Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Collector In Me

Cleaning the basement is, for me, a sort of never-ending exercise. Not one of futility, but one that seems to always need completing; I'll go at 'er for awhile, then things will get hectic and pretty soon any previous work is buried under boxes that need breaking down, outsized baby clothes that need putting away, and a host of tools that need organizing. It's work that I enjoy, even though in my heart of hearts I wish that just once I could go down there and see NOTHING that needs organizing. *sigh*

Part of the problem - maybe the biggest part of the problem - is that I am, in the kindest possible description, a collector. Always have been, and to some extent probably always will be. I feel that at least some of this collector-hood must be genetic: my dad didn't really collect stuff, but my mom sure does. She gets into one kick after another, pursues it with almost maniacal purpose, then abandons it at or near completion and moves on to something else. Farber Bros. Krome-Kraft, lead soldiers playing band instruments, bottles, Mego action figures…the list goes on. Some of my collector tendencies also come from stories I've heard my grampa tell all my life: about how, when he was a paperboy in the late '30s, he'd be on his route down by Farmington and see all this "great stuff" that people had put out to the curb to go to the trash. We're talking full, working floor lamps; toasters and radios and all manner of early electronic gadgetry; furniture in varying stages of decay (including none at all); and just really all manner of "treasure." He'd lug some of this home, maybe fix a frayed wire here or clean out a motor there, and pretty soon he'd have a perfectly usable piece of…whatever when he was done. Of course, his mother would scream blue murder at all of this stuff appearing in their house: "Bob! Get that out of here!" And he'd complain that it - whatever "it" was - was perfectly good and shouldn't be thrown away.

That ends up being one of my biggest problems: sometimes I'm less a "collector" and more just a "saver." Because of those stories Gramps would tell, I somehow have it in my subconscious that everything has value. And so I save shit. eBay has been like a godsend for me: once that craze hit, stuff that I normally would have tortured myself about throwing away could easily be disposed of - for money, yet! - by selling at online auction. And those of you who were there know that the early days of eBay were like the wild west: anything went, and I mean anything. Whatever sort of crap you could possibly list and describe, somebody out there wanted it.

Times change though, as does the availability of time itself…to clean items, photograph them, list & sell & pack them. What was once a heyday of "Gotta have that!" has settled down into more rational acquiring, and stuff that used to bring at least a few bucks has once again been relegated to the 50¢ table at your spring yard sale. (Where, no doubt, it's snatched up by someone who thinks "Aha! I'll sell this on eBay!") And, whereas once I lived in an apartment and had tons of free time to sell stuff, now homeownership forces me to mow the lawn and shovel snow and all manner of upkeep, and I rarely have time to list anything of true value, let alone crap that has been gathering dust in the basement for several years.

Which brings me back 'round to collectorhood. I was talking with my best friend the other day, and we each (independently) agreed that, for us, the fun of collecting had started to dim. For him it's a simple decision: he's now facing his 4th move in 3 years, and really, what's the point in packing up literally dozens of 30-gallon totes full of '80s-era G.I. Joe figures? Fuck it. Sell 'em on eBay. (Where he's been making an absolute killing, by the way!) For me it's a little more…I dunno, existential, maybe? I just…have sort of lost the drive. Chalk it up to age, fatherhood, or the aforementioned homeownership; whatever the case, I just don't really get off on having these gargantuan collections anymore. Look at it this way: at one time or another I collected, with varying degrees of fervor:

1) football cards
2) coins
3) comics
4) pewter-&-crystal fantasy figurines
5) records (and CDs, and cassettes…)
6) Avon figural cologne bottles (cars, pipes, you name it)
7) model Corvettes
8) Fawcett Peanuts paperbacks
9) Magic: The Gathering cards
10) action figures

The list could probably go on, but who has the time, eh? Anyway…I'm sure at one time or another there was a logic behind all of those things (well, except the football cards, because I don't even LIKE football!), but changing attitudes about storage and display have forced me to admit that most of this shit is exactly that. The complicating thing about all of these one-time collections is that I am what's referred (kindly or unkindly) to as a "completist," meaning, if I have three of something, I've gotta have 'em all. Bought a record by the band Axe in the early-'80s? Ooohh, gotta have the rest of 'em! Found an interest in toned (i.e., interestingly colored) Lincoln cents? Now they ALL have to be that way! And so on, filling boxes and bookshelves and dresser tops. No more. Miss Tessmacher is a much simpler, more minimalist person, and so I've finally begun to see the light. And to disperse collections to the wind.

Some things are still there, and (I assume) always will be. But the logic behind these things has changed, and so the collections, if not necessarily getting smaller, are at least growing at a MUCH slower pace. For instance:

1) Comics. I've quit buying new issues - after nearly 600 issues and 50 years, how many new Fantastic Four stories are there? - and have focused on going back and reading complete series that I already own. Series that are close to completion - like Tomb of Dracula - get finished off, and when I'm done…who knows? Maybe keep, maybe sell, maybe give to Eric or Joel to read. And store. So now, I don't buy zealously, and I read what comes into the house. What gets read, often gets gone.

2) Records. Like comics, they still serve a general purpose: in this case, listening. But I've abandoned completist tendencies, and now focus on stuff that I simply like. I don't need ALL the Bee Gees albums, because I don't like the flower-power Australio-pop of their first '60s heyday. I basically want Main Course through Bee Gees Live, plus the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

3) Coins. I haven't actively collected coins in some time. I don't buy "old" coins, I don't go to shows, and I don't search rolls. I pretty much buy the proof set, mint set, and any commemoratives that the Mint puts out each year. Hopefully, these (largely) silver coins will retain some value over the years, and either I or some future inheritor will see a return on the investment.

4) Magic cards. Used to be, I'd need at least one of every card in a set. Well, at 3 sets a year, that's a lotta cards! Now, when Eric & I play, we get a few packs of whatever's new, and then I look through the guidebook to see if there's something I really want to play with. If so, I get on (where else?) eBay and buy just that card.

Ultimately, I still have thousands of comics, coins, and cards in the basement, and hundreds of LPs on the shelves. But by abandoning lots of other dippy collections, and tightening the focus of what I've kept collecting, I've toned down the background noise in our lives, and at least minimized the amount of shit coming through our front door. Besides, who needs to be (almost) 41 and still have his dresser top crowded with glass tchotchke full of stanky cologne??


Blogger Steph said...

Luuuurve the Avon bottles.

I'm not a collector myself, but when I visit my parents and stay in my old room I see evidence that I did, at some point, have the same bug. The old china chest full of creepy-looking collectible dolls in ethnic costume, for instance. *shudders* Gah. I want to pack them up and throw them away, but I always worry that they will become animate and march back to my room to slaughter me in my sleep.

9:58 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home