Last night after Ritchie went to bed, I did something I never do. I watched reality television. Within minutes, I realized why I never do this: it is impossible to stop. It must do the same thing as cocaine to your brain. I channel surfed on to Hoarders or, to be more specific, six back-to-back episodes of the show where therapists with no apparent credentials other than the desire to be celebrities and crews of volunteers in hazmat outfits patiently help people with deeply engrained pathological disorders become magically restored to functionality. If you deduct the incessant commercial breaks, the entire story arc takes about nineteen minutes. That’s reality for you! The underlying message is if that broken man who lives with over a thousand pet rats with whom he has formed a loving relationship in the aftermath of the trauma of the death of his wife many years ago can get his act together in nineteen minutes, then, dammit, I can definitely change my closets from summer to winter or forgive myself that it’s April and I still have a giant plastic Santa on my lawn!
Last night proved it, these shows are as pernicious as crack cocaine. I became virtually paralyzed as one broken person after another was pushed out of their dwelling by the sheer weight of all the contaminated debris, always a metaphor for their broken psyches. It was sad and horrible and I could not turn away from the images. First it was the shock of it, but by the sixth episode I was wondering if I wasn’t feeling just a wee bit superior to the trust fund man who is living on the streets of the upper east side because his apartment was so full of shit that it could only entered from the fire escape!
A similar thing happened at my cousin Howard’s house last August, when I reluctantly watched two minutes of something called Toddlers and Tiaras—essentially sanctioned child abuse—which hypocritically bitch-slaps the lip-glossed smiles right off the face of the child pageant industry at the same time it’s profiting from it. With Toddlers, I found myself transfixed for three hours, finally slouching off to bed glassy-eyed and with a sick feeling in my stomach and pulling Ritchie behind me to hold me and tell me I’m really a good man. I felt dirty and guilty, because I knew I was connected to a cycle of exploitation: the parents exploit the kids; the producers exploit the kids and the parents; and we all tune in which perpetuates the whole thing. You say you’re gonna watch for two minutes and then before you know it, you feel like all you’ve been subsisting on a diet of pixie sticks and Charleston Chews for a week! Just like any drug, these shows follow the pattern of spree and remorse, leaving you with a hangover and an entrenched resolve to do better next time while you repeat the Serenity Prayer like a mantra.
I did get to thinking while I was watching Hoarders that almost every person profiled believed they were, in fact, not hoarders but actually collectors. The only thing that made them think they might have had a bit of a problem is that, for example, they now lived outside in the garage and cats and rodents lived inside the house or that they were facing other consequences like eviction or death. I realized that collecting is, indeed, on a continuum with all of the pathology I was watching on the show and reflected thoughtfully on my own acquisitive predilections. I’ve decided that while I am definitely not a hoarder, it could take just one expected trauma and “poof”, I’m a guy living with forty-two cats. It’s a damn good thing I have started my Le Crap store on Etsy
When I woke up this morning, I decided to bolster my argument that I am not like them, by photographing and sharing with you one of my many smaller and functional collections: “1970s Laminated Belt Buckles,” a sub-group of my larger vintage belt-buckle collection, which is a subgroup of my vintage belt collection which is a sub-group of my vintage clothing collection. I wear them frequently which means I am not a hoarder, though, like the lady who lived with forty-three trucks of broken victorian objects that were destroyed by mildew and cat feces, they do remind me of a simpler time. Back in the day, 1976-79 to be specific, one could easily pick up items like these in mall kiosks right next to the mirrors with rock group logos or pet rocks. Most of the belt buckles were made by a company called Pacifica and they are easily available on ebay. They do make excellent stocking stuffers but I can’t part with any of mine because, as I said, it is a functional collection and I need them all, even my Firefall buckle (though Nancy Balbirer and I are probably the only two people on the east coast who could not only name more than one Firefall song but sing You Are The Woman, Just Remember I Love You and Strange Way in their entireties). And you never know when you’re going to wake up and have the urge to wear a Pablo Cruise buckle. Trust me, it happens!