Kosher Clash

What has oversize lettuce leaves, tomato and onion slices and a beef patty, all sandwiched between a giant poppy-seed bun? It's a hamburger with everything -- and then some.

The extra garnish? A pair of life-size articulated female limbs that allow the six-foot-tall Styrofoam snack to "walk" the length of a room on an eight-foot automated track -- and back again.

A bad dream after a pig-out at the local fast-food trough?

Hardly. Just as close a description as anyone can provide of the puzzling "gamburger" that's recently become the local art scene's equivalent of mystery meat.

"Nobody has any idea what it is," says David Sheflin, a Valley antique dealer who found the inedible enigma behind a Seventh Avenue thrift store several weeks ago. Sheflin, who operates the Vintage Modern Gallery, says, "All I know is that it weighs a ton and it looks horrendous."

Staci Carl, manager of Peoples Thrift, an outlet that benefits Jewish Family Services, provides a few more clues, all of which serve only to muddy the waters further. According to her, the electronic sculpture was shipped from Israel to the store as a donation. Why anyone would go to the trouble and expense of sending such a piece halfway around the world, rather than simply contributing a check, is one question she can't -- or won't -- answer. "We're not allowed to reveal the names of people who donate things," she says.

While she doesn't supply any evidence to support it, Carl goes on to report that the bizarre burger had been in storage for "10 or 15 years" and had originally been used as a restaurant promotion. Despite its resemblance to the kinetic sculpture of the '60s, she quickly dismisses any suggestion that the oddity might actually be a piece of pop art. "It's definitely not a piece of art, though I suppose you could look at it as such."

Whatever it is, Carl apparently couldn't stand to have the dust-gatherer on the premises. After Sheflin spotted it in a storage area behind the shop, she told him he could haul it away for just $30.

At first, Sheflin wondered whether he'd gotten the raw end of the burger.

While loading the burger track into his van, a bungee cord snapped loose, ripping Sheflin's chin wide open.

Then, to add insult to injury, a bunch of children at the day-care center next door got into the act. "When all the kids saw me loading the burger into the van, they started screaming, "Don't take our hamburger! Don't take our hamburger!'" recalls Sheflin. "When they realized I wasn't paying any attention to them, all these brats started throwing rocks at me and the van. There was blood all over everything from the cut on my chin. It was a bitch."

Now reassembled and only semioperative (read: slightly arthritic), the robotic burger queen currently dominates Sheflin's living room. A closer inspection of the piece has revealed little, except for a tag on the track that reads, "New Dimensions, Ltd.," followed by an Israeli phone and fax number.

Neither number works; the inclusion of a fax number rules out early speculation that the piece dates back to pop art's heyday in the '60s. According to Sheflin, the best theory he's heard so far is that the Israeli artifact was actually shipped to someone in the Valley who subsequently donated it to the thrift shop in the original packing case -- complete with the Israeli postmark.

"I don't know what I'll do with it," says Sheflin, who plans to restore the mechanical track to its original working order before doing anything. "I do know if I take it to L.A., it's so weird that someone over there will give me $3,000 for it, easy."