Joke Shop Leaves 'em Gagging

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Wares far from subtle at Southbridge store Fortier

If you're looking for a politically correct column this week guaranteed not to offend anybody, you best look elsewhere.

Yes, the recently opened Four Eyes Joke Shop at Central and Main streets in Southbridge has started to do a lot of things for the area, including extolling the virtues of bicycle helmets and starting a program where youths help clean up the downtown area.

But those are topics for serious journalism, something this column tries very hard and, I must add, successfully to avoid. Or as joke shop owner Valerie Pontbriand says, "People pay for flatulence."

As well as baked beans, I presume.

Besides, there's a certain humor in the fact that the building at 296 Main St., pretty much at the center of downtown Southbridge, is the home of a joke shop. Please, hold the jokes about the Southbridge Town Council.

A sense of humor is required when you enter the 2,000-square-foot Four Eyes Joke Shop that opened on July 24 after spending the first year of its existence on Route 20 in Brimfield. The shop, which is billed on its Web site as the largest joke shop in New England, also has a warehouse in Palmer.

One of the first things you notice when you walk in the door is a rubber mouse lying belly up on the carpet.

On some days, I bet there are one or two Gold Gifts laying on the floor. Just so you know: A Gold Gift is a most realistic version of the type of material that has prompted pooper-scooper bylaws across the state and the entire free world as we know it.

The Gold Gifts, by the way, are contained in a large display in front of a yellow sign urging people to "hire a teenager while they know everything."

The trip to the back room, where all the greeting cards are located, is highlighted by a takeoff on the omnipresent Baby-on-Board signs that are seemingly part of the accessory option for just about every Volvo sold since 1988.

This version shows a screaming baby trying to crawl out of the back window. In the word of the follicly challenged, hard-bitten basketball announcer Marv Albert: "Yessss." Along with the greeting cards, several books can be found in the back room.

One is called "Everything Men Can Say to Women Without Offending Them - The Ultimate Guide," which contains about 100 blank pages.

Another is "Everything Men Understand About Women - The Mysteries Revealed," a screed of about 100 blank pages "authored" by Dr. A. Ripov and S.K. Harpa.

There's some more good news from the back room: This year's selection of Christmas cards is in. The bad news - at least for the purposes of this column - is that we can't quote them; you know, something about this being a family paper.

But there are certain things that people go to the joke shop for. And - you guessed it - Halloween is coming and many costumes are on display. I'm not an expert on costumes.

After all, I spent my young adult years going to Halloween parties as either a golfer or fisherman, depending on what I had in the trunk of my car at the time of the soiree. Still, it looks like the medical profession is a big item this Halloween.

"Practical jokes are always a big thing," said Ms. Pontbriand, who says, not surprisingly, that laughter is indeed very good medicine.

"One hundred laughs a day is equal to 10 minutes on a rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike," she said.

There's also all kinds of fake food on sale.

Let's see: You've got your sour popcorn, rubber chocolate doughnuts, rubber chocolates, no-tear sugar packets, the ever-popular foaming sugar and many other delectable treats.

And yes, there's plenty of, ahem, dark humor involving various bodily functions. Actually, there's an example of bright humor. We're talking about the bright green, tactfully named "Potty Glow ... When you gotta go, it's gotta glow."

Ms. Pontbriand says business has been very good and people from all over Central and Eastern Massachusetts, and their children, have been coming by.

"What's great about this business is you can sell (expletive) and get away with it," she said.

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Valerie Pontbriand
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