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The Collector

Published: April 17, 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.

The 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?
The 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.
The Collector: Nope, I live in a studio like everyone else.
Me: I imagine there’s a lot of shelving, you’re so tall.
The 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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