It all made sense. Well, it made sense when I discovered that WETA Workshop, the company that designed and manufactured many of the props for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, announced the release of several statues from the movies. I’d already accumulated a hefty collection of comic book statues that I proudly exhibited in two glass IKEA display cases, nestled in the corners of my home office, with bright, white lights on the top for more of a museum-quality feel. My rotating collection included gems such as Batman(s), Spiderman(s), Thor, Transformers, Punisher, Grendel, Dark Phoenix, Hulk, and even Cloud Strife on “Hardy Daytona” motorcycle from the Final Fantasy video games.
After discovering the LOTR statues, I began to make very unhealthy relationship decisions. My wife devoured the LOTR books and was smitten with the big screen renditions. It’s also necessary to note that my wife didn’t necessarily like my statues (or statues at all), but she tolerated my purchases, amusing me when I unpacked each new purchase from its Styrofoam housing. “Does it look right on this shelf?” I asked her after placing the Bowen Designs Green Goblin statue on the third shelf from the top. “Or does it cut out too much light from Thor? Maybe I should switch them.” She smiled that vacant smile, the one that wasn’t an answer, nor a judgment, but simply said, Put the damn statue wherever you want…it makes no difference.
Yet, despite her lack of enthusiasm for my chunks of polystone, I figured she’d lose her mind over these LOTR statues, and then we could share in a collecting obsession together. We were young and void of responsibilities. Our first “real” jobs provided more disposable income than I ever could have imagined, so I began ordering two WETA statues a month, planning on amassing a dozen to give to her by Christmas. There was Frodo, Gandalf, Samwise with Bill the Pony, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas, a Ringwraith on horseback, and on and on and on. I’d been planning the grand unveil for months, storing the statues at my grandma’s house so my wife didn’t suspect a thing. On Christmas Eve I loaded up the van and prepared to be a hero.
There were a few token gifts for my wife under the tree that Christmas morning, a white Anthropolgie skirt with butterflies running up the side, a new baking sheet, an inexpensive necklace from a poetry website, and some fuzzy T.J. Maxx socks. I reserved the big surprise that would cement me in the “best husband ever” category until later that night, after the leftover ham was stuffed into the fridge and all the extended family had gone, leaving our home a quiet place where these statues, carefully wrapped in different shades of green and red, could get the special attention they deserved.
My wife was wiping down the kitchen counters so I hastily arranged the gifts like dominos down the hall, from the dining room to our bedroom, ascending in size. It began with Frodo and ended with the Ringwraith, a massive box that would serve as the grand finale.
I was sitting next to the first box, blocking the view of the rest, when she came out of the kitchen and asked, “What’s this?” She smiled, looking down at the first box, the next eleven just out of her sight.
“Just one more thing,” I said.
She pursed her lips and smiled. “You’re a sweetie,” she said. “You gave me enough.”
“I know,” I said, “but you deserve it.”
She kissed me on the head and sat down next to me on the floor, rubbing my back. “I’m a lucky woman,” she said.
I wanted to say, I know, but figured I didn’t have to. I was smug. Sometimes you know when a win is a win. I could see the other boxes. I knew this was gluttony, a dozen statues, an instant collection. But they were beautiful—the details were incredible and accurate and these were sure to be some of the finest statues ever made.
It was about the time I was gloating about my accomplishment and when she slipped her pointer finger under the loose seam of the wrapping paper that I realized I’d done something terribly wrong. I loved statues. She didn’t. Then I began calculating the cost of the purchases—a dozen statues. Twelve times $150 (ish). $1,800. One thousand eight hundred dollars! I looked at her in a panic, my eyes darting from her to the packages and back again. I wanted to throw myself on the box, tell her it was a huge mistake, that I’d accidentally wrapped the wrong present. That her real presents were lost in shipping. Her gifts were in a UPS center in Duluth or something. But it was too late.
“Oh,” she said.
“I just thought…”
“No,” she turned Frodo’s box over to study the picture of the statue on the front, “I love it.”
“Because I know you liked the movies and the books and I thought maybe you’d like to have your own statues and…” I was inching my body to shield her view from the hallway, from the other eleven boxes that led to our bedroom. Cascading. The enormous Ringwraith box strategically sitting under the light in our bedroom. She’d craned her neck. It was impossible to miss.
“Oh my.” Her tone wasn’t rude or ungrateful. But it was like the time my great aunt gave her a handmade spoon necklace with giant, purple cloth beads. Oh my, she said that time, too, draping the giant monstrosity around her neck, looking like a deranged Flava Flav who somehow got mixed up in a crafting scene. “There’s more.”
