Thursday, April 06, 2006

Collecting Dust

My collecting has always been somewhat obsessive. No doubt some of this compulsion is inherited from those before me who experienced at least a part of the Great Depression. Farmers had to scrounge for parts to repair tractors and implements so if something broke you kept it for parts. Even broken steel would be saved--it could be cut and formed and welded to another broken piece of steel. My interests always took a more domestic turn. I liked going through the photos, the old marble stash, the matchbooks, National Geographic magazines.

Just collecting was not enough though. My collections needed to be complete, at least in my mind. In grade school I kept track of the Tom Swift books I had and which ones I needed; later it was Louis L'Amour of which I garnered some 80-odd paperbacks. I had my library catalogued and brought my list when I visited the used-book stores (new was not a prerequisite). And books were grouped and ordered when the made their way to shelves. My dad's National Geographic collection ranged from around 1953 to early 70's; many times I re-ordered the issues by date. My personal tomes were ordered first by genre and then by author when there were enough volumes.

Some of my filing methods did not seem so orderly at first glance. Magazines and papers were stored away in boxes in closets.  My mother marveled that I always knew in which box and in which general area that I needed to go to find something. It was not such a feat in actuality--I learned from watching Dad pack things for trips or for storage. He said he learned his techniques when he drove truck and had to load his own freight. He was methodical and ordered. When finished there was a logical reason for each placement. I never attained his neatness skills but I inherited the desire for it.

Another thing about my collecting: a collection becomes worthless when a piece of it goes missing or is damaged for some reason. It's tainted. Hunting replacements is just too overwhelming. I had a set of Wilson irons in college. When a dorm mate borrowed them and went golfing he lost my 9-iron and replaced it with an off-brand that didn't match. I was never able to golf with that set again without stewing over that mismatched club. And I never used that club either--it was either an 8-iron or pitching wedge from that point on. A large Tupperware of matchbooks was taken by thieves when they stripped my storage locker clean. I couldn't bear to start another collection since there were rare, and what I felt beautiful, containers that could never be replaced. No matter how many matchbooks I could have acquired afterwards there would always be this nag that part of it was missing.

Some collections were never started because I could see a futility in the results. Stamps and coins: I knew collectors from both fields. One uncle would go through all of our pennies when he'd visit, looking for that elusive 1943 "D" or whatever it was. (Looking it up just now I see that a 1943 copper penny sold for over $40,000 back as far as 1958 and that there are about 40 of them still in circulation. Total. How futile and time-consuming is that?). Stamps posed another problem--there were just too many of them. I saw someone drag out about 5 large binder-type scrapbooks. I knew when I gave her an exotic stamp I had received that it was a stamp I would never be able to obtain again. Hence there was not going to be a stamp collection.

Most of my old collections have been corrupted or abandoned at this juncture. Tools, books, electronics. I came closest to losing everything when I was homeless (yes, another story I will have to tell the kids about someday, someway). Papers and magazines that I stored with friends managed to survive. Actually quite a few of them. I think sometimes it would have been better if they had all burned or been otherwise lost. A clean slate. I would never desire to collect anything again. Ever.

Which reminds me of where I was originally planning to go when I started this ramble. The computer. This is where my collections are these days. And man, what an overwhelming mess. I've got emails, graphics, notes, manuals, programs... Nearly everything from my computerized history except for the contents of a catastrophic 10MB disk failure. Music? Yes, I've got music. One of the finest rewards of my computer experience has been the digitized ability to replace most of an album collection that was nearly obliterated by ants while in storage. Did you know that there are ants that will burrow into tightly packed albums, eat the cardboard and then defecate on the vinyl? Neither did I. I'm not sure if this reasoning is scientific. For all I know the baked-on layers of adobe were a result of regurgitation. But I saw the ants and I saw what they did to several hundred albums. And the booklet that came with my John Mayall "Back To The Roots"? Well that was a sin that all ants should pay penance for.

What will I do when this computerized collection is ruined? Will I ever be able to sit in front of a monitor again? Will I be able to listen to a song without the reminder that it used to reside in my library? I think I will probably run, not walk, to the hills... the mountains that I love. And I will bring my collection of fishing poles.


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