This weekend, I went to a huge indoor toy collector show at the state fairgrounds. My relationship to collecting has changed greatly over the last few years. As long time readers will remember, this blog used to heavily feature collecting and my thoughts on the acquired objects.
What changed? Only everything. We had two kids. The house got smaller. Of course I still bring home artifacts from my travels. There’s just more of a vetting process — a nice way to describe the mental gymnastics of how a piece of garbage fits in my life.
Collecting is about having a physical item to pair with the longing for abstractions. It’s part emotional, part neurotic. I collect to feel. Collecting is part of the artistic process for me. That’s partly or mostly bullshit. I collect trash. I’m trash myself.
I grew up in The Dena, and don’t let my expensive dental work fool you. I know where I come from, another middle class suburb plagued with drugs and racists and old ladies who shop at Joann Fabrics. Where I come from, knowing how to haggle a piece of shit at a flea market is a street smart.
I want my trash to be actual trash. Your retro store vibe on the cobblestone street in the historic town sucks. Sir, that’s not a collectible. That’s a dust bunny in the shape of a Ninja Turtle. And I don’t want to pay you $14.99 for it. I want to find it left for dead, mangled, and only after I’ve fully experienced the very dread of my existence.
I want to be in a dirt lot where there are guns and raw meat for sale. I want to be afraid for my life while I’m shopping. I want to be afraid I might get Hep A. I want to keep my children at a distance. I want to keep myself at a distance.
I buy stuff to fill in my depression — I mean, my shelves. Do you have anything like that for sale in this darling adorable store? I want to feel emotion while shopping, not exchange money. I don’t want to buy my childhood. I want to encounter it in the wild.
Toy collector shows are a hybrid of the cutie hipster store and flea market. It has the wild west vibe of the flea market, but like the cobblestone store, stuff is overpriced and wrapped up like precious diamonds in plastic bags.
I used to hit up the ATM and take out a wad of cash for these shows to buy some good shit. Now I go with a single twenty bill. Kids are expensive, and daycare costs are nuclear. Besides, it’s kind of like an advanced level of the game. What damage could I do with a single twenty-dollar bill?
The first item that caught my eye was that box of Ninja Turtle cereal. We had a moment, a forever-soulmate, first-glance kind of thing. I knew it would be mine. But it was already late afternoon. How did such a black opal diamond of a treasure already survive four-plus hours untouched and unpurchased? Even surviving the early bird hours? Oh right, because it’s trash. Beautiful fucking trash, just like me.
I figured it must be overpriced. They must have it marked at a thousand dollars. That’s the only way such an exquisite piece could still be here. I looked at the price. Twelve bucks. Not bad, actually. My soulmate and I played a coy dance. I put it down. Daycare costs more than taking a seven day cruise to rural Iceland once a month. I decided if it was still here at the end of the show, maybe. Maybe. It wouldn’t be though. Such a gemstone, such a gorgeous lover. This one was not for me. I bid it farewell, for now and forever.
Next I fell in love with these bootleg rubber ET figures. The seller had several dozen of them. I figured they were a dollar or something like that. I was going to offer him fifty cents, two for a dollar when paired with a similarly-janky King Kong figure. I asked how much.
Dude was selling them in sets of three for thirty goddamn dollars, and he generously let me know I could have the King Kong for “five dollars.” A bargain for four pieces of rubber, at thirty-five dollars total. I put them back among the squalor of other dirty, broken pieces of crap, and considered ordering gold-plated caviar for dinner instead.
This tin Power Rangers cookie container caught my eye, in ways that I can only describe as “possible mental health diagnosis.” It’s in the DSM, next to “Panic Disorder” and “Pica,” — “Power Rangers Cookie Tin.”
You might notice this picture is a bit blurry. That’s because people stare you down like a motherfucker when they notice you’re taking pictures of their wares. It’s the “My Power Ranger Cookie Tin Is Not Your Viral Tweet” look.
