REGO PARK, NY—Gabe Kloster, a 32-year-old Queens-based entrepreneur, expressed fear Monday that he may be unable to sell his remaining inventory of 40,000 urinal cakes bearing an image of Osama bin Laden between a pair of crosshairs.
"A few months back, I couldn't make them fast enough," said Kloster, who supplies news- and pop-culture-related novelty products to discount stores and street vendors in the New York area. "Now I can't get rid of the goddamn things."
Kloster came up with the idea for bin Laden urinal cakes a few days after Sept. 11.
"I saw that guys on the Internet were already selling Osama bin Laden dartboards, toilet paper, trash cans, and kitty-pan liners, so I thought people would get a kick out of having the chance to piss on him," Kloster said. "Besides, I knew a guy in Paramus who could do the printing real cheap."
On Sept. 20, Kloster moved forward with an initial run of 2,000 urinal cakes, which sold out in just three days. He subsequently upped the run to 15,000, and by early October, the product had proven so popular that he decided to halt the manufacture of all other novelty items to focus exclusively on the cherry-scented, terrorist-decorated cakes.
"The sports bars loved them," Kloster said. "Paddy O'Lantern's, this bar near my house, even put a sign on the men's-room door saying 'Target Practice—This Way.' That same week, a newspaper in Hartford called to say they were interested in doing a story on [the cakes]. They never wound up doing one, but it was obvious I was on to something."
Encouraged by the positive response, Kloster raised the production run to 50,000 in early November. Unfortunately, interest soon began to wane. Since the beginning of December, Kloster has only sold 141 cakes, a 97 percent drop-off from his early-October sales peak.
"Bush said this war could drag on for years, so I quadrupled production, figuring the market would be hot for a while," Kloster said. "But then the Northern Alliance started capturing huge chunks of Afghanistan from the Taliban, and people here began to calm down a little. The last few weeks, with the war going so well, sales have really been in the shitter."
"Hopefully, bin Laden will do something else to really piss America off," Kloster continued. "I mean, I don't want another terrorist attack on the U.S., but maybe he could give us the finger or call us some really bad name. Short of something like that, I'm fucked."
Li Chang, a street vendor on Canal Street in New York's Chinatown, said he does not plan to order any more of the urinal cakes.
"In October, first time I order, I sell out very fast. In November, I order more, but it take longer to sell," Li said. "Now, I don't want no more. People still mad at [bin Laden], but not like before."
John Traber, owner of J.T.'s Touchdown Bar & Grill in Lyndhurst, NJ, also does not intend to reorder.
"This is kind of gross, but drunk guys kept stealing them out of the urinals to keep as souvenirs," Traber said. "[Kloster] was charging four times as much for the bin Laden cakes as you'd pay for regular ones, and I couldn't afford to keep replacing them, so I decided to go back to the regular kind."
Added Traber: "They had way too strong a cherry smell, anyway. Made the bathroom stink like perfume. Who wants to be overpowered by some sweet, fruity odor when you're taking a leak?"
Despite the inventory surplus, which could cost Kloster upwards of $70,000, the entrepreneur is feeling positive about his next venture.
"I got a really sweet deal on these framed posters of an American eagle crying in front of the Stars and Stripes… 25 cents each from this distributor in Ohio who needed to unload them fast," Kloster said. "I think I'll combine the Osama cakes with the posters as sort of a commemorative 'God Bless America' war-souvenir package."