You Can Never Have Too Much Inventory

What did you do today? I put two turtle doves back together. They are crystal doves that belong to my mother-in-law but they came apart in a move and begged for reunition.

Turtle dove down

Turtle dove down

My mother-in-law has a collection of crystal figures. If you visit her home when the sun shafts just right there is a prismatic orgy across the ceiling and walls. It must be a big pain to dust but such matters are a trifle.

The collection, you see, is the thing.

I grew up in a home with a pack rat..not a collector..a pack rat. But I never got the gene. It’s a good thing too, for my father kept everything. He was simply not wired for return. He filled our home with books, tools, electronics and all manner of paraphernalia. For at least two years he hoarded plastic milk jugs. One day (and it was an entire day) I took them all back to the corner store….hundreds of milk jugs. The frantic shopkeeper tried to close early to stop me.

So I know all about the obsession for inventory, whether it’s focused or not, and it served me well over more than thirty years of television production. What follows is an excerpt from a book I’ve been writing. If you’d like a little extra,  just follow the break .

This is where it begins

This is where it begins

Not all collectors are easy to find. You have to look for the signs, which are easiest to spot if the person actually collects signs: Coca-Cola signs, oil company signs, circus signs, neon—even street signs.

The easiest collectors to locate are the ones with overgrown passions.

You'll need room

You'll need room

There was a man in Sooke, British Columbia. who could not stop gathering fire trucks. You have to be very selective if you start stacking up fire trucks, as they will quickly cover the lawn. Ideally, you need acreage. It also helps to have very understanding neighbours.

Fire truck collectors, invariably, start out playing with toy trucks as kids, but if someone doesn’t nip it in the bud early, they’ll be looking for an empty aircraft hanger some time down the road.

The scope of collecting is beyond anyone’s imagination. Your grandfather might have spent hours pouring over his stamps and coins. But these days any random object seems suitable grist for the mill. I found a woman who had hundreds of pairs of scissors, and a man with a home full of cast iron frying pans. There are people who pine for old tractors or hand tools, and others who covet postcards, glass marbles, or corkscrews.

A slippery slope

A slippery slope

Heaven help you if you have started down the path of ceramic animals: the cats, the cows and the roosters. This is a particularly virulent form of obsession. It wouldn’t be so onerous if you could keep your musical pig collection under wraps. But once word leaks out, every person you’ve ever known will feel empowered to act. They will comb the flea markets and second-hand stores. They will bring musical pigs for your birthday, for anniversaries and at Christmas. Soon your home will be overflowing with lyrical porkers and you won’t be able to remember how it all started or imagine how it may end.

I spent hours with a gentlemen, a highschool Geography teacher, who had devotedly organized albums of air sickness bags. Once friends were aware of this vomit trail they were bringing samples from every airline. By the time we sat down, he had every major carrier represented including some Eastern European examples which looked suspiciously like sacks for potatoes.

What is the Holy Grail if barf bags are your bag ?

This collector, who had somehow got his hands on a pristine pouch from a NASA Space Shuttle, told me he would not rest until he had a prize from the most secure aircraft in the world, the U.S. President’s own Air Force One. That’s a tough nut to crack !

There are entire websites devoted to people who save those little stickers you find on fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. In fact, produce-sticker-collecting has become so specialized that the ‘banana people’ consider themselves to be a separate sect. If the produce sticker is on the edible skin of something, like an apple, the sticker itself has to be fully digestible. I interviewed a fellow whose job included eating the occasional sticker just to make sure that the vegetable dyes used were verifiably non-toxic.

Investigating the world of collectibles can pull you down some truly oblique paths.

Consider the field of barbed wire. Unless you’re a rancher or a prison guard, you may not have given much thought to barbed wire, but I’m here to confirm that there have been thousands of styles down through the mists of time, and some of them are hot commodities.

Hot, hot, hot!

Hot, hot, hot!

I first discovered the barbed wire craze on a visit to San Antonio, Texas. Across from that most revered of fabled shrines, the Alamo, was a curious little museum run by an old Texas Ranger named, Jack Glover. Jack, a tall, gaunt, richly accented individual, with a handlebar moustache that stretched from ear-to-ear, had an impressive collection of barbed wire. Once he discovered we were from Canada, he lit up because, apparently, some of the finest, most sought-after strands come from up north. I bought a book from him called, The Barbed Wire Bible, which had hundreds of sketches of different styles.  When I returned home, I did a little probing and discovered that Canadian and American barbed wire differed slightly in the distance between prongs. American barbs are usually closer together. I also took a camera into an industrial plant in Vancouver that manufactured barbed wire. It was mesmerizing to stand there and watch the equipment turn straight steel strands into something that could stop a charging steer.

By far the most driven collector I ever met was Louise J. Greenfarb of Spanaway, Washington. Mrs. Greenfarb was a lovely, petite, middle-aged woman who had filled every square centimetre of her humble home with refrigerator magnets.

Most of us have a few of these holding up a photo or a grocery list in the kitchen, but Mrs. Greenfarb had so many magnets—somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40,000 when I met her—that she was a candidate for the Guinness Book of World Records. We didn’t know what to expect when we walked through her front door. I thought maybe my hair would stand up and my watch would run backwards.

fridge magnetsMrs. Greenfarb displayed her massive collection on dozens of metal cookie sheets, which she had carefully nailed to every wall in the house. I don’t remember a single scrap of wallpaper or a glimpse of paint, just tens of thousands of magnets.

She was a charming woman, not unaware of her eccentricities, but she had gone too far down this path to ever retreat. She would forever be surrounded by magnets, perhaps even in death. If it’s a metal casket, you just know people are going to slap a few on as they pay their respects.

I did catch a brief glimpse of Mr. Greenfarb while I was visiting. He seemed to be spending a lot of time in his room.

The collectors I have met have truly enriched my life. They have shamelessly let me glimpse a passion that has brought some measure of both ridicule and respect. Most of all, they have given me more tidbits of mind-numbing trivia than I could possibly have gathered on my own.

I like to wait until I’m awash in the effervescent glow of some snooty cocktail party before I drop what I know about barbed wire. It both breaks the ice and halts the conversation in one fell swoop.

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One Response to “You Can Never Have Too Much Inventory”

  1. Grant Bowen Says:

    I look forward to reading the entire book!!

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