Let's clear one thing up first: I'm not a hoarder. I don't collect things indiscriminately, or to the detriment of my household's cleanliness or safety. But there's no way around it. I am a collector, and when I find something that triggers the collecting gene, things snowball quickly.
It started with comic books, as young boys' dreams of ownership and wealth often do. It was the summer of 1992, and I was in the general store of a campground -- I don't remember which one, but it might have been Hartman Creek -- and was drawn in, almost supernaturally, to the cover art of Batman: Shadow of the Bat #3. I was 14, and it was a done deal. Not only was the art really cool, but I was picking up a story midway through. I had to go backwards to get the rest of the story -- why was Nightwing crawling through the bowels of Arkham Asylum to rescue Batman? And who's Nightwing, anyway? -- and there was no way I wasn't going to stick with the story to its conclusion.
This was my origin story as a collector of things.
I bought issue 4 when it came out, and it took me a little while, but eventually I acquired issues 1 and 2 as well. Once I could drive, I was making myself a regular at comic book shops like the now-defunct Collector's Exchange, and later Powerhouse Comics on College Avenue (both in Appleton). I can still remember, somewhere deep in my brain where conscious meets subconscious, the smell of Collector's Exchange, and the sound of the creaky floorboards as comic shoppers shuffled around the back-issues, circumambulating those white cardboard boxes like an alternate-universe Kaaba.
But it was at Powerhouse where I really sunk into my next collecting fetish: Magic: The Gathering.
It was around the release of the Ice Age expansion set, summer of 1995, that I really got into it. You can talk about comic books with your friends, but Magic added a social component to my collecting habit. I had friends who collected and played as well, and many a weekend night was spent over Jolt and pizza, shuffling, tapping, showing off and comparing notes. I'd even gone in on an order of a couple boxes of booster packs with friends, which we tore into like it was Christmas. Mirage and Visions expansions, I think, and maybe some more Ice Age. Another deep sensory memory there, the smell of the cards and the crinkle of the foil wrappers. I had a pretty large (I thought, anyway) collection, with about eight or so functioning decks, and was a regular shopper of the singles binder at Powerhouse before I had to kick the habit.
(I had mostly stopped buying cards within a few years, but it was the accelerating accumulation of Pokemon cards -- I never played, I just got hooked on collecting, like the completist I can be -- that caused me to reconsider how I was spending my money. Years later, I ended up selling everything for, of course, way less than I paid for it. Sold a lot of my comics, too, but I do still have one box in my basement.)
It was around this time that I was getting way into The X-Files, too, and when the DVD market turned to releasing full seasons at a time -- turn of the millennium -- I plunked down way too much cold hard cash on Mulder and Scully. I mean, Fox was asking $150 suggested retail price for those things, man. Fortunately, the internet was great back then for really cutting prices on electronics and video media, so I never paid full price. I made my own spreadsheet of X-Files episode details, like a proto-wiki in the style of Wizard, the comic book magazine: origins, deaths, major mythology moments. I might still have it on a disc somewhere, but it was pretty magnificent. Also totally unnecessary, now.
In adulthood, I convinced myself that it was time to start dialing back on this nonsense. Trading and collectible card games were done, comic books were done -- I barely even let myself go into comic shops for fear of a relapse. Wikipedia became my methadone, as I'd deep-dive into story arc summaries if, say, Captain America got killed or Spider-man gave up the suit or whatever and the mainstream media started talking about it.
Of course, now I'm a beer collector. I can't help it; it's an actual drug. But here I am, still chasing variants and limited releases like they had a gatefold cover or holofoil on them or something. (Note to self: see if there are any beers with holofoil labels.) Whatever pro-nerd shifts have occurred in the public's consciousness, beer collecting is still more of a thing grown-ups are allowed to do with minimal judging.
I bring all of this up now, on Christmas Eve, because it's happening again. I'm suffering a recurrence of the expression of my collector gene, thanks to a four-year old and his Beyblade collection.
The kiddo of one of my good friends (a fellow beer hoarder) has gotten into this Japanese cartoon/toy conflation -- as most are these days -- and at a recent Thanksgiving gathering, all the grownups were conscripted to take part in his Beyblade battles. He whooped up on almost all of us, since he used his best one for himself. Almost all of us, I say, because for some reason, I owned this little man on his own turf that day. And that was terrible for me, because of course the gene kicked in.
More than one adult at that party decided that now was the time to start researching, buying, and kibbutzing on Beyblades. I'm relieved to tell you that there's someone in my circle of friends who goes even more bonkers than I do, but I can just about guarantee that none of my friends spend more mental energy on learning about the parts, pieces, strategies, and relative rarity of Beyblades than I do.
I'm not proud, necessarily, it's just the truth. I've got a separate Amazon shopping list just for Beyblade crap. It was all I could do to not put these things on a Christmas list, and the primary reason was that I didn't want anyone to know which ones I thought would do well in battle. You can shake your head at me, I'm already doing it.
We'll see how long my addiction/fascination with Beyblades lasts. I'm not into the cartoon, and doubt I will be, so there's that. But for those of you who have kids of any age, whose desire for a certain toy, hobby, or gift borders on obsession, let it happen. Revel in the joy. Remember that it could be nigh involuntary. Like me, your kid could just have the gene.