When my neighbor’s husband died, suddenly, at 65, of course, I asked her, “Is there anything I can do?”
“Actually, yes,” she told me. It seemed Don had a collection.
Two collections, really, and they filled 9 storage rooms.
Each room was about 10 feet wide, by 20 feet long, by 8 feet high. And jammed.
The first collection was of clothes – high end women’s fashions. All were size 6. None had ever been worn. Most still had their price tags attached.
The second collection was of magazines and videotapes. All were images of women not wearing any of the clothes in Don’s first collection.
There were over 10,000 magazines. 5,000 tapes. Where do you begin not to ask questions?
My neighbor slowly began to explain. “In college,” she told me, “Don fell in love. The girl was extremely beautiful – a model, actually. And tiny. Don used to buy her presents, and, for a while, she let him. But though Don was very good-looking in those days, she never really loved him.”
What happened? I wanted to ask. But I had to be polite.
“Finally, the girl ended their relationship. But Don kept buying her presents. Maybe hoping he’d have another chance.”
“It never happened. She eventually married another man. And Don married me. But he had this collection going. All these designer clothes. Which didn’t come close to fitting me.”
Lois was normal-sized.
“And Don liked collecting things. He saw collections as investments. So he kept on buying.”
“For 40 years?”
“25. He stopped in the mid-90s.”
What if the woman had come back? I wanted to ask. What if she’d finally shown interest? Would Don have left Lois?
Or what if the woman had gained weight? If the clothes no longer fit? And what about all those magazines and tapes?
“The magazines are easier to explain,” Lois said.
“Probably, like any boy, Don started reading Playboy in high school.”
That felt right.
“But he had to keep the magazines hidden. His mother would never have approved. So he stored them carefully in a suitcase.”
I gave mine to friends.
“When I met Don in college, I was dating one of his fraternity brothers. Don was more open with his collection then, and the guys always joked about it – they were amazed how many magazines he had. But he practically checked them out, like a library. He didn’t want to lose any.”
“Did he know they’d be valuable?”
“I’m not sure they really are. As I said, he just liked collecting things.”
The magazines stretched over 45 years. Unlike the clothes, Don never stopped buying them. At one point I said, “If all the porn in the world were lost, except Don’s collection, I think there’d still be enough.”
“Too much,” Lois told me. And we’d laughed. Because the clothes alone filled 54 wardrobe boxes, each 4 foot tall and 2 foot square. Half the boxes were crammed with hanging clothes, and the other half stacked with often gift wrapped lingerie.
Expensive lingerie, tied with delicate ribbons. Each piece tenderly nestled in sheets of tissue paper.
The magazines were also protected, many in separate, brown paper bags. The last ten years of Playboys were still in their unopened plastic mailers.
“Didn’t he read them?” I asked.
“That wasn’t the point,” Lois said. “Besides, I don’t think he wanted to embarrass me.”
I didn’t see the problem – the Playboys were pretty mild. Other magazines pushed my imagination.
Many seemed one of a kind. Magazines full of women with unnaturally large breasts. Huge. Magazines full of women from specific ethnicities. Magazines full of women with gigondic breasts from microcosmic ethnicities wearing 5-inch red heels.
I could have grazed for days. But I had a job to do.
The videotapes were also unopened. “Don never played the tapes,” Lois said. “He thought the cover art would be more valuable.”
It was true: Don had packed a dozen file boxes tight with just the folded, videotape covers. He’d thrown the meat away. But there were thousands of tapes left.
Questions loomed: What were we going to do with these collections? Who bought magazines in bulk, full of pictures of naked, now middle-aged, women? Who wanted videotapes, since the Internet had passed them by? And who needed 20-and-30 year old clothes that would barely fit little girls?
The clothes turned out easier to place. There were collectors – and museums. We could have tried selling the items one-by-one, online, but that takes time. And the storage rooms, together, were costing 5 grand a month. Don spent even more storing the collections than he’d probably paid to build them.
So we went for the museums and the tax write-offs. And there was something slightly noble about transforming one man’s compulsion into history.
