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The Collector

Published: January 1, 2014

The Collector had muttonchops, a curly mustache, and wore seersucker. His profile picture should have been in sepia; he looked like he stepped out of a barbershop quartet. He could sing the low notes, as he was very, very tall.

He was smart. He was funny. Jewish too. He was promising.

We met at an old-fashioned saloon. We talked about our jobs. I was cracking a big story. He talked about collecting things. He collected professionally; that is, he dealt stuff. Have a hankering for railroad menus or vintage porn? The Collector will find it for you, for a price.

He rummaged through dead people’s belongings for money.

Collector: Think Storage Wars, American Pickers, Pawn Stars.
Me: Those shows make me a little sad. I think about someone’s dreams up for sale, their history, their past. The premise of broken hopes and stalled ambitions, of children grown old and families disbanded.

I checked my body language. On some dates I lean in. Here, I was inching away, maneuvering around the bar to avoid the Collector’s towering presence.

Me: Do you have collections of your own too?
Collector: Those free postcards in the bathroom, I collect them obsessively. At any given moment in my apartment, you’re likely to be knocking over a stack of them.

As he spoke, I found him less compelling. There are plenty of professions worthy of aversion – lawyers, assassins – but I couldn’t understand his attraction to collecting. There is a place where stuff has too much meaning and a place where it has too little, and the Collector makes his money in that gap between pathologies.

I discovered that I was squeezing myself into the space between the busboy’s station and the bathroom.

Me: You have lots of storage space for your collections, I guess.
Collector: Nope, I live in a studio like everyone else.
Me: I imagine there’s a lot of shelving, you’re so tall.
Collector: Really most of my storage is on the floor, in piles, where I can’t see it. Below chairs, under the bed. Beneath the dining room table. Under the TV, the sink, the toilet, the litter box. If my life were a reality show, it would be Hoarders.

He was a hoarder and he had a cat.

There was a concert in the park that night. I explained that I had an event to attend, a hard out, a firm exit. Twenty minutes later I watched a full moon rise over a lit band shell while Dvorak played on. These are the things I collect.


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