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Give Me More

Some thoughts on the over-gathering instinct

By Maddog

One of the things we were always encouraged to do while growing up--besides eat our vegetables, keep quiet, and not stuff out sister down the garbage disposal--was to collect things. What you collected wasn't important. Stamps were good. Coins were good. And sports trading cards were even better because they ended up increasing in value faster than the Dallas Cowboys can be arrested, if you can imagine such a thing.

The point was, and is, that you decide on something to collect and horde it.

The reason behind being pushed to collect things may be tradition. Your parents were taught to do it, so you were taught to do it, so you inflict it on your kids because, well, revenge is a strong motivation. More likely though, it was a way for your parents to try to get you to sit in your room quietly while they reminisced about how nice life was before having children.

It's also possible that collecting is a genetic disposition handed down to us by our cave dwelling forefathers who spent their leisure hours carving stone shelves on which to keep their collection of Cave Barbies, which included Hair Dragging Barbie, Gatherer Barbie, and in the later, more enlightened years, Hunter Barbie. After all, reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show hadn't been invented yet. But I suspect the true reason parents get kids to methodically collect, catalog, and search out things is that it's supposed to teach them something. Like being an anal retentive obsessive-compulsive has no redeeming social value.

People collect the strangest things. Just go to any antique show or flea market and you'll see people who collect salt and pepper shakers, thimbles, spoons with enamel images of the Corn Palace on the handle, Zippo lighters, and strange looks from those of us who don't even have silverware that matches. On a recent weekend there were ads in the newspaper for the Rubber Stamp Festival ("I'll trade you a 1932 Paid in Full for that 1917 Past Due and the 1940 Par Avion"), the Pen Fair ("How much do you want for that first edition BIC with the teeth marks on the top?"), and the Music Collector's Expo ("Anybody seen the guy with the ABBA 8-tracks?"). My dryer lint collection is starting to feel downright normal.

Animals are a popular collecting motif. How many times have you walked into someone's house and seen hundred of frogs everywhere--candy dishes, lamps, throw pillows, slippers, drink stirrers, and assorted knickknacks, which is an interior decorator's term for things that sit on shelves cluttering up your house while serving no useful purpose other than to collect dust so it all doesn't settle on the three microwave fondue pots you got for your wedding.

Unicorns, pigs, and mushrooms are common. Cows are big right now, probably because people think having cheap plaster bookends that look like Black Angus cows doing a Nixon imitation will give them an alibi when the Got Milk police break down their door looking for people with dark colored moustaches.

For a while I collected pink flamingos. Actually, collected is the wrong word. Amassed by proxy would be more like it. It started when some friends put two plastic flamingos in front of my house as a birthday gag. Before I knew it, everyone was giving me flamingo junk. Towels, ashtrays, pens, pins, mirrors--you name it, I got it for my birthday or Christmas. Did I tell them I loved to have my house and office look like someone poured a bottle of Pepto Bismol all over them? No. Did I ever once go out and buy something with a flamingo on it for myself? No. This makes me wonder if other people collect things because they like them or end up with them because other people think they like them.

There are exceptions to this rule. Some people obviously collect things because they crave them. Michael Jackson collects exotic animals. Rupert Murdoch collects newspapers, but not for recycling. Bill Gates collects money but, unlike most collectors, he has no desire to trade with his friends. And Bill Clinton is one of the biggest collectors around, amassing lawsuits, Senate hearings, and Big Mac wrappers, though I have to wonder whether he collects frequent flier miles for all those trips on Air Force One.

So far I've gone through life without any big passion for collecting, which is good. I have enough to do without searching through piles of used stamps, cataloging first edition comic books, or figuring out how to mount my collection of potato chips that look like world leaders. Besides, I'd hate to think all my work could go down the drain one day just because I needed to send a postcard to my aunt, ran out of newspapers to start a fire, or got a case of the munchies.

But there is one thing I look forward to collecting eventually--social security. Finally I'll have a hobby I really enjoy.

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Web exclusive to the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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