Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Collector

The car in front of me at the ATM had a bumper sticker: I COLLECT MATCHBOOKS! That's infinitely better than I SELL MARY KAY COSMETICS (too commercial) or MY CHILD IS CITIZEN OF THE MONTH (too boring) or McCAIN/PALIN (too damn bad).

Still, I can't even imagine where our matchbook-collecting friend bought such a bumper sticker. Do you suppose there's a matchbook collectors' association? Do they have monthly meetings and yearly conventions in Miami -- or Buffalo? What do they even talk about? Well, perhaps they trade them like baseball cards. In fact, before I step over a line here, let it be confessed that I, in fact, used to collect matchbooks, too. True, it was during my misspent youth, and they mainly came from various dirtball bars and diners in Western New York, and I often stole from my own collection when my lighter ran out of fluid, but still, it was a collection. Well, and it's also true that there was no organization to the things. I suppose the true collector has custom-made racks for displaying his or her goods. Maybe some are so precious -- from Czechoslovakia, say, before it became the Czech Republic -- that they're kept in velvet-lined boxes, safe from damaging light and the dull gazes of the ignorant.

Most of the matchbook collections I've seen are displayed in a tasteful jumble inside a dusty, over-sized brandy snifter. There's usually a stolen beer sign blinking erratically on the wall.

My new neighbor collects key chains. Now, that's not a bad collection target. Most of them are free, and once people know you're collecting, they'll give you all the key chains you can stand. What would insurance companies do without key chains with their logos and phone numbers? I've been to a couple artcar shows that give swag bags to participants. The bags are always full of key chains. Well, and baby-doll heads, too, but that's another story.

My neighbor has strung her four-hundred-plus key chains along the top of her living room walls, sort of like Christmas tinsel. She has placed a special marker at every hundred chains so she never has to count them again. The collection is twenty years old. She's only thirty-four. She's got three miniature Etch-A-Sketches which, in my tight little World of Collections, would be illegal. Duplicates aren't fair.

Besides way too many pieces of paper and unwashed dishes, I only collect blue-and-white teacups. And saucers. In another era, I wouldn't have had to say "and saucers." I had a group of women over once and, with a gesture sweeping enough for any duchess, showed them my custom-made teacup (and saucer) rack and invited them to choose their favorite for the coffee I was serving. One woman chose the cup, but not the saucer. I suppose she thought it was just a short, round mug, and what the heck, that's pretty much what it is.

I've broken many of the teacups over the years both because of the aforementioned misspent youth and because of happenstance. For a while, I made it a point of honor that I never bought my own teacups. I wanted them to be gifts and souvenirs from friends and family. But every now and then, I'm in a shop and I see a cup that I simply must have, so I have it.

The trouble with a collection, though, is that it automatically makes me a Collector, and I'm pretty sure Collectors have to know something about the items they're collecting. I know only as much as is printed on the bottom of the saucer. I have one teacup that was made in "Occupied Japan." My heart stopped when I first read that. The cup was so beautiful, but the wording screamed atom bomb! death! destruction! humiliation! remorse! Well, maybe those last two are just my own. I remember thinking it seemed so petty and nasty to make the Japanese put those words on their goods. They'd already lost, for pete's sake. Why rub it in?

Here's some irony: I only drink coffee out of my teacups. And I drink my tea out of coffee mugs.

At least my collection is practical. I use the teacups and saucers every single day. But what about the impractical collections? What happens when you're truly sick of your teddy bear collection, yet people keep giving you teddy bears because, really, losing interest in a hobby is not generally signaled with announcements and fanfare? What happens, in fact, to sentences that start out as questions and yet sort of meander off into statements so that the question mark at the end seems ridiculous?

Oh. I see.


Barbara A. Lewis said...

Very interesting observations Barbara! I have started many collections over the years and now I am facing packrat syndrome - LOL! The largest collection I have is over 300 plastic model horses, and dusting them is most of a Saturday morning. But I am not quite ready to part with any of the ponies yet! I guess we all gather too much of something at some point in our lives - now if I could just collect my thoughts as well as my horses…

Anonymous said...

I used to collect eggs--glass, stone, ceramic, plastic, wooden, cloissone, real (decorated)--you name it. As for dusting them--who dusts? But eventually I wanted the shelf space for other things, so it was time for another (the umpteenth) "downsizing." Some were bought at a yard sale; then--while I kept about a dozen I couldn't bear to part with--the rest were given to my favorite nonprofit agency's thrift store. I have no idea if they've sold any; I hope so, because many were beautiful and if I loved them, someone else must too, right? --Eunice

olga kruse said...

So what's new? The Natterer, and she knows who she IS, has given me a - no, has made me laugh, out loud, well, not very loud, the dog is sleeping near by; true, she's deaf; okay; but, really; I do so enjoy reading this Blog. She just gets me, I'll be reading along feeling very intelligent that I seem to be following her train of thought and then she twists everything with one tiny and humbling observation. She's not afraid to be vulnerable, that's what I like so much. And she's not afraid to give anyone hell. Well, that's just sort of irreverent and great, I think. The weird thing is that her 'inflections' - her way of speaking, gets like in the way of my own after I read her Blog.

Does that happen to you, too?

olga kruse said...

p.s. collections, love the topic. What do I collect, I am asking myself? Ah, yes, seems I've become a collector of desks. I have one I bought some thirty years ago; tiny, slanted, came with a sieza bench back when; it's wooden, I sit on the floor in front of it and it's great for writing and reading at. Can't put my computer on it.

Then, there's the desk some kid threw out and I got; it is such a cool desk, with stickers that say Prana, Alien Workshop, and SB Southern Border Skate Shop on it and RAIN etched underneath it, but it seems to hold my pens and papers, and is always cluttered too much to really USE.

Then there's the desk in the hallway outside my hallway in our laundry room; it's built into the wall and was Jimi's but now I've inherited it and it's covered with craft stuff; I placed a stone Ganesh there, and that got it cleared off but now it's covered again. Oh, Ganesha!

I went to Ikea for the first time and I bought..a tiny desk; it's just one legged with a foot and a half by a foot and a half metal flat thing I hope to put my computer on.

Then, there's the desk in my Dad's room, he is gone, so, I can use that one too and have.

I like desks, really. I just never realized I was a collector till I read the Natterer's Blog tonight!

PsychMajor said...

What?! People DUST their collections? Oh. Oops. I collect everything, apparently, and am the epitome of a pack rat. I certainly collect a lot of dust. I wonder how I'd dust that, if I were to engage in dusting, that is.


Steve Robinson said...

Coffee in a tea cup and tea from a coffee mug? Heretic!
You probably don't even drink real tea do you? By "real", I mean "loose" tea from some exotic locale like Sri Lanka, rather than some "Dirt-In-A Bag" blend from somewhere in Pennsylvania. (There was a time when I wouldn't have had to use the word "loose" when referring to tea. What sad times we live in)
Cheers though,
Steve R.
PS.Me? I collect excuses for not finishing my latest recording project.