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Issue # 42-3


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From The Trenches
Issue: 37-3

When Artifacts Attack

Collecting is dangerous, and I have proof. And I'm not talking about flesh wounds received when two disgruntled dealers go at each other with Civil War swords at a show. (This actually happened years ago, but fortunately no one was wounded. Once everyone calmed down, it wound up not so much impressively evocative of Zorro as comically Chaplinesque.)

I'm also not talking about accidental firearm discharges in which human error was involved nor stepping on, say, shards of glass from a broken image case.

No, I'm talking about stuff that moves of its own volition. Take, for instance, the vintage suitcase that leapt into my path a few weeks ago.

Had this been a namby-pampy, wimpy, soft-sided modern suitcase, I'd have emerged victorious from the fray. But no. It was a 60-year-old rockin' retro Schwayder Bros. Samsonite train case. I collect this remarkably ungainly line of vintage luggage and this item, the smallest in the line, weighs in at only seven pounds.

But it is a very hard-sided, feisty piece, and fully loaded, it weighed in at 25 pounds when it attacked me.

Yes, attacked me. Had Zapruder been on hand at the time, we'd have frame-by-frame evidence that I was merely walking through the house and minding my own business when it jumped into my path, malice aforethought, and broke my toe.

As I collect the entire line of luggage, I reasoned that there may even be a conspiracy in the offing, so I began to remove the potential grassy knolls from the rooms and hallways of the house. Every collector who has ever had to deal with a bad wheel--whether broken toe or entire ankle or leg--knows that his or her house is suddenly one big danger zone of snares and traps and tripper-uppers. Stacks of reference works on the floor become ticking time bombs and artifacts near the edges of shelves become teetering grenades.

But in creating a demilitarized zone in the house and office while I was healing up, I overlooked one eensy-teensy little detail.

The publisher's car.

Now, everyone on the eastern seaboard and most of you in the midwest are probably already aware of this, but for the edification of those of you on the west coast who have been traveling in relative safety and haven't gotten word of this yet: You do not want to be on the road at the same time as the publisher. He operates a motor vehicle in the belief that there exists a front of the line on every highway and byway, and if he passes enough people he will arrive at it. He will then be Point Man of the Interstate, intrepidly burning rubber down the road in blessed solitude.

If challenged about this, he will go Rainman on you and say, "I'm an excellent driver. I'm an excellent driver." And that's technically accurate, for he has the reflexes of a cat, but it's well known in the music industry that Meatloaf penned "Bat Out of Hell" after riding with the publisher. Yes, we have the publisher to thank for inspiring the lyrics "I'm gonna hit the highway like a battering ram" and "I can see myself tearing up the road / Faster than any other boy has ever gone."

Which brings me to: The only thing scarier than driving in proximity to the publisher's car is being in it. Of course, I have a quarter century of experience in dealing with that, and my PTSD-avoidance measures include taking such sensible precautions as bringing an engaging book, donning full body armor, and downing several Valium with a beer chaser.

But on this occasion -- my first mobile day since the suitcase attack -- I went empty-handed. We were, after all, only going as far as the hardware store five blocks away. What could go wrong?

So I gingerly got my taped-up foot safely ensconced in the passenger side and innocently, trustingly settled myself in his car. He'd attained ramming speed within a block, naturally, and as he took the first turn on two wheels, something ... something ... YOW. Something had rolled across my foot. Then it rolled back across my foot as all four tires once again attained contact with the road surface.

I looked down in shock and said, "Why is there a cannonball on your passenger-side floorboard?"

Which is not what I said. Not even close. The cannonball was real enough, but the quotation is vastly sanitized from its original rendition. My mother reads this column. Then again, my mother understands what she calls "the innate cussedness of inanimate objects," so perhaps she'd be less than shocked at the authentic transcription.

The publisher's reaction? "Oh. Sorry. You didn't see that there?"

I said, "Oh, silly me, it's all my fault. I should have remembered that you store random Civil War artillery in your car."

Which is not what I said either.

Since then the healing process has come along well, and if I use enough surgical tape that it looks like the Mummy suddenly developed a taste for pink flip-flops, I can operate my little stick shift. It's painful but so much safer. The most dangerous collectibles in my car are old books, and they're caged in the trunk.

And I learned two things out of the ordeal.

One is that collectibles attack.

The other is that the publisher himself is the grassy knoll. --Ed.

The publisher responds: It's not like it was a Columbiad or anything. And I'm an excellent driver.

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