Last weekend I stood surrounded by the relentless demons that have haunted and hounded me my whole life, and I was unmoved. It was a personal breakthrough that has made me a stronger, calmer person.
I went to a science fiction convention and came back with money left over.
Imagine dropping a heroin addict into a barrel of the stuff only to see him fidget and ask to be let out and you’ll get the general idea. Everywhere I looked I saw rows and shelves and bins of items that I once coveted with a white-hot burning desire, and I felt nothing.
The place was the Central Florida Fairgrounds in Orlando, the setting was the Florida eXtravaganza convention. There were movie stars and TV stars signing autographs, with vendors hawking comics and aged G.I. Joes and models and magazines and Barbies (collectible, vintage, and custom) and prop replicas and cards and anything else a collector could want. There was a booth devoted to nothing but Pez dispensers. I recognized everything I saw because at one point or another in my life I probably owned it.
When I was very young I collected baseball cards. Not because I loved baseball — I’m still uncertain about all the rules, and where the spitting comes in — but because all my friends were collecting them. Suddenly it became vitally important to have every card it was possible to own. It was probably left over from my distant caveman ancestors. The hunting urge was strong within my blood, the need to roam over the veldt and chase down the succulent rookie card so I could return to my cave and rub it in the face of Davey Jackson.
When I discovered comic books I was lost forever. These things had stories in them, and cool artwork, and they weren’t easy to find. You had to bike to the grocery store and dig through the spinner rack, hoping the latest issue of Detective Comics was there and not too crumpled (subscriptions were cheating). Keeping them stored wasn’t a big deal, you kept ’em in a pile in your closet. If you were picky you could pile them by company. But you had to have every one of them or you’d miss what happened and your collection would be (gasp!) incomplete. To have an incomplete collection was to truly know shame.
Obsessed as we were, we never even suspected that comics had to be kept in specially made mylar bags, with acid-proof boards, in acid-proof boxes, or you were just throwing your money away. We bought them and read them with our bare hands, which shows how stupid we were. Fortunately in the 80s came specialty comic book stores that told us how to protect our investments and thus was born the comics snob.
With interest in super heroes came interest in super hero toys, and super hero action figures, and a driving need to haunt toy stores and tear apart their racks looking for the chase Catwoman figure. A multitude of Star Wars figures began eating my meager allowance and I entered into a brief life of crime involving parental wallet heists that ended, abruptly and painfully, when my misdeeds were discovered.
I was also buying books. I discovered the joys of reading at an early age but the uncontrollable need to track down everything a favored author ever wrote, up to and including shopping lists, that was pure collector frenzy. There was a singular joy in digging for hours in a dank and disorganized bookstore that’s one bribe away from being condemned and finding the last book you’ve been needing to fulfill your life. I had a lot of those books.
I shudder to think how much money I’ve spent on my various collections, but I’m sure if I’d kept it all I could easily buy one of the smaller continents. But each and every purchase was vital, and triumphant, and a Great Deal.
Then the bottom dropped out of the comics market after the exaggerated value of independent comics collapsed and the big comics companies had to scale back on their holographic variant collector’s item one-of-a-kind covers and crossovers because the $1 bins at the comics stores could hold only so much. Since then they’ve been trying new and untested methods to attract readers such as, say, quality.
Due to various emergencies over the years I’ve sold most of my older comics. I still buy them to read but I don’t bag anything. There are action figures around my desk but only the ones that amuse me or discomfort my co-workers. I still seek out books, but Amazon.com and Alibris.com have made it almost too easy. No excitement, no thrill of the chase. Click, click. Gradually I just … lost interest.
In the crowded convention, with hunter pheromones hanging heavy over the merchant stalls, I breathed easily and felt not the slightest urge to prowl or spend the mortgage. It felt good.
Then I spent a couple hundred dollars on autographs.