Wednesday, January 12, 2011
My friend Garry, as a teenager, had a bedroom decorated with gas masks. I'm not sure how that particular assortment began, but for whatever reason, by the time he graduated High School, he had gas masks from every major conflict since WWI, from several nations and armies.
My brother had a bunch of vintage bottles he had dug out of the dirt in various woods, and my dad had a cedar chest full of pocketknives. Other folks had beer steins or records, antique books, mandolins, geodes, or photos signed by all the actors who played James Bond's villains. These were all amazing assortments that reveal a passing interests and fiery obsessions. Personally, over the years, I've collected star wars figures, comic books, Peanuts merchandise, vintage Boy Scout gear, Green Lantern stuff, rocks, coins, arrowheads, first aid kits, original comic art, presidential campaign buttons, D&D miniatures, and old maps. Some I still have, some I've gotten rid of, some are long forgotten. (I have found, in my elderly years, that the keeping is not as satisfying as the finding.)
In this golden age of the World Wide Internerd, collecting things is as easy as checking eBay over coffee every morning, which is equal parts miracle and bummer. As an example, for years and years, all I wanted in the world was this guy:
The 1984 Kenner DC Comics SUPER POWERS Collection GREEN LANTERN Action Figure. This was my Holy Grail. As a kid, Green Lantern was my favorite super-hero (Aside from Spider-Man, which is a story for another day). Aliens, magic ring, test pilot, blah blah blah. He was great. The Super Powers figures were a terrific line of toys that debuted when I was eight years old, so I was exactly the target audience.
The ads were in every comic book and they could not have been more directly designed for me, specifically, at age eight. The designers of these ads had clearly watched and studied me. They knew what I needed. They were taunting me.
I would religiously inspect every toy aisle, in every store, everywhere we went, looking for this toy. I wanted the Green Lantern so badly that I flipped right by the Supermans and the Batmans and all the A list guys without a second thought. I was on a mission, focused like the most intense of lasers.
The end of this story is as predictable as it is pathetic. I never found a Green Lantern figure as a child, and it plagued me into adulthood. I was still digging through junk stores and comic book conventions in my twenties,whenever the chance arose, looking for that one missing piece of my misspent youth.
Then one day I found him. A little beat up, overpriced, and missing his lantern accessory, but there he was. On a table at a small New York Comic Con, wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. He was mine now. My heart stopped and tears welled in my eyes. This was my Road to Damascus. I proudly turned, and showed him to showed him off to my friend Pat, who said, "Oh sure, I've got one of those. You want it?"
My jaw dropped. Suddenly, I had two. Before long, I was compulsively buying this same figure every time I found one. Identical toys, lined up on a shelf. It was beyond idiotic. My quest was now upgraded to finding one "Mint in Box", as they say. I was mentally ill.
Then came eBay, and the world was our oyster forever. Suddenly, these figures I had scoured the earth for were readily available, and the open market had decreased demand and dropped the price. I could have as many 1984 Kenner DC Comics SUPER POWERS Collection GREEN LANTERN Action Figures as I wanted, and suddenly they weren't nearly as exciting. I sold all of mine (but one) on eBay.
(Who didn't see that coming?)
EBay has changed the nature of collecting, making it simultaneously less exciting and more fun. Things that I never knew existed are now available, and prices are no longer dictated by the whims of weirdos at flea markets. It has made the hunt less difficult, but there is much more game on the savannah. I still dig through antique stores whenever possible; there's nothing like that particular tactile experience, and online shopping can never replicate it. A few years ago I was collecting vintage Super 8 cameras, and while they are all over eBay, actually being able to open one up and inspect it for yourself is unbeatable. And of course, the thrill of finding something like that, unexpectedly sitting on a shelf in a store, is always better than winning a bidding war with darth_snake_eyes1988.
The thrill of finding (whether it be online or hidden behind a Hummel Figurine on a dusty table) is always a little intoxicating. Adding one more piece to a well-loved menagerie is always a small victory in life, and small victories can be rare. Collecting things is awesome.