From The Trenches
I get it. Mostly.
Most of us don't fully grasp that we have the collecting gene until we attempt a comprehensive cleanup. Oh, we know we could benefit from some intensive therapy, if we are to believe all the people who tell us so, but we don't understand just how out of hand the cluttery accumulation can get until we do a complete overhaul. As I write this, the publisher's office is undergoing a dust-busting so thorough and so needed that it can be likened to the cleanup in the Gulf, only more daunting. This might have been spurred by my recent comment about the cobwebs festooning some of the displays: “Decorating for Halloween, are we?”
My only role so far, aside from making snarky comments, has been washing the rows upon rows of Civil War-era bottles. I confess to unbridled laughter when he balked at me removing the “authentic Civil War dirt” from the excavated examples. My theory is that the bottles may have come out of the dirt, but they were clean when the soldiers drank out of them. Hence, the only truly authentic bottle is a clean one.
I'll add that in my view the same does not apply to metal items. Brasso is considered contraband here, which beautifully cuts down on the time I would otherwise waste polishing collectibles when I could be doing far more interesting things. Like acquiring more of them.
So while I don't entirely see shell frags as a desirable feature of interior décor and I remain unpersuaded that Maxwell House cans full of bullets make attractive doorstops, I do “get” collecting. The fact is, I'm every bit as bad as the publisher. How can I whine about his miniature soldiers when I still have all my original Matchbox cars? How can I kvetch about his stacks of yellowing Civil War Centennial issues of 1960s Life magazines when I'm clinging tenaciously to Sears catalogs from the 1940s and ‘50s?
Some things both of us entirely get, which—contrary to what might be expected—does not always lead to accord. Witness our occasional discussions about precisely which WW I and II helmets belong to which of us. (Sort of a moot point at this juncture, but there are, er, lively time-to-time debates about it just the same.)
Because both of us are hopeless collectors, we once made a pact: Nothing more comes into the house unless something goes out. That lasted five minutes, tops, until one of us went to a yard sale. I plead the Fifth.
As the publisher is in no danger of me tossing collectibles out on the lawn or secretely calling Ye Olde Junque Shoppe to haul anything away, the only thing that truly frightens him is when he sees me standing in a room, just looking around. This bodes ill. It means that there is a furniture shuffle looming in his immediate future, as I believe that if you can't get rid of stuff you can at least shove it around a little. Just to show it who's boss, you know. Or at least to pretend to.
I also fully understand the collector's inclination to live with what you've got until you can replace it with the perfect thing —a “love the one you're with” proposition. This goes for everything from a less-than-pristine Harper's Ferry rifle to a sprung easy chair in the den. Believe me, I know. I am currently livng with a scratched-up, nondescript kitchen table until I can find the Holy Grail of collectible 1950s kitsch: a chrome-edged, dropleaf, yellow Formica table with equally tacky (to some) matching chairs. Those of you not suffering from Donna Reed delusions may not understand the difficulty of this quest, but it can be likened to looking for a CS two-piece in your front lawn: It's probably never, ever going to happen, but you never stop looking, right?
Now I'm not saying that my ongoing search for this kitchen kitsch isn't met with some eye-rolling on the publisher's part. It is. But he gets it, just as I get his need to stockpile every godforsaken pointless piece of space-taking rusty, crusty whatzit ever to emerge from the ground.
Okay, mostly I get it. The need to retain boxes full of corroded cut nails continues to elude me, but mostly I get it.
What I really don't get is this: How can people who can eyeball an earthtone bullet hidden in a pile of leaves twenty paces away fail to see the mayonnaise jar at eye level in the front of the fridge? “Hon, where's the mayonnaise/ketchup/ice cream?”
I actually have a refrigerator magnet with a picture of a 1950s-era (naturally) guy standing at an open refrigerator door with the slug line “Male refrigerator blindness.”
I was discussing this bizarre dichotomy at the recent Savannah show with Beth McFadden, whose husband, Clyde, is proprietor of Relic Hunter Supply. With the analytical thought processes inherent to her field of software engineering, she came up with the perfect solution.
This idea is so spot-on that I'm ashamed I didn't think of it myself: little camouflage jackets or, alternatively, dirt-colored wraps for the refrigerator contents. Either one would immediately draw the relic hunter's eye and negate the need for the female of the house to drop what she's doing, sigh, traipse to the fridge, point, and say for the bazillionth time, “It's right there. Right in front of you. See?”
I sense a marketing coup. Condiment Camo* and Dessert Disguise* may be the smartest, most practical collecting-household Christmas present to come along in years.
Come to think of it, dress up the hammer and screwdrivers in vintage Bakelite sleeves, and I might be able to see them too.
* Patent pending.
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