We all know folks who collect various items—figurines, baseball cards, stamps, antiques, coins. (There are even a handful of folks, existing in a certain rarified economic universe, who collect cars, and I’m not talking about Hot Wheels). Perhaps you’re one of those people. In the abstract I appreciate the emotional or aesthetic lure of collecting certain things, items that fascinate you or stimulate your sense of nostalgia.
Once upon a time—back in the stone age, as my kids might say—I collected baseball cards. I had thousands, and they’d be worth a fair amount of money today. However, when I left home for college my mother cleaned out my old room and closet and threw them away, unaware of their sentimental and financial value. Part of the discarded collection included a program from a Pittsburgh Pirates-Chicago Cubs baseball game played in August, 1972. I remember the game pretty well: Joe Popovich was the Cubs’ first baseman at the time and dropped an easy pop foul, and Roberto Clemente beat out a routine ground ball to second base for an infield hit. After the game I met Clemente briefly and he signed the program for me, as did two other future Hall-of-Famers, Ernie Banks and Cubs’ announcer Jack Brickhouse.
This was a mildly traumatic but useful experience. For one thing, I learned the painful lesson that even she wasn’t perfect. For another, I began to see the folly of becoming overly attached to tangible, earthly, impermanent “stuff”. A decade or two later I even developed the capacity to forgive her.
These days I instead collect catchy or beautiful turns of phrase, thoughtful aphorisms free of cliché (or so I think), bon mots, and unintentionally funny statements. The sources come from all over: writers, famous and obscure, internet stories, interactions at work, newspapers, the bible, my wife and children. I offer below a few completely random and unrelated examples of the last category from my menagerie.
Luke, our youngest, went with me a few months ago to a pretty pricey museum. Once inside we boarded an elevator and as its doors drew closed he whispered, “Dad, hold my hand, will you? I’m getting costophobic.” “Me, too”I thought to myself.
A good friend once shared with me a pillow-talk exchange she had with her husband after a particularly long and tiring day. She was even more exhausted than usual because she had been up most of the previous night tending to their newborn daughter. Her husband cuddled with her and adoringly stroked her hair. “I love you so much,” he whispered. My friend, sleep-deprived and semi-delirious, whispered in return, “mmmmm. I love…pop tarts.” (Krista and I have appropriated this episode to our own ends, and more often than I care to admit she has declared justifiably, “Tim, that’s a pop tart” as shorthand for “dude, what you just did/said is offensive/stupid/insensitive/hurtful. See you tomorrow.”)
As an erstwhile practicing attorney, I witnessed (and generated) lots of these. When I was sitting second chair in a medical practice case, for instance, a mentor and lead counsel issued an objection during trial. The judge responded, “Grounds?” My colleague—an extremely skilled, experienced, and well-respected litigator, stammered, “uhhhhh. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure he [opposing counsel] can’t do that.” It was delicious. Here’s a better one that was sent to me in an email eons ago. I can’t swear to its veracity, and have no idea about its provenance, but it possesses the ring of truth to me:
Lawyer: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
Lawyer: Did you check for blood pressure?
Lawyer: Did you check for breathing?
Lawyer: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
Lawyer: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
Witness: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Lawyer: But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?
Witness: It is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.
I suspect my wife frequently relates strongly to the witness in this episode, for while she’s too compassionate to ever say so out loud—even during one of my “pop tart moments”—her eyes occasionally give her away: “Tim, would you kindly retrieve your gray matter from the bedside table? It’s clear from your behavior that forgot to insert it today. Thanks ever-so.”
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.