“We’ve never seen quality like this,” one curator told me. “People don’t usually donate clothes till they’re worn.” Don not only kept price tags but also receipts. The museum catalogued over 4,000 well-documented items.
“Didn’t you mind this?” I finally asked Lois.
“It kind of snuck up on me,” she admitted. “When we were dating, I’d see boxes, in closets. But I didn’t know what was in them. When we got married, Don moved everything to storerooms. Still, until he died, I never realized how many.”
Lois was a very patient woman. But she also had a professional career. And she and Don had never had kids. So they had time for hobbies.
The porn was harder to place. You just don’t put it all on eBay. Fortunately, the Internet has other outlets.
We searched on “sex.” We searched on “perversion.” We searched on “eccentricity.” There was a surprising range of willing receivers. But we also weren’t planning to do this one tape or magazine at a time. And while even the Library of Congress has a porn division, some national sex museums were surprisingly picky.
Pack it yourself. Itemize it yourself. Pay for shipping.
“How much do you think it would cost to ship 3000 cubic feet of porn cross-country?” Lois asked.
“Too much. And it’s unnecessary.”
By the way, 3000 cubic feet – for people who can’t really get their minds around that – is a room 10 feet wide, by 10 feet high, by 30 feet long. A densely packed room. Admittedly, the tapes were lighter – all 200 boxes of them, packed 24 tapes per carton – but the magazines made up for that. Though Don had been meticulous: each file box contained only a single stack of magazines, centered by Styrofoam beads. In the days before Don discovered Styrofoam, he isolated the magazines by still-wrapped rolls of toilet paper.
He’d also started cataloguing the collections. But, as organized as he was, the job overwhelmed him. And there were doubles and triples of many items. He simply got lost.
“He’d buy things on sale,” Lois explained. “Or he’d buy things he thought would be valuable. When Gianni Versace was shot, Don bought up all his last collections. He flew all over the country, buying store-by-store.”
“I can’t believe this,” a second curator at the fashion museum said. “It’s amazing.” Though after a while, even the curators realized they had too much. “We’ll keep the best items,” they decided. “We’ll use some of the duplicates for charity auctions – to fund other acquisitions. But some of these things, we’ll just have to donate.”
There’s a limit to the need for psychedelic bras.
Don also had collections-within-collections. He owned almost 80 stuffed animals, including 40 bears, 11 reindeer, 10 cows, 3 buffalo, 1 otter, and a pig. And he had 38 model Lamborghinis, of all different sizes. One was a phone.
“He always wanted a real Lamborghini,” Lois admitted. “But he could never afford one. He settled for a pair of Corvettes.”
The funny thing was that Don, himself, was never particularly well-dressed. He owned good clothes, but he rarely wore them. He could have been dressed by JCPenney. Still, the fashion museum was happy for his donation to posterity. As was the wanking collection.
The man who ran that has a Ph.D. in sexology. I’m not sure what one does with that. His business card reads Erotological Appraiser.
“We’ve gotten a lot of donations,” he marveled., trying to inch closed the overhead door of his listing semi. “But this really is the largest.”
It goes with them huge breasts.
“What are you going to do with it all?” I asked.
“Some we’ll sell, of course. There are too many multiples. But some of these, I’ve never seen or heard of. I can’t wait to dig in.”
The smaller parts of the collection were easy to give away. Our truck driver happily took the12 dominatrix outfits – they were little more than black leather straps. Friends of ours took two dozen unopened jigsaw puzzles – though not the 5-foot 6-inch Playboy Centerfold Party Puzzle. They have young children. The stuffed animals went to a children’s clinic, staffed by volunteers. 50 pair of vintage Guess jeans and 50 matching denim mini-skirts – 5 grand worth counting by their uninflated, 1975 price tags — went to a thrift shop. We’re still trying to place 3 classic, Italian designer floor lamps from 1989, along with 3 oversized oil paintings that Don bought for 8 grand the same year.
“Why are you doing this?” I was asked, well more than once. “Why are you giving all this help for free?”
“‘Cause I’m a good neighbor,” I allowed. “And I like the idea of things not going to waste.” At one point, Lois considered just carting it all to a dump. “But, mainly, because it’s the most fun I’ve had all summer.”