to be a psychologist. (A part-time counselor, he's been working on his doctorate for 20-plus years.)
But, early on, life interfered and, to survive, he opened a plant shop, the Wizard of Plants. Custom iron-ons were a little sideline--until the day a gas leak killed the plants. "So we were in the T-shirt business."
He was joined a few years later by Gary, who for a while was a professional handicapper billed on cable TV as "Galloping Gary Norman."
If you don't want to know what people , what they'd rather be doing, or what their other car is, the brothers will help you tell the world.
Maybe you've seen these shirts?
RIOT, FLOODS, FIRE, EARTHQUAKE. THE FOUR SEASONS OF LOS ANGELES.
The Wizard, again.
MY PARENTS WENT LOOTING IN L.A. AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT.
Remember those BABY IN TRUNK signs?
MY OTHER CAR IS A BROOM? (Bumper stickers for a witches' convention.)
Whether shtick or statement, the T is often the gift of choice for those who already have cashmere. Peter Lawford used to pick up funny shirts on his way to Kennedy clan parties. When Sammy Davis Jr. was terminally ill, friends had a robe printed with their get-well wishes.
A couple of big sellers from the past may be in for a rerun. There was the Saddam Hussein dartboard. And the Official Iraqi Army Surrender Shirt. White, so the wearer could rip it off and wave it.
Some Things About Bowling Never Change
I can't explain what cosmic force drew me to Tarzana for last weekend's gala reopening of quake-devastated Corbin Bowl.