I put my head down. “There is.”
She opened each one and took time to look at each figure, commenting on how life-like they looked. How big they were. She kept swearing she loved them, but we both knew what happened. I’d bought her $1,800 of what I wanted. That night I lay in bed making a mental list of everything that I could have bought her for $1,800: a trip to Hawaii (or anywhere for that matter), that Japanese print she loved at the art fair, a new sewing machine, diamonds, a better husband. I must have apologized fifty times that night. She said I was being ridiculous and that she loved that I thought of her. But I didn’t. I thought of myself a dozen times, but justified the idea with a flick of the brain. Although she enjoyed LOTR, collecting statues made my heart thump, not hers. Their mass was so appealing that I didn’t even care if I had a connection to the pieces. I bought an Alien Pile statue from my local comic shop simply because I liked how the aliens lay on top of one another in a slithery chaotic mess. I wasn’t even really that passionate about Aliens, but I enjoyed the weight of the statue. How the clear skulls revealed their alien brains. My wife didn’t get it.
There’s no clear formula for our obsessions—they don’t even have to be representations to reclaim our youths (as the Alien Pile statue clearly demonstrated). Although my wife dabbled in sewing, she compulsively collected quilting magazines—stacks of periodicals hidden from view under the bed and tucked away in the cupboards of our house. She said they made her happy and loved flipping through the pages to see the brightly-colored designs. I told her that was ridiculous and then attempted to force a hobbit and eleven of his friends into her life.
We collect because we find comfort in owning a physical object that in and of itself is worthless, but somehow possesses transformative qualities that offers a moment of peace in an otherwise uncontrollable world. But each collector has his or her own trigger, a comic book, baseball card, statue or quilting magazine, that is uniquely satisfying to that person’s busy mind. Maybe that is what makes collecting so wonderful, because the combination of objects is so specific to each person that an outsider can’t even fathom its value. Each object has a secret embedded inside that no one else can understand.
The day after Christmas, my wife made room in her office for the Ringwraith and Legolas (“because Orlando Bloom is hot”). She agreed the rest could reside in my office, where I probably always imagined them in the first place. Luckily, she didn’t divorce me, and the following Christmas I wrapped up an expensive quilting kit and a gift card to the local sewing shop so she could buy all the magazines she desired.
When we outgrew our home, we decided to eBay everything in our lives that wasn’t necessary. I kept many of my statues, but sold the ones that didn’t make my heart patter any more. The Alien Pile was shipped to a new owner, followed by Cloud Strife. When it came time to sell the WETA statues, my wife didn’t balk. And when they sold for three to four times their original purchase price, she said, “See…that gift wasn’t a failure after all…you actually bought me part of our new home.” Samwise and Bill the Pony turned a magnificent profit, probably because no one bought him in the first place, making him all the rarer for collectors. But the Ringwraith was going to be our major windfall.
“We’ll probably be able to pay for the kitchen cabinets in the new house with this sale alone,” I told her, as I began taking pictures of the statue for the listing.
She touched the hood. “It’s pretty cool, you know?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I don’t think we’ll have any problem selling it.”
She was quiet, but then said, “Maybe we could keep just this one.”
I pulled the camera from my eye and smiled at her. “You like it!”
She stood up.
“Admit it, right now, you like this one—say it. You liked my gift after all. I was right.”
She shook her head, walked up the stairs, and shouted back, “I would have liked Hawaii, too.”
I began deleting the Ringwraith pictures from my camera, cancelled the eBay listing, and wondered whose room in the new house would get to display the statue.
Posted by Bob A. Phet
Ricky Hernandez says
Thank you for the article. I cannot believe how spot on you are with just about everything you wrote about. I am a collector myself and I always found it hard to explain to my wife (as well as my children) how I feel about my collection. When I found your article, I immediately emailed it to my wife and implored her to read it. I felt, “At last, someone has set to words what I have always felt about my collecting and my wife can read and understand how I feel”.
Furthermore, I have felt the same way as you have regarding our “obsession” and our wives. My wife as well does not necessarily like my collectibles but, she has tolerated them and respected them because she knows that they hold a special meaning for me (though she necessarily doesn’t know what it is 🙂). Also like you, I believe that some of my obsession has rubbed off on her and she has begun to see the beauty in my collectibles. That has made me happy because I feel that she is finally seeing these items for more than just pieces of paper or polystone. I believe that she is starting to see them as pieces of art which they are (rightly so).
So once again Bob, I would like to thank you for putting down to “paper” what I have for years struggled to explain to others about my collectibles. Thank you:)!