Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Things matter

"If all goes as planned, carefully wrapped pieces of the hotel pantry
where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated will be packed
into two steel containers and put into storage this week
in a fenced-in, garbage-strewn lot within
sight of a strip club billboard.
... What happens from there, no one knows."

"The cremated remains of a convicted killer were
in the hands of his [Indiana] attorney, who would not reveal
where they might be interred because
he did not want photos of the spot
to end up on the Internet."


Have we become a nation of souvenir hunters? Prowlers of eBay and ransackers of other people's attics? Hey, buddy, how much for that piece of toilet paper that clung to Burt Reynolds shoe at Mort's? That old saw about "one man's trash ..." has grown a little dog-eared in our eBay culture.

Undoubtedly, somebody would auction the meat slicer that was in the same hotel pantry as Sirhan B. Sirhan and Bobby Kennedy, as if it were some sanctified relic of a historic event. Why? because somebody would BUY it!

Just like the guy who sold the bathtub where James Earl Ray supposedly stood when he shot Martin Luther King. Or the people who collect scribbles, photos and paintings by serial killers. Or the lady with the Madonna's face on a cheese sandwich. My God, everything has a price (no reserve, no minimum) in our Garage-Sale Nation. These aren't keepsakes and mementoes anymore ... they're commodities. And some are more than a little grotesque.

What does it say about us when we'll spend hard-earned cash on a letter from a third-rate serial killer nobody ever heard of or a bad painting by John Gacy (left), but we can't afford body armor for American combat troops? How could someone justify $500 for a "rare" piece of the original Hollywood sign (on eBay now) but also be open to any ideas to avoid paying income tax? Who hid a free can of water distributed by Budweiser to Hurricane Katrina victims ... and put it on eBay for $10? Why would anybody want to own a pair of ballet slippers signed by Princess Diana for the tidy sum of $10,000 -- when she never actually owned them!? Did you know that at this very moment on eBay you can bid on hair samples that belonged to Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Princess Diana and Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion)? Fergawdsakes, who'd pay $25,000 for a kidney stone beamed down by William Shatner? Last week, somebody did (at least the money went to Habitat for Humanity.)

It's not that some things aren't interesting collectibles. I have a few oddities of my own. But it seems that the threat/possibility of something showing up on eBay has consumed us. And for good reason: You want some eBay maniac rooting in your garbage and selling intimate relic of your life? On the other hand, would you pass up $10,000 for that hankie old Aunt Piddy dipped in Dillinger's fresh blood on a Chicago street back in '34?

Things matter to us, without a doubt. We keep stuff for no good reason sometimes, because of an inexplicable emotional attachment. I don't quarrel with that. I have often felt a tingle when I've held a piece of history in my hands, whether it was a minie ball found on the battlefield of Gettysburg or a letter from Ernest Hemingway to his son. I understand the attraction things have to us. Maybe it's just part of understanding where we come from, who we are and why we care about life. People have always kept little things ... to remember.

And sometimes it's about making a profit from crap. What's different today is eBay, antique malls, and other proliferating outlets. Again, who wants a kitchen appliance that was merely in the same room as an assassination? Who wants a box of ashes left by a freakish serial killer whose name you never heard?

Somebody does. And somebody pays. Pretty well.

Oh well. If anybody wants the old monitor that was used by an authentic American novelist to write his first book, I'll sell it for a premium. I'll sign it with whatever endearments you like. I'll include a sample of my DNA, if you like, but that'll cost extra. I reckon I can make more on eBay than I ever did in royalties, because the actual words I wrote apparently aren't as valuable as the machines I used to create them. And I'll do anything to make more room in my attic.

"The crowd over there was standing around, and a lot of them
were wiping their handkerchiefs in the blood and so forth.
One fellow rubbed his handkerchief in the blood, held it up
and showed it to his wife, and he says,
'Look honey, this used to be Dillinger.'
He says, 'Our kids are going to love this someday.'
--Chicago photographer Hank Schaefer


Ranando said...

You hang on to that monitor for a few more years and you'll be surprised at what you'll get for it, just keep writing.

I have no doubt it will be worth mush more then you could have ever dreamed of.

I wonder what Hemingway's desk would go for today?

Paul said...

Nice blog, lots of content.

Michael Gillespie said...

How about a piece of tile from the living room fireplace of "Look Homeward, Angel" author Thomas Wolfe's boyhood home in Ashville, NC? Is there a literary E-Bay?

Ron Franscell said...

Michael: I'll give you five bucks for it!

Actually, I guess since you have some of his tile, Thomas Wolfe COULDN'T go home again if he wanted to!

Patty said...

I must be an oddity. I think buying that "stuff" is pretty silly. Then again thats just me. I am always amazed at what people buy. And we are a nation of poor underprivledged people. geeezzzz

Houston said...

Sure wish you lived close by. You'd be a hoot to go have a few martinis with.

Cris said...

I think everyone wants to be important, and if they can't do it on their own merits, owning something that belonged or might have belonged to someone famous or infamous makes them feel special.

its all about impressing someone else. Most people have lost the ability to be proud of themselves and have that be enough.

Sometimes I am such a cynic....

Ron Franscell said...

Let's do a road trip, Houston. I need air. You can bring martinis and we can hit the road in our kandy-kolored tangerine flake Streamline Baby and grab a couple fellow travelers like Cris and Ranando and head to someplace splendid like, oh, I dunno .... Chicago. What a weird town -- wow, and that woman in that window up there, just looking down with her big breasts hanging from her nightgown, big wide eyes. Whee. Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there."

"Where we going, man?"

"I don't know but we gotta go." Then here came a gang of young bop musicians carrying their instruments out of cars. They piled right into a saloon and we followed them. They set themselves up and started blowin There we were! The leader was a slender, drooping, curly-haired, pursy-mouthed tenorman, thin of shoulder, draped loose in a sports shirt, cool in the warm night, self-indulgence written in his eyes, who picked up his horn and frowned in it and blew cool and complex and was dainty stamping his foot to catch ideas, and ducked to miss others--and said, "Blow," very quietly when the other boys took solos. Then there was Prez, a husky, handsome blond like a freckled boxer, meticulously wrapped inside his sharkskin plaid suit with the long drape and the collar falling back and the tie undone for exact sharpness and casualness, sweating and hitching up his horn and writhing into it, and a tone just like Lester Young himself ...

(Apologies to Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey, who should never be mixed...)

Cris said...

You are a treasure :)

If you ever get to Chicago, holler.....
my 89.4 square miles from reality is right around the corner.

leroy said...

OK now, if'n yer rightous indignation has waxed and waned, ya might be suprised ta know that eBay does not allow the sale of "Murderabilia". Stoopidabilia is free an' clear however, or I wouldnt even get close ta eBay.

Yer buddy,