In this month’s Amazon Trail, Lee Lynch celebrates the joy of collecting all kinds of random objects, regardless of whether anyone else sees them as “collector’s items.”
I spend too much time and space collecting die-cast toy vehicles, especially Matchbox, a few Dinkys and other locally hard-to-find brands. I’m no expert, am not a vehicle fanatic, I drive a seventeen-year-old Toyota, but the allure of these tiny replicas of vans, utility trucks, and homely cars, many bunged up and from garage sales, most covered with months of dust, bring me a ridiculous amount of pleasure.
I love old stuff and old places. Nostalgia informs much of my work. My favorite school of art, photorealism, often portrays abandoned Esso gas stations, weathered clapboard houses, or bright-colored luncheonettes in the Bronx. Richard Estes and Ralph Goings capture Americana minutely. Among photographers, I can peruse books by David Plowden, Bernice Abbott, and William Eggleston for hours.
Jump to buttons. I don’t have a clue why buttons fascinate me. I’m far from a seamstress. But did you ever look at buttons, really look? The designs, especially from days of yore, can be intricate, unique, even genuine art. They sport an infinity of colors and sizes, signify rank, brand, and fashion styles. I have jars full of the things, but I’m pressed for time to let them cascade from my hands into treasure piles and may give them up. Some day.
Books, of course, from first editions of Vita Sackville-West, to an assortment of lesbian pulps, to John le Carré spy stories and the newest Ellen Hart mystery. The latter, we were shocked and honored to find, is dedicated to my sweetheart and myself.
Then there are the tiny cats. The bulk of that collection is housed in an antique glass case from a long-gone physician’s office. (No, I don’t collect antiques, unless you count a smattering of tools like my wood-handled awl, cast iron I-don’t-know what-it’s-fors, rusted wire cutters.) Some of the cats are from the Made-in-Japan era. Those from the early nineteenth century U.S. are not particularly cute, sometimes fierce-looking, and I have to wonder, who would buy these for decoration?
Along the line of tools, I was attached to three items in my mother’s kitchen. One was a wood-handled ice pick, painted red, a narrow metal ledge between the wood and the pick. I had no interest in culinary activities, but I sure used that thing a lot for little kid woodworking projects and who knows what else. She also had a wood-handled potato masher with u-shaped sturdy metal half loops. That I used to mash tuna salad I’d make when she wasn’t feeling well. The third item was a paring knife with an ergonomic handle. Over time, I’ve managed to find replicas of the ice pick and the potato masher.
In my search for the paring knife, I came across an old American brand, Chicago Cutlery. The company has been bought, of course, and now produces knives with bright-colored plastic handles, but originally, they were wood. My sweetheart has kindly donated a whole drawer in her kitchen to my collection, which was much enhanced with rare pieces from a neighbor who collects and sharpens knives as a hobby.
We collect rocks on our beaches. Agates, clear, blue, butterscotch or amber colored, jaspers, splendidly patterned petrified woods. These we keep in glass jars on window sills where light shines through the agates, or in bowls around the house so we can handle them in passing.
We have a very full house; I can’t begin to describe my sweetheart’s Xena collection or the shared postcard collection that brought us together. I have tins of political buttons and a backlog of gay bumper stickers.
More recently, I’ve been amassing less bulky items. Names, for example, often garnered from obituaries, for my books and stories. One obituary alone yielded: Horace Harp, Little Lewis Morris, Lewis Jr. Morris, Ruby Towry and Fannie Towry. More: Donna Divine, Ezra Crabtree. I always need names for stories, and each of these names sounds as if it has a story all its own.
Slang only takes up an index card box. Matching slang to characters is fun. “You’re a riot,” said my New York friend. “The real deal” for a Midwesterner. The Irish women of my family used “for dear life.” Kids are loud enough “to wake the dead.”
All the words, all the tchotchkes, give me delight. Lately, though, this materialistic gay American has reached a time of appreciating what I have rather than collecting more, though I don’t turn away from chance finds — or gifts. Last fall, a dear writer friend stumbled on a carrying case of minicars, every last one of them the real deal. Best? I haven’t finished pawing through them yet. I wouldn’t miss that for all the tea in China.