Written across its front, in frilly pink script, are the words: "Welcome to Kitty Katty's."
"Kitty Katty is a gigantic pink cat who travels around the world on her supertrick bike Trixie," explains Flower Frankenstein, creator, devotee, and inspiration behind Kitty Katty. "She represents gettin' on that motorcycle and goin' for it! Because if she can do it, so can you!"
Flower Frankenstein seems unremarkable at a distance, and even close up; she opens Kitty Katty's wearing common-day black Ben Davis and a red sweater buttoned to the top. But a close encounter with her is an entirely uncommon experience. This is a 30-year-old woman who tosses phrases such as "okey-dokey smokey" and "pink is powerful" into everyday phone conversation without a hint of affectation. She bestows glittering gumball-machine rings on grown men who, inextricably, presume their magic power, and offers, to those in need, introspective motivational calendars based on the personalities of two cats, a movie monster, and a beatnik poet. After six years and three shops, Flower Frankenstein has found herself.
"When I first moved here," says Frankenstein, "I was working with a lot of underground comic book artists, trying to be cool like everybody else. At first, Kitty Katty was just one of the dolls that sat out with all the others."
Folks may remember Frankenstein's former gallery storefronts -- Baby Frankenstein's and Hairy Scary Monsters -- where she collaborated with such luminaries as Roberta Gregory and Gary Panter to create San Francisco collectibles like the Bitchy Bitch or Jimbo the Punk Rocker dolls. Last Christmas, though, while watching Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, Frankenstein was inspired to create a different sort of character.
"People were really drawn to her. So, I decided to go for it. Just like Kitty Katty says. Everyone thought I was crazy when I painted the place pink. Things were so masculine at the time, but I wanted something really girly and positive, something that was more like who I really am."
Flower Frankenstein laughs for the sixth or seventh time of the morning; it is an unrestrained, unrefined, and completely unmanageable laugh, like that of a newly freed hinny.
"It's funny, but as soon as I let myself become more 'pedestrian,' everything fell into place. I started having fun, and because I'm superenthusiastic about Kitty Katty, other people are too." What Frankenstein calls enthusiasm is a capricious, contagious, and entirely surreal imagination. What she calls pedestrian is a rose-tinted world filled with adventurous felines, go-go-go aesthetics, and an intricate mythology based on single-scoop, double-scoop, and triple-scoop people.
"The Ice Cream Cone Cowboys and Ice Cream Cone Indians live in the Dessert Desert, where they ride around on Poodle-Ponies," explains Frankenstein, pointing to a limited-edition T-shirt.
"Don't worry," she adds. "The Ice Cream Cone Cowboys are made of astronaut ice cream so they won't melt."
The quantity of "souvenirs" -- coffee mugs, T-shirts, maps, passports, key rings, snapshots, hotel memorabilia, perfume bottles, road trip survival kits, and the dolls themselves -- is strictly limited by Kitty Katty's "personal shopper," Kitty Katty Cone, a very shrewd double-scoop assistant from the planet Cosmo Cream whose motto is "Try on everything. Buy nothing." Each souvenir is accompanied by a comic journal that details the character's adventure: Kitty Katty and Betsy Beatnik drag race through Paris during the Poodle de Triumph; Movie Monster scares himself off the drive-in screen and opens a motel where he stalks people wearing popcorn perfume; Kitty Glitter (Kitty Katty's sister) travels around Hollywood with her "thugs," Octopug, the half-dog/half-octopus frustrated actor, and Sassala, the half-cat/half-octopus beauty school dropout; Kitty Katty Cone meets Mr. Sprinkles, a very good, triple-scoop salesman who convinces her to buy two huge glow-in-the-dark totem poles (which are, of course, on display at the shop).
Devout fans -- of which there are about 2,000 peps (Kitty Katty's special unit of measurement, which resembles a spunky cursive "e") --- must scramble to keep up to date (not always easy since Frankenstein's store is typically open on whim, except during the holidays, when a handwritten sign says you can knock any time).
After a few hours with Frankenstein, it's clear that Kitty Katty is more of a philosophy than an action figure. Folks who take her Smart, Sassy, Stylish lifestyle to heart make art and travel the world, finding new friends and avoiding "mean people." The Kitty Katty Travel Board is covered with real-life salutations and photos of Kitty Katty dolls all over the world -- getting sketches drawn on Venice Beach, sleeping at baseball games, riding Harleys, hanging out in Canada, taking road trips through New Orleans.
"My customers are very special," says Frankenstein. "It takes a lot to understand what I'm doing here. Sometimes, I hear people outside the window, when I'm in the workshop. They say the store won't last, but you just can't please everybody. You got to just go for it ... and don't forget your smart, sassy, stylish shield a go-go. It protects you from negative vibes, mean people, funny smells (like farts from the space turtle), and karate chops (like from Kitty Glitter)."
Next year, Flower Frankenstein will be taking Kitty Katty to the Web and to public access TV, where she will continue to buy strange souvenirs and spread her motivational message beyond "San Fransassy." Go, go, go!
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By Silke Tudor