YOUR COLLECTION, Part IV | Page 44 | Newberry


This kid drove up in a Jaguar older than he was. “I’ve got my grandfather’s books in the trunk,” he said. “He died and I didn’t want his books to get thrown away.” That explained my main question: it was Grandpa’s car.

I unpacked the books later; sometimes ownership of a Jaguar implies an eye for good books and sometimes it does not. There were some boxes of nice leather-bound literary classics, and some with rather more well-read paperback mysteries. One of the first things I found was a single volume of Who’s Who in America, with a bookmark in it. We see this a lot. It means the previous owner saw no reason to give shelfspace to the volume he WASN’T in. The bookmark is to save time.

There was the man whose name was in the books, employed in a position that easily explained the Jag. He had worked several important places, and won some big awards. There was no mention of a wife or children, but people in Who’s Who write their own paragraphs. There could have been a family argument, a messy divorce, a big ego, any number of explanations. (One of the Presidents of the United States is said to have written a four-volume autobiography without ever mentioning his wife’s name. I haven’t checked this out yet, but that’s what they tell me.)

Among the books was a cache of a previous generation’s naughty novels: paperbacks covering the gamut of explicit sexual makebelieve. These were bought as they became available, and if the kind of sex described in them wasn’t your favorite, still, reading about it at all was something and there might be better novels next month. So I took no particular note of anything I found there.

There was a photo folder from Las Vegas: the kind of thing where the photographer roams the dining room taking pictures of couples as a memento of their evening. It was in a fancy folder with the name of a Vegas club on it. The diner on the left was our man: he dressed like a Jaguar owner. The shoes alone probably cost more in 1965 than I make in a month now, and I couldn’t afford to RENT a suit like that. The only thing that didn’t go with his attire was his dining partner: too much lipstick, too much rouge, too much hairspray. It shouted “cheap but available” and I might have hazarded a general guess at a price list. If it had been a woman.

The collection included three videos: two were premiums from sending donations to WTTW–still shrinkwrapped, as usual–and the third was “The Babysitter’s Club Movie”. I had not ruled out the existence of a grandson at this point. But Babysitter’s Club is a girl’s movie, and there wasn’t a hint of a granddaughter in the family so far. I took out the cassette and found it was a taped-at-home item labeled “Spartacus, 1960, Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, ****”. None of which is particularly unusual. But why tuck it inside The Babysitter’s Club, of all possibilities? I took it home and popped it into the VCR, as I try to do with all videotapes that raise questions in my mind.

Anybody remember loop films? These were brief strips of film in a sort of Moebius pattern in a case which could be run through a player over and over and over. Before they were killed by videotape, they were very popular in the world of beginning science classes because you could watch the same procedure over and over and over.

They were popular in porn circles for exactly the same reason.

Now, not even a collection of same-sex sex loop films, taped onto a videocassette, proves in any way that the young man who drove the Jag over was NOT the deceased’s grandson. What matters is that he could simply have driven out of town without bothering to fill the trunk with books first. Whatever the relationship, bless him, he gave me my third and final rule for dealing with your collection, profound or profane.

RULE THREE: Live so that when you die, someone will, at the very least, have liked you so much that they refuse to see your collection go into the garbage. “I don’t know what she saw in this stuff,” they may say, “Or why he spent so much money on it.” But because they cared about YOU, they will insist on seeing your collection to safety.

If you can manage Rule Three, I suppose, the other two may well be redundant. 

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