The Collector

I collect. I collect a lot of things. Of course, there are things I collect and things I don’t collect. I don’t collect used napkins. I don’t collect antique electronics or bits of scrap metal. I don’t collect moldy scraps of bread. This is commonsensical.

I do collect cereal boxes. I have a room. I devote the room primarily to my collections of Wheaties boxes. This room also contains framed mounted editions of Wheaties boxes, though it mostly contains unopened boxes. My Wheaties collection was appraised at seven grand six hundred and seventeen dollars and eighteen cents. I have one of the largest collections in the U.S.

I collect bricks. I have built a storage shed to house my bricks. Historic bricks can be quite valuable, not to mention aesthetically enriching. Who, for instance, doesn’t enjoy “exposed brick”?

Pillows. A room in my house is devoted to softness. Fluff and puff.

Stuffed birds—taxonomical works. These are housed in the basement as the light can quickly damage bird feathers.

Coloring books. Leaves (my collection has five thousand and thirty seven components).

Rare spoons.

Polka albums.

Exotic sewing needles.

All of this may sound mind-numbing. O.C.D. Ridiculous. Maybe it is. Fascinating—that’s a better word. Things fascinate me. Their scope—their infinite variety. Their rarity.

The unexpected.

—Would you tell her to stop? Shirley.

—What am I doing exactly?

—You know, Ab. If I have to explain it, I’m wasting my breath. I don’t like wasting.

Abby blinks at her omelet. It runs toward the right side of her plate. I wouldn’t trust it. Marjorie looks at me with that do-something expression.

I don’t particularly like interceding, as a fatherly principle. I would prefer to remain on the sidelines. If Marjorie wants intervention she still has freedom of will.

Abby cuts into her omelet. She’s listening to her sister. Shirley isn’t eating. Shirley’s on a liquid diet. At five seven and one thirteen she feels she’s too heavy.

I eat a hamburger. The “Western.” The mushrooms are good. We’re at a local luncheon. It’s nothing special, but a step-up from fast-food. Abby likes fast food. She’s accommodating us.

They’re arguing because Abby began telling a story. The story happens to revolve around Shirley’s tendency toward exhibitionism. Shirley doesn’t appreciate critique.

They squabble over nothing. We let them work it out. Our parenting style.

Marjorie gives me the goggle-eyes. I think of my Hawaiian shirt collection. Someday I’d like to visit Hawaii. Try a few of them out on the white sand. Or whatever they have there.

In the car I tell Marjorie how odd it seems that we raised these children through the years. Seems so odd in the abstract.

—It is strange. Something from another lifetime.

—I mean, how did we do it?

—How did we survive?

—I look at my wristband. It is blotched from sweat. My arm hairs are turning blonde.

When we return, Marjorie begins kissing me. I feel dehydrated and soppy.

—It’s too hot, I say. You know? Don’t you feel gross?

—I’m trying.

This is about the worst thing she could say. We’ve done therapy. We’ve lived apart. It’s never easy. Nothing is.

—Do you remember that time you went to the . . . what was it? Flamingo show, maybe? This was in Indiana. Five years ago.

—Yes. Abby bites her lip in the manner of Bill Clinton. We’re at her place. I’m watching her goldfish oscillate in their tank. Their tails are the color of Cheetos.

—You were looking for a red flamingo. It was a certain kind of replica. I forget…

—Yes, yes—the Scarlet Ibis.

—Okay, so you remember you let me go off on my own? You said you’d be a while.

—Right, I say.

—That was my first time.

—You mean—

—Yeah. I know, I know. You don’t want to know about all this.

—It’s okay. We’re people. I’m not just your dad. My teeth hit the lemon pulp as I drink the club water.

—There was this man. Floor four—hard to say. He was standing outside of his room, leaning against the door. Just staring. He wore green plaid. I remember that. He was tall and pale. Very skinny—I could see his ribs.

—What did he say to you?

I didn’t mean for this to sound accusatory.

—He didn’t. I invited myself in. I was sixteen and didn’t know any better. I was collecting, too.

—Really? And what were you collecting?

—Experiences. Life.

My daughters don’t get it.

Shirley thinks I’m odd. She can’t “relate” to my collection of driftwood seagulls. Her concept of fun has more to do with alcohol and finery. Clubbing. A fast beat. Sexual entitlement.

Abby is younger, more impressionable. She sat on my lap at aged seven as I organized my paint chip collection. I tried to avoid letting her insist. Lead poisoning. However, she has become overwhelmed by my passion. She cannot abide by my collection of mysterious gasses. Her interest in helping me date and label has waned. Yet, in her I see a fellow collector. I notice her interest in bookmarks.

