So Long and Thanks For All The Fish
by Bob A. Phet
Yesterday I sold an old, blue fish windsock. To me, this relic from the 80s is unimpressive on nearly every level, from its wire-rimmed mouth, agape in a painful pucker, to the slight wear of its cloth body. But none of that matters because it sold on eBay for $.99, plus shipping. After all the fees work out, we’ll only be a few cents richer, but our mantra has always been, That’s money we didn’t have before. My wife, once a skeptic, now fuels our eBay-selling obsession by waiting for the last day of the book sale at the local church to “fill a bag for a buck.” She recognizes that the cookbooks are a gamble, but she’s researched this phenomenon and knows the vintage Roy Underhill woodworking volumes are a sure thing.
“People will buy anything,” she said when I successfully auctioned off an original 1984 Hound Transformer, so badly mangled, broken and missing critical limbs, it was only really identifiable by the green, dented chest and the somewhat intact red Transformer decal on the belt-line. We attempt to get inside the brain of the buyer with each item we mail off, wondering what is happening on the receiving end of the sale. Will the toy be disassembled for parts in an attempt to rebuild something complete? Is it a prop in a Transformers diorama? Or is the buyer just desperate to touch something from long ago that reminds him or her of a time that can’t be reclaimed?
These theories are all valid because although I’ve sold my share of items on eBay, I’m a collector first and foremost. I opened an eBay account in my early twenties with the sole intention of bidding on a Japanese Marmit Stormtrooper. This officially-licensed gem was the harbinger of the gorgeous Sideshow Collectibles pieces with their detailed paintwork and multiple points of articulation. The Marmit figure came with one of those gender-ambiguous, poseable art/drawing figurine bodies and over a dozen pieces of armor that snapped on to make one of the most impressive 1/6 scale Star Wars figures ever imagined. The Internet was littered with articles about the figure, and I appreciated the tips collectors offered about using a hairdryer on its warm (not hot) setting to allow the armor to easily slip over the thighs. Well, I appreciated the advice in theory because mine remained in the box. Not only is it in its original box, but it’s housed in another plastic box to avoid any potential yellowing from UV light.
None of this makes any sense. I don’t find peace by stealing a quick glance at the Stormtrooper on a shelf while I pay the electric bill because it’s holed away in the basement. In fact, the most prized of my possessions are far from my daily purview. I don’t even trudge down the basement stairs to rifle through my treasures from time to time, but I just like knowing they’re there, safely tucked away in light-proof boxes. Just in case I should need them some day.
I’m a logical person. I lean heavily on science and data, typically utilizing clear cognitive reasoning to make most decisions. But collecting defies that part of my brain. The scope of my collection has settled over the years, paring off the need for ALF trading cards or Bo Jackson magazine covers, on three main categories: Star Wars figures, comic book statues, and Pearl Jam posters. I would whole-heartedly agree that the need to possess these hunks of molded plastic, polystone and paper is utterly ludicrous. But what I cannot deny is the craving is real. That trigger that begins somewhere in my brain and then bores itself into the chest, a tightness, a panic of desire when I lay my eyes on the statues at the comic shop, is quite authentic. I don’t understand it. My frugality is legendary—I’ll run cost-analysis comparisons to uncover the financial benefits of ordering replacement water filters from Amazon or driving twelve minutes (gas costs do fluctuate) to Target. But that sort of economic discourse is immediately discarded if I’m staring at a mint or even near-mint Icons 1995 Luke Skywalker lightsaber with its original letter of authenticity.
Through this space and these series of articles, I hope to illuminate why I (and so many others) have dozens of bins in our basements filled with figures and pins and scraps of painted plastic that we don’t ever look at. Or why, even though I only have a dim recollection of that stupid blue, fish windsock fluttering away at my parents’ house somewhere in the hazy memory log from my youth, I had a pang of sadness and regret when, just now, I placed the last piece of packaging tape on the shipping envelope, sending away the most minute part of myself, never to be possessed again.