Monday, October 10, 2005

The Collectors

Last week, I noticed that a speaker bracket in my van had broken, at the rear of the truck, and it was noisy as hell, that speaker swinging side to side against the metal wall studs. Upon further inspection, I realized I would have to remove the bracket and have it welded.

Today, I removed the bracket, and took it to a welding shop. Now, I don’t need a welder very often, but I recalled that I have used the services of an older man near my home, and I drove there to see if he was still in business. When I arrived, the shop was still there, but the exterior yard was a mess. Suddenly, the “old man” of whom I speak came out of the building, and I popped my head out of the van window. “You open?”, I hollered. “What’cha got?” he shot back, so I exited the van.

I handed him the bracket, and then followed him through the doors of the shop. We passed two small tan dogs in the yard, and I noticed that the one who was wretching was missing an eye. The second we got into the shop, which is just a huge mess, the smell hit me. Urine. As in pet urine, totally overwhelming. He walked to the workbench, and began to work on the bracket. Well, I thought, if he is gonna do it right now, that’s good, I can just gut it out if I am gonna get this thing fixed right away. “Can it be fixed?”, I asked. “Not sure”, he replied, and began filing the broken part.

This was the same man I had done business with years ago, and I thought he was old then! I reminded him, as he worked, that he had made a large 50 gallon drum style barbecue for me some years ago, about 1988, which I still have, and which I have used at street fairs and other events. “I quit makin’ them fuckin’ things”, he spoke as he worked. “Used to make over a hundred a’them things every year,” he elaborated. “The year the paper did a story, we made 300. I’ve sent’em t’ New Jersey, Texas, France, you name it.” He continued to work, and I watched with interest as a man in his 80s cranked up the welder, put on the protective hat and fixed my speaker bracket, sparks flying amid the yellow glow of a welder’s torch.

At one point, he walked to a filing machine to fine tune his welding point, and I noticed him stepping carefully. That’s when I noticed the dog feces. ”Got one dog won’t shit outside”, he complained, and continued with his work. I stepped outside a few times. The odor was crushing. “Well, we got lucky”, he announced a few minutes later. “It took”. He asked for 10 dollars but I gave him a 20.

As I gave the man his money, I asked, “Well, lessee, you’ve been down here for a number of years right?” “Over 30 years” he replied. “And are you retired or what?” I asked. “Hell yeah, I don’ do a fuckin’ thing.” Then I said, “So I just happened to come here at the right time huh?” “That’s right”, he spoke, looking down. He then turned slowly, and as he gave me the history of his business, he began to light some huge stick incense that he had taken from a brown paper bag on his workbench. We are not talking Nagchampa folks, this stuff was huge, like big sparklers really. He lit four, and placed the stick ends in what looked like a large railroad nut that had four holes in it. A homemade welding shop incense burner. He had done this before.

“Man, you have a ton of stuff in here”, I chatted. The place was a mess, like a “collectors” house, like those collector people one sees on TV, with piles of stuff everywhere, or collectors of cats. There were piles of old clothes, some still in plastic clothes protectors, and boxes of shoes, toys, many slot machines, all among the welding machines and other workshop stuff. “Well, I live here”, he told me, and then, invited me into his private residence. As the incense started to take hold, we entered his “private” door, at one end of the shop.

It was then, as we entered, that I realized, this guy really is a true “collector”. And then he spoke. “Y’see, I’m a collector.”

But not a collector as in just piles of stuff everywhere, like there was in the shop. This guy has collections! Yes, they are dusty, and dirty, and his residence is a disaster, but he has made an effort, sometime back then, to collect things in a proper way. In the residence, there were collections of Glass Bells, Glass Shoes and Slippers, Kitchen Utensils, Model Motorcycles and Cars, Hundreds of Buttons With Sayings On Them, Checkers Sets, Disney Stuff, Ten Million Goofys And Plutos, Shelves and Shelves of All Of This Stuff, Games Made Out Of Wood, Slot Machines, Masks, Asian Art And Buddhas, and the largest collection of all is a collection of Thousands Of Lapel Pins, like the kind you get in fraternal organizations or at special events and attractions, all neatly attached to many, many framed cork boards attached high to the walls of his apartment. And there are boxes and boxes of stuff, everywhere, including on top of the brown padded hot tub cover, which is on top of the hot tub, which is sitting another room, hopefully drained.

I expressed my amazement at all of this, to his pleasure, I think. As we exited back into the shop, the incense had done it’s job. “Wow”, I spoke, “those 4 big incense really made it better out here”. “It’s changed” he corrected.

To be honest, this experience was overwhelming in more ways than one. When you see collectors on TV, it’s nothing compared to seeing one in person. I felt exausted.

As we walked out the shop door and into the parking lot, I noticed a staircase going down, like to a basement, and asked, “Wow, do you have a basement?”. Looking straight ahead, as he opened the locked gate to let me out, he replied, “Yep. That’s where I keep The Trolls”.

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