Collection Confessions

I bought a Beanie Baby the other day. Really.

For those of you who are too young, Beanie Babies were a fad that emerged in the 1990s. Each Beanie Baby is designed to look like an real animal, but filled with polyethylene pellets. Most are extremely cutified versions of those animals, which include everything from hedgehogs to ladybugs. Several of the significant, “limited-edition” Beanie Babies are shaped to look like teddy bears.

I started buying Beanie Babies around 1997. You could only buy them at independent gift-type stores, and they cost like 8 bucks. When I was in my mom’s hometown, I could usually buy one, because there weren’t enough people around to buy the few Beanie Babies that arrived there. I probably own about 50 of them. Really. I think Mark has several too, but not as many as I do. I was more dedicated.

So, like most useless toys, my Beanie Babies sit in my room without moving. All 50 of them are hanging in a canvas Beanie Baby bag on the back of my bedroom door. Their lifeless eyes stare at me while I sleep.

On a delivery the other day, we were taking a recliner into someone’s family room, and I noticed a glass case of stale Beanie Babies. I had several of the same ones, but there was another one that caught my eye. It was a white bear with several large confetti-like blocks all over it. I was intrigued and decided that I was not yet done wasting money on Beanie Babies.

I went online and looked up the Beanie Baby. After a bit of searching, I found the bear, which is called “Ty2K.” It came out in 1999, and I was able to buy it on for only $4.97, with free shipping. I guess that’s a bargain when you’re buying Beanie Babies. Soon it will lurk in my room with the other inert bears full of beans. Well, pellets.

I started thinking about the philosophy of collecting. Of course, the main thing I collect is dust (BA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA). I used to collect Beanie Babies, but really I just keep them now because I can’t admit I wasted that much money on useless stuffed animals. But that’s what collecting is, the accrual of useless stuff. Once you use something, it no longer counts as “collected.” You can read comics or collect them. You can mail stamps or collect them. You can play with action figures or collect them. And so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I own plenty of useless stuff. I can’t say I’m better than a guy who owns thousands of stamps, or PEZ dispensers, or Pokemon cards, or used panties. Those people just have one category of things they love, but there doesn’t seem to be any reasoning behind it. I think collection is a primal process that human beings have reinterpreted. In other words, there is some kind of innate need fulfilled by ownership. How else can you explain it?

I’m trying to imagine having a shed full of 5000 Cabbage Patch Kids or a climate-controlled basement stocked with hermetically sealed GI Joes. Do the owners just wander through every week and fondle them one by one? Probably not, because those fingerprints impart the damaging natural oils found in human skin. Better to just look around and feel safe and secure, surrounded by those blank, soulless toys.

I think that hoarding (er, collecting) is more than a simple hobby. It is an unbelievable attachment to things. Where does it come from? I don’t know.

Of course, hoarding runs in my family. Everyone on my father’s side has that powerful attachment. My dad owns 35 coats. He has 14 camping chairs and 7 tents, although he only camps about 5 times per year. He hates throwing things out, so our entire house is full of items that are not exactly useless, but are definitely never used. There are many things I have tried to throw out or donate that have mysteriously reappeared. In order to properly throw away something he might want to keep, I have been forced to throw it away somewhere else, because he goes through every trash bag that even tries to leave our house. My parents also collect Christmas ornaments. Sigh.

Our home is a museum of things that are never used, yet it is impossible to do anything about it. My father is attached to those things. I wish I could break down that attachment and just fucking destroy it. But I want to bring this back to me. I am not exempt from my family’s congenital materialism. In fact, I am actually worse than my father in some ways. I am … a kleptomaniac. Now, before you start calling me a shoplifter, let me explain myself.

Kleptomania is mostly an obsession with items of “trivial” value. In some cases, kleptomaniacs will steal those things, but they are usually small and useless. Sound familiar? For me, it rarely takes the form of shoplifting, but is more of a random attachment to those things. I feel like I have to own them, although I can suppress it. In other words, I’m not going to rob your house. Really.

