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Culture Wed Sep 11 2013
Jim and Debbie Gallo own Shangri-La Vintage, 1952 W. Roscoe Ave. in Roscoe Village. Their store has a great selection of vintage clothes and lots of other fun items. But few people know that the Gallos are also the creators of the "Sloth Family Portrait," a photograph that has made the rounds on the web for years. Debbie Gallo explains how the viral photo came to be.
Let's see. I'll start with finding the sloth. Went to an estate sale probably early 1990s. It was the worst estate sale ever. They had no control, no numbers, no list, no honoring anything. By pure luck, Jim and I were still on the porch after everybody signed the list and took off to go to other sales. We just happened to be on the front porch when they all returned. The estate people said they were not honoring a list. It became a fistfight, a brawl of people throwing and hurtling themselves into the doorway. The company didn't let in just a few. There were 50 people trying to get through a small door at one time. A glass coffee table broke under the crush of people.
The sloth was there on the mantle. Jim goes, "Debbie, get that thing." I was leaning, trying to reach it and somebody else goes "yank" and they got it. I was like, "Ohhh so close." Afterward someone goes, "Oh Ed. Ed bought that. He's a nice guy, he'll sell it to you." So later I contacted Ed and he was like, "Sure I'll sell it to you." We met in a parking lot and money was exchanged. The sloth was handed over. So we brought it home and put it on our shelf.
He was in pretty good shape. We didn't even have to clean him up much. We named him after the Cream song SWLABR. Our sloth was proudly displayed in our living room. He wasn't alone. We had some stuffed squirrels and other friends.
One time we saw an ad for K-Mart on Addison. They were having a sale on photo portraits. For like 20 bucks you get the large portrait and wallet sized photos. I think this was 1994 or 1995. So we decided to take the sloth to K-Mart and get our portrait done. We opened up our closet pulled out some random stuff and I was like "Here Jim, you wear this God awful green polyester shirt." I had a Lurex blouse. We had wigs that we bought in Hollywood from a trip we took to LA in the late 1980s. I had my Peg Bundy wig and Jim had a pompadour wig. But the pompadour wig had fallen so it was kind of floppy and disheveled. Before leaving for the photo shoot, I blacked out a couple of teeth.
We boxed up the sloth and headed to K-Mart. The photographer had no reaction when we took the sloth out of the box. No "Oh my god that's funny" nothing. No reaction whatsoever. He was just like, "Could you hold that thing up just a little bit higher — that, that thing." So he took the pictures and then he goes, "Would you like some pictures of the thing on its own?" It's like the the solo baby photos. So they put the sloth on the stand and put some little stuffed animals around it.
I never got those solo photos. These were the days of film, no digital. You had to wait for them to develop your shots and then come back to the store. We went in to pick up the photo package from K-Mart. The deal is — they're supposed to take you in, sit down and sell you a bigger package. We got the 20 buck starter package but they want to sell us more. Say 50 extra wallet photos, Christmas cards and all that. The saleswoman sits down and she opens the envelope with our photos and is like, "OK let's see what we have here." She pulls them out and is like, "Wwwwwhat the heck." We were like "That's our stuffed sloth." She's like, "OK forget it." She throws the photos back in the envelope and says "Here you go. 20 bucks." She didn't even try to sell us the bonus package. Now I wish I would have bought the bonus package.
Jim used the sloth family portrait as his Facebook profile picture. A few weeks later one of our friends told us that he saw us on Dlisted. So I go take a look and I'm reading all of these horrible comments like, "It's obviously photoshopped," "What a bunch of stupid hipsters," "It's so obviously fake, you can see where they cut the picture out." We looked to see where Dlisted got it from and saw links to Buzzfeed, Neatorama and other sites. For the last couple of years we get friends emailing "Here it is again." It keeps popping up everywhere online. Jim tries to make a point now when he sees it to explain that it is our sloth and it's real.
I've given out some of the original photos to family members. Those were for Christmas that year. My mom and dad got a framed sloth portrait. They hung it on their wall. My sister has one. My other sister has it on the mantle. To my friends in bands, I've mailed them as Christmas cards.
The sloth family portrait seems to have taken on a life of its own. My take on the whole scene? If you can make someone's day happier — mission accomplished.