That’s why I have no picture for the next item I was interested in. It was a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen “Fun Kit.” I really wanted to know what the hell a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen “Fun Kit” contained, and I was certain the internet would be interested as well. It was in a cardboard box, a catacomb, a sepulcher. I reached for the lid like Indiana Jones, prepared to unleash the secrets. Suddenly the seller leapt across the floor, throwing her body in between me and the box, to stop what secrets inside might have doomed humanity.
“That’s her fun kit,” she said, disturbingly referring to the twin duo as one singular. “It was my daughter’s, and it’s never been opened.”
I stuttered something, taking a step back, meaning no harm. “My daughter had all of her CDs and videos, too,” she added, eyeing me suspiciously.
Next in the running to be my forever bride was this Stone Protectors Anti-Aircraft Barbeque. This is the homely girl who never gets asked out on any dates, but who knows how to have a good time, and has a great sense of humor. Ten dollars was too much for a date though. Baby, we’re not going to Olive Garden tonight. We’re not even going to Burger King. Every time I walked by it to see if I could find someone to haggle with, there was only a teenage son playing on his phone in the seller’s chair. You can’t haggle with the kids or partners of toy sellers, which is a pet peeve of mine. Whenever I’ve sold shit at flea markets and wandered off, I’ve always empowered my wife to take whatever asking price sounds reasonable.
I kind of wanted this dirty guinea pig doll, and I don’t have to answer to anyone as to why.
Also, this plush cheetah in a backwards hat, sitting on a lawnchair draped in a cat-with-red-sneakers sheet, with a sealed bag of Cheetos, and it just seemed like a ROCK AND ROLL PARTY to me.
Of course I have questions. Chester, is that you? Are the Cheetos here to evoke something, or did someone just sit down their snack? Does the toy come with the Cheetos? Can I make a bundle offer on the doll and the Cheetos?
At this point in the afternoon, I was becoming darkly disillusioned. I think this is a normal response to being assaulted by overpriced Chipmunk bottles of bath soap and Ewok erasers wrapped up in protective layers like newborns.
I started to seek purity, cleansing, and healing. Collecting is a dark place. I want the physical pieces of my past, something tangible that says my memories are not simply ether — except it’s overpriced and being sold to me by someone who smells like sawdust and cigarettes. It sounds like a fever dream. Thank God it was only a fever dream.
Except it wasn’t a fever dream at all. I looked down at my baby daughter. She clutched her Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck dolls, purchased brand new and pure of the darkness at The Disney Store. Every now and then she chimed in, pointing out a character she recognized, like “Elmo!” I grimly pushed her forward in the stroller, saying “no sweetie, that Elmo is filthy and matted,” as the doll stared into the void with its gaping black mouth and dead eyes.
Then something saved me.
Someone was selling their homemade Food Fighters shirts. They were full of punk rock DIY aestethic and goddamn HUSTLE. I learned these were only prototypes, which the boyfriend explained about his girlfriend’s creations. I fell in love. They were so sincere and perfect.
Look at this Food Fighters x Turtles shirt. Just look at it.
I asked if there was an Etsy shop or something I could plug, but the dude handed me a business card, and I’ve tweeted at her. Yo, Amber, when you get these shirts off the ground, I have about five or six weirdos reading this to send your way.
Finally, I had yet to make my big purchase. The Ninja Turtles cereal box still called my name. I still didn’t want to pay twelve bucks for a cardboard box with thirty-year-old crumbs inside it. And yes, it has the original bag inside, with original crumbs. Perhaps I could desperately lick them and regain my youth, but we’ll save that post for another day.
I decided I would pay five bucks. Hardcore. I would walk up to the seller, straight-face, serious as hell, and demand he hand it over to me for five dollars. I don’t know why I was so intense and weird about it, but love is like that sometimes.
Except in the last second, I chickened out, and in my most polite voice said, “you wouldn’t take seven dollars for this, would you?” Like I was a nervous kid asking a father for his daughter’s hand. The man looked relieved that someone wanted that old ass box of cereal. And now it is mine, crumbs and all. I’ll be sending out Save the Dates soon, ya’ll.