Tuesday, April 27, 2010

how I got collecting under control

I should have Born to Collect tattooed on my arm. As a little kid, I did the usual stamps and coins halfheartedly. I had a cigar box of stamps I had torn from envelopes, and used to check any change around the house for rare years. They're expensive hobbies to do properly. I don't have any of the stamps any more, and no coins except a couple of old silver dollars that I think came from my grandparents, old but worn.

As I got a little older, it was DC Comics. A lot of my friends preferred Marvel, but I responded more to the classic qualities of DC, I think. Superman, to me, seemed to be the first superhero. I wasn't so much a Batman fan, but there was a lot for someone who was just a Superman fan. There were so many parts and offshoots in the Superman universe. There were Supergirl and Superboy, Krypto the Superdog, Superman's sometime girlfriend Lois Lane and his old girlfriend Lana Lang and sometimes some random babes with "LL" names. There was Bizarro Planet, one of my favorites, where Superman had a green, sharp-planed complexion (kind of like The Thing), and everyone did the opposite of what they did on regular earth. There was Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olson, who had his own comic called "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson." Jimmy had a special wristwatch that could summon Superman, and when he pressed it, the signal went "zee zee zee." There were recurring supervillains like Lex Luthor, who were Superman's special enemies. There was green Kryponite, glowing rocks from Superman's exploded home planet, that would weaken him (and presumably kill him); lead would shield him from it. Later on, red Kryponite showed up, and I may not be remembering this correctly, but I think it temporarily took away his powers. Occasionally, some other color of Kryptonite would arrive (kind of like the LL girls), each with its own effect on old Supe. And although his home planet Krypton had exploded, Superman somehow had a miniaturized Kryptonian ciry, Kandor, in a jar in his Fortress of Solutude (every so often he'd have to get shrunk down and go in their for some reason or another). There was a wacky little dude name Mr. Mxyzptlk (obviously, I may have misspelled this), who was kind of Superman's special pest; the way to send him back into his own dimension was to trick him into saying his name backwards, which Superman managed to do an awful lot of times.

I'm such a nerd. And no, I don't still have those comics; I think they fell victim to the Mom Syndrome, same as the baseball cards I bought in the late 60s.

Next thing after that was underground comics, R. Crumb and his ilk, which were wonderfully dirty and funny, some soaked in the drug culture (like Gilbert Shelton's "The Furry Freak Brothers" ). I don't have them any more either. (A sidebar: when V. and I were close friends, he used to bring me to most of the interesting parties and events he was invited to. During a lot of those years, Mrs. V. chose to stay home with the kids, though there were certain things we all went to together. These included things like a Robert Christgau book party, and the memorial service for Dave van Ronk. As he started to withdraw from our friendship, I stopped getting invited to this stuff, and at one of the parties I didn't go to, V. met R. Crumb and had a long talk with him. Bastard.) I think Mom secretly ditched the underground comics too. Oh Lord, and I almost forgot about ALL the National Lampoons.

During this time, I used to save magazines with great covers or clip great articles. I had a New York Magazine whose cover story was an excerpt from "Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!" and an Esquire whose cover story was "Groucho: The Good Life of a Dirty Old Man at 81." So I had a lot of paper stuff, which does tend to get cluttery. I only wish my mother had helped me find a storage solution (a file cabinet or something), rather than throw stuff out behind my back.

I lost two of my adult collections in The Great Storage Tragedy several years ago. (Basically, due to the tiny size of this apartment, we had to put a lot of things in storage and couldn't really afford it, and eventually lost it all. If we'd had another $130 a month, we would have simply rented a bigger place.) The two were my second baseball card collection (I was a very active collector in my early sobriety, the late 1980s), and my postcards. Day-um. The postcards were pretty awesome.

The only collection I still possess is some 5,000 bottlecaps. My main collection is US cork-backed (pre-1972) sodas, about half of what I have, and the rest are foreign, plastic-backed, and beers that I somehow couldn't resist. This was a hobby I picked up from V., whose collection must be around 15,000 by now, since he's been at it longer and is richer than I am. Still, I did join the US collectors group and V. and I used to have fun going to their annual meeting-and-trade weekends in Pennsylvania (we used to share space with beer can collectors). This was back in the days when I could manage to cough up $150 for two hotel nights, and maybe $700-800 to buy caps (I also traded, but after a while, the things I still needed were a little too rich for the trade stock I had). Anyway, no longer being well-off and no longer wanting to have anything to do with V., I let my membership in the Crowncap Collectors Society International (you're allowed to laugh) lapse, and haven't bought a cap in quite a while. I keep them in the coin folders used for half dollars, the folders tucked into plastic sheets with 20 pockets each, and the sheets in file boxes. Need a filing cabinet.

Collectors are collectors, and we really "get" each other, even if we don't always
"get" the draw of the particular object of desire. For instance, my friend Jannah's husband, John, collects lanterns of all sorts: camping lanterns, roadwork lanterns, railroad and subway lanterns, and so on. When he shows me two and points out that one is a rare variation with an etched shade, I totally know what he means. But even though he has a basement and garage, with shelves he built in and more lanterns hung overhead, it's the sort of collection that needs a lot of space. (At one bottlecap convention, V. and I heard about a local guy who'd built an entire outbuilding on his property for his beer can collection.)

