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My Robot Is Pregnant theme song!

tough guy poetry and manly stories of loneliness
all contents copyright Jon Rolston 2004, 2005, 2006

June 28, 2008

mental deficiency

You can’t polish a turd, yet they sell turd polish. Think about that. I think it means people are ever hopeful. American’s are full of hope. You can tell by all the self-storage places around you. The ones with metal roll up doors you throw a ten dollar lock on. Row after row of garage doors inside a gated area. I think we all have a seven by five square foot corrugated steel box filled with hope. Hope and dreams. Roll up a door and find broken chairs you dream of repairing, boxes of books you hope to read. A perfectly good window for the camp you hope to build on a lake somewhere. Under that blanket is a motorcycle you dream of fixing up. You call it “restoring”. But the carbs you took off to clean are in another state you used to live in. Was it Arizona? You can’t remember it’s been so long.

“I’m gonna restore that old Honda someday,” you tell your buddy from work as you two unload a 60 gallon fish tank into the storage locker. (something you couldn’t pass up at a yard sale but your wife doesn’t want in the living room.) You shuffle around the chair from your grandmother’s house, the one that needs the leg glued back on, so you can get the tank inside. Your buddy from work wishes he had a bike to work on. “I’m hoping to find an 1100 pretty cheap,” he says. “I’m saving this stuff for after the divorce,” you tell him.

All these dreams. It’s not sad. It’s hopeful. I’m the most hopeful guy around. I got it from my dad’s side of the family. Just the other day we talked on the phone.

“Your mother and I drove up to Maine to a flea market. Some old timer was selling coins for a nickel apiece! The guy in front of me bought three sheets of ’em. But I did all right myself.”

“What were they?”

“I got a 1909 wheat penny…”

“What’s that worth?”

“It was the first year they made them, the first U.S. coin to have a president’s portrait on it, the first year “In God We Trust” was on a coin, the…”

“Yeah, but what’s it worth?”

“I could probably get three or four bucks for it.”

The profit is 60 times the investment, but the payout is $2.95. The man has a losing hobby. With gas over 4 bucks a gallon he probably spent 20 dollars driving up the coast. The entrance to a flea market is never less than fifty cents, even in a remote outpost of furtrappers like Arundel. He probably refused to buy my mother a cup of coffee. Figured he made two bucks on that deal. My father has a problem. He dresses it up as a hobby that he makes some money at. But that’s because he ignores all the money and time he loses. The time especially.

Let’s pretend that penny fell from heaven down into his den where his other stacks of coins are. He didn’t have to drive north on 95 until it turned into a dirt road to retrieve it. It just appeared. Maybe Fritz the cat barfed it up. Who knows. The time it will take him to get the picture and description of this heavily circulated 1909-P up on eBay, answer dumb questions about its condition, then stuff it in an envelope and get down to the post office when it sells for three dollars, probably comes out to two hours. Two hours of work. For $2.95 But in his weakened state of retirement, he views this as a viable income.

I give you all this back-story so you understand why I am the way I am. I’m a turd polisher myself. A junk collector. My father has trained in on coins, focused his problem on a hobby known as exonumia. He is a numismatist. He has it easy. This is a partial list of what I collect:

manual typewriters
wall mount pencil sharpeners
board game spinners
small blocks of wood with string wound around them and a fishing hook at the end of said string. (These primitive fishing lines are found in a drawer in the garage of most estate sales)
used scratch tickets (I got that from my dad actually)
old whisk brooms (meaning no handles)
work related name badges
weathered redwood fencing
chrome side view mirrors
plastic cigarette lighters (I don’t smoke)
retainers (orthodontic)
pornographic magazines

The list goes on much further but I’m starting to feel weird. You probably get the point. I store these collections in boxes in my garage. “I’m letting them build value,” I tell the wall, because I don’t let people in the garage so I have to talk to myself. “When I retire I’ll sell them online.”

I live in what is known as a “soft bottom” home here in San Francisco. It sounds homo-erotic to the untrained ear, but it really means the ground floor is all garage. Quite a common way to build in the 1940’s. It is also the least likely type of home to survive an earthquake. My retirement is possibly large enough to prevent the two other stories above it from collapsing, but I doubt it. A more likely scenario is the pornos get knocked over and burn quickly in the fires that always happen right after the earth cracks open.