For some reason, I randomly develop an attachment to small items made of glass, metal, or stone. I have a couple dozen little things like tiny metal puzzles, marbles, metal hearts, a couple of crosses and rosaries, a napkin ring, a brass piece from a desk, and a tuning fork. I don’t know why, but I do like to have them. I often play around with them, because I like the way they look and feel, etc. I sometimes buy these things when I come across them, but I always have enough conscious control to not steal them. Almost always.

One thing that intrigues me is that although I started out materialistic (I blame Dad), I do think it has gotten a bit worse in the past few years. I was reading Wikipedia, and it cited an article which said that kleptomania can be caused or exacerbated by carbon monoxide poisoning and cyanide poisoning. Now I have an excuse! The Wikipedia article linked to a paper which basically says that carbon monoxide and cyanide seem to do damage to the part of your brain that makes you not a kleptomaniac.

Anyway, I decided to clean my room today. It was looking kind of gross, mostly due to dust and general disorganization. I want to take a stand, so I’m trying to throw out several crappy things I don’t need (or want). I also piled up a bunch of shirts I want to give away, because I don’t need them and they don’t even fit my fat ass anymore.

So beside the possessions normal people hang onto, like diplomas and lava lamps, I kept my trinkets. I now have a shelf covered with glass and metal junk, with the occasional rock to mix things up. I also have a shelf of sentimental stuff that I should hang onto, just in case my ancestral spirits check up on their mortal possessions from time to time.

The line between collecting, hoarding, and kleptomania is pretty thin, but I try to be careful. Of course, the rest of the shelves in my room are covered with books, but I read those. Really.

Still More True Tales of Human Interest

I had a very difficult childhood. Our microwave didn’t have a turntable, so I often had to turn the food once, twice, or even three times during the cooking process. It’s fortunate that I didn’t get some kind of disease from improperly cooked fragments in those food products.

My parents rarely grounded me, however, because I would just read books in my room. It was not much of a punishment. Instead, my mother would frequently lock me outside. My brother and I had no choice but to explore the vacant wooded lot behind the house, often risking life and limb in the pursuit of enjoyment. The owner of the lot was a dick, and always chastised us for being there. Many years later, we threw a jug of spoiled milk into his lot out of spite. It is still there.

Once, we took the hose and made a large mud pit in the middle of the yard. The dog joined us for several minutes of unadulterated happiness. When my mother found us, she was not as happy. The dog had to be hosed off thoroughly, while Mark and I had to be cleaned indoors. I still respect our creativity in having a fun time, though.

We have a half-assed basketball half-court by the side of our house. It is essentially four slabs of concrete and a hoop. At this point, due to root growth and plate tectonics, the playing surface is no longer level. Back in the day, we played a few games of HORSE and such, but I mostly used it for dribbling. I would go out there with a fully-inflated basketball and dribble for hours. I never shot the ball (I would have missed), but I dribbled like a pro. At one point, I dribbled with a kickball. I could dribble just about anything.

As a gifted student, I had many struggles. I could kick the ass of math any day, but when it came to all that other crap, I was no good. We were expected to do a presentation each year of some “creative” project or another. I always stumbled through one, but never had any creative ideas on presenting them. Like most elementary school projects, parental assistance was key. my topics included rocks and crystals, the lungs, lions, and electric motors. The motor was actually quite cool, and fortunately it worked once at home and once during the creative project fair, but never again. It is still here.

The other annual gifted project was a book. We were expected to write, illustrate, and bind a 24-page book. It could be about anything we wanted, but we had to do all the work. The end product was a white bookish thing covered in some kind of hardcore plastic wrap. For me, it was less of a creative project and more of romp through my twisted childish psyche. Whenever I tried to assemble coherent thoughts into book form, I always failed incredibly.

