What Giving Away My Collections Taught Me
Was it nostalgia or something else that made me feel so possessed by these possessions?
As I get older, I find myself in the hopeless position of yearning for things lost in my youth, and wanting to get rid of much of what I currently have.
An example of the former would be my stuffed teddy bear. Not just any teddy bear, but Bosco Bear, the spokesmammal of what was then my favorite chocolate syrup. Not only was he a comforting presence, but thanks to him, I was instantly hooked on logo-branded items, thus making Madison Avenue my very first drug dealer.
Then there are my somewhat newer possessions, like the dozen or so 3.5-inch floppy discs that haven’t been touched in over a decade. All of them contained scripts going back to the late 1980s: TV promos, PSAs (Public Service Announcements) and screenplays. I’d written most of the screenplays, along with outlines and treatments, with my former collaborator until our amiable breakup in the 1990s. I had already gotten rid of the hard copies, but clung to the discs.
You see, I was convinced that the day after I discarded them, the president of Paramount Pictures (or at least the mailroom guy) would call and ask, “Hey, have you still got that script about…?”, thus blowing my last chance at showbiz immortality.
By that thinking, however, if I kept the discs, I’d never get the call anyway. Clearly, this was a no-win situation. It was time to send them to that big studio in the sky. There was a twang of regret, no doubt about it, but I take heart in thinking that it’s Hollywood’s loss, not mine.
I’d already gotten rid of other another group of useless items by then. As an adolescent, I started collecting 78-RPM records, playing them on a Sonora wind-up player that had formerly been in the home of relatives since the 1920s.
Unlike the elaborate record players you see in old movies, the Sonora looked like an ordinary table when its turntable and speaker covers were closed. My mother didn’t find it particularly charming, and forbade me to keep it my room. So whenever I wanted to listen to the 78s, I had to walk down the creaky stairs to the damp, dark basement, making the experience less a trip back in time and more like a one-way visit to Castle Dracula.
My performers of choice were singer/songwriter/actor/comedian Al Jolson and noted tenor John McCormack. Since other kids my age were listening to the likes of Neil Young and Led Zeppelin, I became even more of an outlier than I already was. My Mammy, you see, didn’t exactly to match up to Whole Lotta Love in the Top 40 sweepstakes.
I retrieved the 78s shortly before my mother died, and promptly put them in a trunk in my apartment basement. What choice did I have? Unlike my old movie posters, I couldn't hang them on the wall. And I had neither the space nor desire to replace the Sonora, which the basement moisture had long since destroyed. It took another two years to painfully admit I would probably never listen to the records again. Jolson & Co. had to take a hike.
Unlike the floppy discs, though, the 78s weren’t going into the trash. These records were meant to be loved by another collector, preferably for a good price. I might be sentimental, but there’s nothing wrong with making money, either.
A quick perusal of eBay proved disappointing, however. It seems I wasn’t the only collector in America who wanted to clear the decks — or, more precisely, turntables — of these very same records.
Another conundrum faced me. If my asking prices were higher, the records wouldn’t sell. If they were lower, they wouldn’t be worth the postage. As with the ghost of Jacob Marley and his chains, would I be cursed with dragging around these pieces of shellac for all eternity?
A Bittersweet Goodbye
Then I remembered a DJ named Rich Conaty. Rich had been hosting a weekly New York radio program dedicated to 1920s and ’30s pop music called The Big Broadcast for more than four decades. He’d be the perfect guardian of my 78s.
I dropped him an email, offering my collection gratis if he swung by my apartment to pick them up. He quickly agreed, and we set up a time.
I was happy to give the 78s a good home, but felt some melancholy at losing them. A few were by now over a century old, and had been in my care for close to half that time.
While waiting outside my building for Rich to arrive, though, I realized where that melancholy really stemmed from.
It was the 78s themselves that made me unhappy. The damp basement; growing up in a dysfunctional home; being the only nutty teenager interested in this music. Those records reminded me of those times.
Now I was getting rid of these memories by passing off the 78s to someone who would have only a positive emotional attachment. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to give them away. By the time Rich arrived, I almost tripped over my feet meeting him outside my building.
My world hasn’t come crashing down since throwing out the scripts or handing off the 78s. These possessions served their purpose at the time, to be traded for more important things. Family. Life. Happiness. Those collectibles are quite priceless.
But, boy, don’t get me started about my mother throwing away my Three Stooges trading cards.