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Column

Ugly baby's tale comes direct from billboard

By ROBERT KING
Published April 18, 2004

A strange, amorphous figure recently appeared on billboards in Hernando and Pasco counties, prompting a lot of questions.

Is it a baby? Is it an old man? Is it Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street? One of the backwoods children from Deliverance?

Seeking an answer to these questions, the Times sought an interview with the mysterious character on the billboards.

TIMES: Thanks for talking with us. What should we call you?

ANSWER: I don't really have a name. The people who I work for have mused about having a contest to name me. But they're too busy selling carpet and floor tile. So why don't we just stick to Babyface for now?

TIMES: Okay, Babyface it is. But are you really a baby?

BABYFACE: Actually, I'm not a baby. Never have been. I'm a billboard character. I have a trademark. I appear on 17 billboards in Hernando and Pasco counties.

T: But are you modeled after a baby or somebody's kid?

BF: My origins are a little murky. But the story goes that I first appeared on billboards in Kansas. A company that replaced cabinet doors used my face with the slogan: "Do your cabinets have funny faces?" The billboard company later introduced me to the folks I now work for. We hit it off immediately.

T: Were you offended when they said you have a funny face?

BF: Have you looked at my face? How many babies have a full mouth of teeth and a receding hairline? And my ears are so big they can collect signals from space. Besides, have you ever seen a mouth like this? One person asked the people I work for, "Will you please take that kid off the billboard? He's giving me nightmares."

T: Yet you seem comfortable with who you are.

BF: I am a billboard. My sole purpose for existing is to get people's attention so they will come to Hudson and shop at Surplus Sales of Florida.

T: What kind of store is that?

BF: We sell floor tile, carpeting, laminate flooring, kitchen cabinets and scratch-and-dent appliances. I'm the spokesman. It doesn't pay much, but I get my face out there. People know me. It's fun.

T: Do a lot of people ask about you at the store?

BF: Hardly a day passes without six or seven people coming into the store and saying, "What's the deal with the kid on the sign?" One lady asked if we were making fun of kids with diseases. But that's not the intention at all. I'm just a billboard character made of plywood and paint. You can't hurt my feelings.

T: Your store has a rather boring name - Surplus Sales. Does your face spice things up a bit?

BF: Absolutely, there are people who don't know the name of our store. They simply call us the "ugly baby store." We don't care as long as they buy stuff.

T: Are they buying? Are you a good pitchman?

BF: Zane Leopold, who runs the Hudson store, says he wishes he had six salespeople just like me. I get people's attention. Maynard Mayton, one of our owners, says I've made him a fortune.

T: I understand you are big in Kentucky?

BF: That's right. The original Surplus Sales store is in Corbin, Ky., and Mr. Mayton has my smiling face beaming from billboards in a 60-mile radius. We've only been open in Hudson for less than a year. So when he says I've made him a fortune, he's talking Kentucky.

T: I also hear you have a sister?

BF: That's right. But I don't like to talk about her.

T: Come on, fess up. We hear you guys look alike.

BF: Okay, if you must know. Up in Kentucky, they painted long hair and a pretty bow on my head. The billboard said I had gone on vacation and my sister was taking over awhile. It was all rather embarrassing, being transformed into a girl.

T: But that was only temporary, right?

BF: Yeah, it lasted about nine months. I told them the billboards weren't big enough for the two of us. They sent her packing.

- Robert King can be reached at 352 848-1432. Send e-mail to rking@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 18, 2004, 01:35:47]


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