However, they also know I am not the sum of my ownership. I am not my collectible pencils.

They each live approximately twenty five minutes away—a healthy distance. Abby and Shirley don’t, however, see eye to eye. Abby is not our natural-born daughter, and we suspect this may have poisoned the well. Didn’t have to. Shirley simply can’t/won’t understand. She lacks requisite empathy. She has never quite been able to step outside of herself.

Competition. There is only so much time in one day. Only so many things one can do. It’s a matter of choice—choosing one thing over another. One person over another. Collecting paint chips, say, is in the exclusion of something else I could collect. This is the way life works. Collecting is just my attempt to grasp as much as I can.

Marjorie doesn’t see the value of all of this. She has me whittle, condense. Organize, label. I’ve abandoned collections solely to avoid annoying her. She doesn’t want to massage my overindulgences.

However, she endures. And I’ve been faithful—my greatest accomplishment.

My children compete for my attentions—perhaps because they aren’t particularly easy to acquire.

Shirley calls. Says she heard I had lunch with Abby.

—I wasn’t aware of this. I mean, it’s not as if I wanted to be there. I just would have liked to be informed.

—Of what exactly?

—Your plans.

This conversation would never occur with Abby. Shirley has always been the diva, the princess.

—Okay, what would you have me do?

—How about lunch with me now?

I arrive late on purpose.

Shirley is sporting cake makeup and has the A.C. blasting. Icebox. I ask her for a sweatshirt.

—It’s summer!

—I’m aware of that. It’s just a bit cold in here.

She hands me a light paisley scarf. I look at it.

—It’s okay. I’ll make do.

—I’ve made soup, she says. I can make you some tea, also.

The soup is gazpacho. The tea is of the iced variety. Shirley says caffeine warms the blood anyway, and that Arabs drink hot tea to stay cool. So why not cold drinks to warm up?

I’m shivering. Goosebumps. Rubbing my arms.

I eat the gazpacho as Shirley tells me about her shop. Beauty wares. Soaps and oils and lotions and powders. It smells of lilac, always lilac.

She has a cd of songbirds on, which is disconcerting given the actual songbirds outside—which I can also hear. Flute and harp are also involved. She puts more food out—fruit and bread and cheeses. Everything is arrayed nicely.

—Why don’t we do this more often? She says.

—We have our lives.

—I mean, without mom.

—We should. But we can also include her. You remember that time we went to the national history museum? We saw the whale exhibit? Those skeletons.

—Of course. I was scared to death.

—You clung to me. You put your feet on my left foot. We walked like that.

—You tried to make me laugh.

—It didn’t work. Or at least not much. I cheered you up with a Popsicle outside. You wanted to ride the carousel there. But I didn’t….

—You only had change.

—Well, I didn’t. I had more. I just didn’t want you to get sick. Scared plus sick—no good.

She looks betrayed. She breaks her flatbread in half. She slices cheese. Hands me some.

—Well, it doesn’t matter she says. I probably would’ve gotten sick. My constitution.

—In retrospect, I should’ve let you go. Things might be different if I had. Let you . . . It would be calmer.


She stands. She pours more iced tea. Says she’s getting cold, also.

—I think I might turn the air conditioning off.

I don’t say anything. I drink my iced tea and listen to my daughter’s footsteps.

I return to my collections.

Now that I’ve entered retirement I have the time to spend. This can rankle Marjorie if I go overboard. However, it’s better this way. If I don’t have the time to devote to my collections disorder enters the picture. Then my hobbies become an issue.

There are times when I have to sell. We only have limited space. A few years ago I found a buyer for my paper fan collection. It was a decent though rather small (227) collection, relatively speaking. I netted two grand. But what I really wanted was additional space. This I couldn’t acquire easily.

In my will Abby receives the vast majority of my collections. I don’t love her more, per se. I do, however, feel she will appreciate them. Shirley might donate most of my collections to Goodwill. This defeats the purpose forming a collection. They need to be tended to. They are also my children.

Marjorie and I don’t have much in common, on paper at least. However, we have our two daughters and she knows how difficult that can be. Once Shirley and Abby left home our place in the house became questionable. We had to redefine our relationship. The purpose of it.

Now I’m liberated. I’m a father because I wanted to be. I can see them when I want, how I want. I’m not just a tenant and proprietor. It’s easier this way.

I love them all. These girls of mine. Perhaps on some level they are a collection in their own right. These women. I’d never say this. I’d never utter it. But I can think it. Nobody can stop that.

We move on step by step.  

Copyright © 1999 – 2021 Juked