I also still have my labels, US and foreign soda and beer labels, which are compact enough to fit in two looseleafs. The labels are not very expensive to buy but the sheets to keep them in, the nice acid-free ones used for stamps, are costly.

If I had the money and space, I'd collect everything: do postcards and baseball cards again, vintage fountain pens, first editions, matchbook covers (I *really* love matchbook covers), maybe Netsuke, old native American turquoise jewelry, and on and on. I had a terrible flirtation on eBay with roller rink stickers, which rinks used to give away for people to put on their skate cases!

But here's how I solved, for now, my collecting Jones: fruit stickers. I once saw an astonishing collection of banana stickers online, and was inspired. So I just took a little blank bound notebook that I already had, and started saving one of each sticker from any fruit I bought (and as of today, this includes one avocado sticker and one tomato sticker). If there isn't enough glue left on the sticker, I use a little Elmer's; it's a very casual collection, in no particular order. As much as I try to eat local, our awesome neighborhood fruit/veg market has some great imported stuff, with some very pretty little stickers. I like the ones with pictures of fruit on them, but I like the plainer ones, too. Any doubles, I stick on the fridge, which belongs to us, not the landlord (one side of the fridge is slowly filling with various stickers and bumper stickers we've acquired, like Friends Ranches, WFMU, and Brooklyn Industries. (I adore Brooklyn Industries, even though I can't wear any of their clothes except the men's XL tee shirts. I think they initially only sold purses and bags, made of very cool fabrics, and I own two, and got a nice little men's shoulder bag for my husband, who had never imagined anything between a knapsack and nothing. I never liked knapsacks for myself -- way too hard to access your stuff -- and I don't like them on grown men, unless they're climbing Everest.) Oh, I also made a huge score on a BI winter coat (down, teal with a mustard lining, and the BI logo stitched on the breast) for my husband's birthday a couple of years ago: online, they were selling off the last of the prior year's winter stuff, and I got this coat, which was the very last one and in his size, for something like $30, rather than the original $150 or so. He loved it and still does. The BI logo is a silhouette of the kind of wooden water tower one sees on the top of some older Brooklyn buildings, which really does speak to me.

Anyway: fruit stickers. I have nearly two pages full in my little book, no organization at all except the order in which I get them, pretty, cute, and free with the purchase of a lovely apple, orange, banana, mango, papaya, etc.

Maybe when I food-shop tomorrow, I'll get stuff to make sorbet (sugar-free, of course). In my pre-diabetic days, I used to make regular sorbet a lot; I made ice cream less often, because homemade ice cream is way too good. I remember the first time I ever made my own ice cream, I thought if I made a fruit flavor, I wouldn't inhale it too fast; although I love fruit sorbets, my ice cream tastes are more on the chocolate-coffee-vanilla-maple walnut-cheesecake side of things. So I made raspberry ice cream, and ate the entire quart in two days. Homemade ice cream is like crack, makes even my favorite superpremiums (e.g. Ben & Jerry's) look a little lame.

The V's used to have a big party once a year, about 30 people, and I would always bring four quarts of sorbet, all different flavors. At that time, I had an ice cream maker with other one canister, which would have to refreeze for 24 hours before I could make a new batch, so I would set aside five days (which allowed for one screw-up or disaster) to make the four quarts for the party. It would always be quite a week. In the year I met my future husband, I was very soon staying at his place most nights, and since the V's party was always the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I brought my ice cream maker and my cat Mayflower over to Barry's apartment, so I could do the sorbet marathon and not miss Barry and not leave Mayflower alone. (Though I didn't officially move in until February, Mayflower and the ice cream maker stayed at Barry's.) My sorbets were always a very popular dessert at the parties after the heavy Thanksgiving-type meal, along with Mrs. V's apple pies and a former pastry chef's chocolate mousse. V. was a huge fan of my sorbet. My favorite flavors that I've made are probably pear-ginger, mango-passionfruit, and mandarin chocolate. I created all of my recipes, writing as I made them, and later commenting on how it turned out or could be improved. I still do have my little sorbet-recipe book. (Back when Baskin-Robbins was actually good, they had something called mandarin chocolate sherbet, chocolate with a hint of orange, that I adored, and my mandarin orange comes pretty close. Fun fact: my local Baskin-Robbins when I was a kid was on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, and I recently heard that Spike Lee used to be a scooper there. Another tangent: Spike's mother taught at my school, and a couple of her kids went there, though not Spike. Mrs. Lee taught younger kids, so I never had her, but she was the first woman I every saw wearing cornrows with beads and shells in them. Those were Afro days, the late 60s and early 70s. Mrs. Lee was really cool and her students adored her and she died tragically young. The character based on her in Spike's Crooklyn was played by Alfre Woodard.)

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