In my first year, I was probably 5 or 6. I wrote an alphabet book of all the stuffed animals in my bedroom. It was adorable. I remember another gifted student reading it to me sweetly, but I also remember being teased about it. Either way, it’s probably the most earnest thing I’ve ever written, and the pictures are decent, too. Once I started reading more complicated books, I tried to assemble a narrative. The results are frankly embarrassing. One was a blatant (horrible!) take on a book series I liked. One other has slipped my memory (thank god). The final book was written in fifth grade, and I labored over it for quite a while. My innovative story idea was this: take two natural disasters and combine them. It couldn’t fail!

After thinking for ages about which two disasters to combine, I decided on a tornado and a volcano. Naturally, the book was entitled “Torcano”. In my head, it was spectacular. A horrifying wind tunnel pulling boiling lava out of the mountain and into the sky, where it would partially harden and land, crushing humans, vehicles, and abodes with abandon. The concept did not translate so well to the 24-page plastic-wrapped mini-book form. I wrote the text and illustrated it, which consisted mostly of two triangles (one reddish-brown volcano and one gray, swirly cyclone) in various positions. I bound it and everything.

On presentation day, we were supposed to read the book to our gifted peers. I was already embarrassed. After all, my previous works had been met with derision and accusations of childishness. When it was my turn, I read the book aloud. When I finished, I remember looking up to about ten bewildered faces and absolute silence. The stunned silence lasted for several seconds before things moved on. It’s fair to say that a worse work of fiction has never been produced. Of course, all of my books from elementary school are still here.

When I was about 13, my brother started dating a girl. I didn’t like her very much, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. In any case, I lacked the emotional maturity to express those concerns, so at a church function, that frustration expressed itself. I threw a green gummi bear at the couple from across the room, and hit the girl directly in the right eye. My aim was spectacular. Her contact lens was knocked back over her eyeball and she had to go to the bathroom to remove it. She patted me on the shoulder in forgiveness, which was good, because Mark was pissed.

The next day she saw an optometrist and had to have her eyes dilated. I apologized profusely throughout the whole process. Later on, her dad said, “it would be fine had it just been an inch off the mark.” Months later, after the inevitable break-up, I felt a bit vindicated about the gummi bear situation. That’s what she got for dating my brother.

(I felt that I should at least present at least one true tale of human interest about my asylum experiences.)

When I was first committed to the Lancaster County Crisis Center, it was a brand new experience. My urine was still purple from the medication I’d been given, and I was checked on every 10 minutes “just in case.” There was not much to do, either. They had a library of about 30 books and a different library of about 80 VHS tapes. The patients could choose any of the films on tape, which the attendants would then play on the sealed-up TV/VCR. I did read one book, but most of the time, I had to watch the movies.

Because most patients stayed about 3 days (I was there for 30), every retinue of new ones wanted to watch the same damned films. Of all 80 films, I probably saw about 12. The two I saw the most were Happy Gilmore and Meet the Parents. The process worked as follows: a new patient would come in and read the list of tapes and say, “Oh, Happy Gilmore. I haven’t seen that movie in forever.” All of the other patients (except me) would then say, “Wow, I remember that from high school. Let’s watch that.” The process would continue a few days later. I probably saw that film 8 times that month, if not 10.

The most interesting patient there was Jeff, the psychotic. Most of us were just everyday insane, but Josh was actually certifiable. He shook and twitched and couldn’t quite converse properly. We talked once or twice, but each time he would spin off on very interesting topics of his own. We were both long-term patients, so we knew each other a bit, but after a week, Josh made an escape attempt.

There was a short, narrow hallway that ended in a door to the staircase. It was hard to see from the main desk. The ceiling was composed of the typical crumbly, white, rectangular panels. He thought that there was a way out over the doorway, so he climbed up the sides of the hallway (I didn’t get to see this, but I’m sure it was acrobatic) and got above the ceiling panels and light. Naturally, the whole thing collapsed. Not only that, the wall over the door extended past the ceiling panels to the real ceiling. The escape attempt failed, and they didn’t clean up the light and ceiling fragments for days. Josh was subsequently sent elsewhere.