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.