People make a living going around bolting these old soft bottoms to the foundation they sit on, but my landlord doesn’t collect enough rent from me to afford that. I would rather have it that way anyway. Perhaps the house will shake off the foundation and leave my collection neatly stacked behind it. It sounds like turd polish, but I’m gonna give it a try. I’d like to talk to you more about my problem, but it is getting late and I’m going to the flea market tomorrow. You have to be there early to get the good stuff.


  1. This sounds a lot like the plight of the average home owner, only they invest their time and money into one piece of property. I’ve got a mental list of things to do around here that might have some minimal impact on the equity but are probably outweighed by the time and money needed to complete the task.

    It sounds like you value your time. That’s a good thing, especially for an artist because you’re devoted to your writing and that holds value to you beyond monetary terms (I made some assumptions there but I think they were safe to make).

    The thing about time is, it’s spent no matter what you do. So, if you care enough about money and you don’t have other plans, you might as well go after the $3, especially if there’s some additional thrill out of the experience. If the alternative is sitting on your ass in front of the TV, why not paint the trim or sift through junk?

    As far as collecting goes, why not collect items that you can make use of while they’re in your possession? The porn obviously has uses but I suppose there’s risk of harming their value while in use. You’re a musician, how about collecting some instruments? They take less time to look for, they don’t require entering the dump, and they tend to pay off well down the road. Plus the value you get from spending your time playing them probably covers the cost of finding (and maybe paying for) them. My father is selling off all but the essentials of his collection now. He expects to take in enough for a down payment on a retirement home and from what he’s telling me about individual sales ($5K+ for a 1980’s PRS?!?!?!), he’s right. I don’t think this was ever the intent when he was compiling the collection (back in the day he talked of passing it on to his kids) but that’s what makes sense today. That sort of collecting seems a lot more fulfilling than some of the knick-knack crap I see in Wisconsin. I once bought a car from a couple who’s living room was covered in Pillsbury dough boy figurines. I find it aggravating that a company even bothered to make that crap at one point.

    Comment by Lyle_s — June 29, 2008 @ 7:00 am

  2. I will have to tell this story another way. I am not a rational collector. I am out of personal control. Valueing time is exactly the point. My collecting wastes my time. It’s an addiction. I actually rarely consider the monetary value, I think, “I might need this.” Or more often than that I think, “This is cool.”

    Any three of these responses, whether value, cool or useful, make people hold onto things. You could say they point to someone’s self esteem or perhaps measure their fear of the future. I had the honor of visiting with a newspaper hoarder once. Her apartment was waist high in stacks of newspapers, the couch and coffee table had been engulfed, there was just a small walking path from room to room. It seemed to me she wanted to hold onto the past. “I didn’t get a chance to read them all,” she told me.
    When I’m at the dump and a really good load comes in I get a rush. I ignore all bodily functions making demands on me and stay for hours crouched down sorting through bags of garbage, believing I am going to find a treasure. I mean I could be holding back explosive diarrhea.My body shuts down and it’s a mental game from there. Like when you’re really stoned and fixated on carving your girlfriends name into a wooden box for her birthday. You are making love to her in your mind, you’re a nobel prize winner, a celebrated craftsman, the weather is perfect, your brain is so fucking happy with you it is telling you all these lies. That’s how I get when I am rooting through garbage.
    I inherited the losing hobby gene. Your father apparently has a winning hobby gene. Some people are lucky. Collecting guitars wouldn’t give me any thrill at all.
    One last difference between our fathers. I well remember the “rock room”. I don’t remember what you called it, but it was the guitar center. At the height of his collection, did he have over two hundred guitars? Perhaps. Selling two hundred of anything isn’t so hard. Especially when the return on the invest is thousands of dollars per item. My father is collecting coins. He has HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of them. In order to get top dollar return on an item, you can’t sell it as a collection. Individuals lose value when lumped in a group, for the most part. So for him to get the three dollar profits out of his nickel investments, he has to post HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of auctions on eBay. He will be dead before it is physically possible. I will be too. Then my mother, who knows nothing about coins, or my sister and I, who also know nothing about coins, will have to sell this collection off. Again, the shear volume of the collection makes it impossible to research each item and estimate a value. So a coin dealer will come in, make an offer we don’t understand and away it will go.
    I’m not trying to be a downer on my Dad, I’m the same way. That’s how it is. My collections will bring in about one thousand dollars at my estate sale if I die tomorrow. The dumpster they brinig in will be filled. Homeless dudes and tweakers will have a field day climbing in that dumpster and taking all the cool broken trinkets out.

    Comment by Rolston — June 29, 2008 @ 8:55 am

  3. Geesh, you’re setting yourself up for a beautiful day.

    I don’t think the guitar collection ever ballooned past 40 guitars. The room was maybe 12×12, not a warehouse 😉

    Hobbies, to me, are activities that help to pass the time and bring some sort of personal satisfaction. I suspect your father is getting satisfaction as a conduit for obscure coins onto the larger market. Plus, if he has hundreds of thousands of coins, by reason his collection must be worth at least a few thousand dollars. Perhaps when his time comes, you can make a bed of his coins and bury him with them, thereby creating treasure.

    Comment by Lyle_s — June 29, 2008 @ 9:34 am

  4. I just had an idea for a website, maybe you can spin it off of this one:

    Set up a live webcam that points out in front of your house. Every day, you put some of your junk out front and wait to see who comes and snatches it up. To stir the pot (if needed), you throw an ad on Craigslist. While you wait for people to show up, you can do some entertaining stuff like invite friends over to get drunk or whatever. Maybe you do nothing but wait.

    When people show up to take the stuff, you have all sorts of opportunity for entertainment. You could interview the people and build up a sort of ongoing documentary of people with the same obsession you have. To keep it fresh, you never let people take stuff more than once. OR, if someone does come back more than once, you shoot ’em with a bb gun!

    There’s at least some advertisement money to be made there, not to mention publicity for MRIP. Plus, you could put your documentary on the festival circuit and perhaps get some cathartic value out of it, too.

    The best part of all, more incentive to sift through refuse!

    Comment by Lyle_s — June 29, 2008 @ 9:44 am

  5. I’ll weigh in on this topic:
    There are two excellent pop fiction references I’ll need to make:
    1> The Man in the High Castle. (1962) P.K. Dick sci-fi dystopian novel offering a glimpse of your beloved Frisco…IF the Nazis had won WWII. Western U.S. is a Japanese Colony. Etc.

    A character reproduces memorabilia like buttons and broken pistols. This involves acid washing metal to make it look like it is old. No one (in his universe) values excellent condition old items. No. They want stuff that looks like it is old. Wicker hampers, “antique” jewelery, butter churns, wood-pegged tables, vegetable dyed goat hair rugs, victrola cabinet.
    And there is a whole industry that replicates these old items, makes forgeries of them.

    What is a forgery and what is authentic? And why does it matter? Why do old things, old junk, old pennies, have any value at all?

    2> The second pop fiction example is the recent Pixar/Disney film WALL-E. Wall-e is a robot who spends his time compacting the garbage mankind left behind. But…he has developed an ability to separate garbage from…non-garbage. Now, there are no humans left on earth and the robot does not eat, so why would he collect and separate plastic spoons, forks and sporks? Why would he collect anything. It is ALL garbage, isn’t it? Well, Wall-e doesn’t think so. He is curious. His first “directive” is to compact and stack the garbage. His secondary, self-assigned, directive is to determine the meaning behind these pieces of memorabilia. And if he can’t find the meaning then he will create a meaning.

    A second robot, EVE, arrives. EVE also has a directive: To find plant life. WALL-E tries to entertain EVE by showing her the bits of memorabilia he has collected.

    Now, what are we to take from these two references? That our bits of trash will persist for 700 years? That Robots can develop personalities? Does our memorabilia create our personalities? Does our quaint, if forged, Americana define our loyalties? Do we define our own “directive” or does our economy and production stream define our directive?

    The country has run amok and so have the collectors. A 1953 Fender Strat, that hangs on a wall, isn’t much different than a 1953 wicker basket with no bottom. WALL-E found a 4 carat diamond ring…and only kept the box because it had a hinge. Maybe the lesson is that it is all valuable. A penny must be reunited with it’s brothers. I, for example, would not rest until Roger Waters’ songbooks for Amused to Death and The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking were on my shelf…touching each other. They had to be physically reunited. That’s my directive. What’s yours?

    Comment by oggy — July 1, 2008 @ 7:18 pm

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