Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Thing You Do Not Possess

I spent a few moments this morning reflecting on a habit of mine. I’ve been doing it for years, but this is the first time I’ve actually stopped to think about it. And try as I might, I’m yet to figure out a reason for it.

Last Wednesday I picked up the latest issue of Previews. For those who have never stepped foot into a comic shop, Previews is a gigantic catalog featuring everything collectible that’s coming out three months from now. In this case, the catalog features images and promotional material for comics, books, videos, graphic novels, games, statues, magazines, and trading cards that are coming out in May 2006. Believe me, if there’s a geek factor to a product, it’s in Previews.

Previews is all marketing. It's one big advertisement that hypes up just how cool this new item is going to be. It's filled with solicitations that feature big bold phrases like "DO NOT MISS THIS ISSUE" and "This is it...the issue everyone will be talking about for years!" Every single new issue is better than the one that came before it.

This can be devestating news for collectors. It means that no matter how much you enjoy the one you have at home, the one you don't have is even better.

It's the same reasoning that drives people to cheat on their partners. Sure, your wife is great, but I bet that girl across the gym with the tight shorts and the incredible midriff doesn't nag. I bet that guy with the shiny sports car and big muscles will pamper you in a way your husband wouldn't understand. With so many potentially better partners, it's only a matter of time until you're neglecting the one you're with.

As I’m delving into the solicitations for what’s yet to come, the stack of comics I’ve already purchased is piling higher and higher. I currently have 23 comic books waiting to be read. These books are probably great, but I'd much rather fantasize about the ones I don't have yet and imagine how much pleasure I'll feel when I finally get to hold them.

There’s nothing particularly appalling about having 23 comics to read. What's appalling is that three months ago I couldn’t wait to get a hold of these books. These are the books I was salivating over in Previews in December. I couldn’t wait to see what happens to Selina in Catwoman #52, but now that I have it in my possession I couldn’t care less. Not while there’s teasers about what’s going to happen in #55 dancing through my head.

Catwoman #52 might be a fantastic issue, but the grass is always greener. That next issue looks so tantilizing, so mysterious, so unknown...it has to be better. Just look at it.

But looks can be deceiving. Just as the cutie across the way has her own baggage, every comic can't possibly live up to the hype and surpass the entertainment level of the one before it.

Recognizing this deception and fighting off its spell are two totally different things. Let’s face it, Previews features 400-500 pages of items you want. There’s so much possibility. So many chances to be happy if only you pick the right one. And lucky for you, even if you choose poorly, you can always pick again next time.

As I write this, I'm reminded of William Leith’s book, The Hungry Years. At one point in his memoir about a compulsive eater, Leith details what it was like to date a girl who was a shopaholic. The section is both humorous and sad, but there was one passage that struck a chord:

“This is the logic of the market, played out to its absurd endgame; the thing you value, is the thing you do not possess. The thing you possess is worthless. You are full, yet empty. You are sated, but hungry.”

This is essentially the crux of the whole situation. As a collector, this one passage puts it out there for all to see. I may love the hunt for that one cherished collectible, but once I’ve made that purchase, that coveted comic, that rare card, that piece of art means nothing. I have no interest in it. Instead, it’s that next acquisition that catches my eye and makes me eager to continue collecting.

Around Christmas time each year, my favorite brand of football cards hits the streets: SP Authentic. This year’s product was pretty hefty: I made a list of 50 Packers cards I want to own. Since Christmas, I’ve been able to find most of them effortlessly. But one card proved to be rather elusive. It's a Terrence Murphy rookie card that features a piece of his uniform and his autograph. For me, the card needed to have the right serial number, a perfectly centered graphic, a 3-color jersey swatch, and a legible autograph. So while I’ve certainly seen 100s of auctions for the damn thing cross my computer screen, I never found the right one.

Then, after months of waiting and 100s of eBay searches, I found it. Finally, the hunt was over. I watched it for the duration of its auction: six days. Every day I watched the sell price climb, first at $9, then to $11.50, then up over $20. But when the day came, I knew I had to have it and I bid more than double the price any other card had sold for. And I won.

Yes! One more card to cross off my list. I waited patiently for the mail day that would bring my prized possession home. Five days after the auction ended, I finally got the card in the mail. I ran from the mail box up to my room. I tore into the bubbled envelope, pulled out the card, and…and I spent about five seconds looking it over for imperfections before laying it on my bookcase to be later stored in one of my boxes of football cards.

That’s it. All that hunting, all that money, all those visits to eBay. For what? About five seconds of enjoyment. Hell, enjoyment? Can you call five seconds of inspection enjoyment? Not really.

And that’s not even the depressing part. Where this really gets sad is when you learn what I did after putting down the card. I sat at my computer, jumped online, and did another search for the cards remaining on my list. And guess what? I found another card to watch. An Aaron Rodgers autograph card. One with a perfectly centered autograph. Finally! The card I’ve been looking for was in my sights.

How can this be? How can a hunter be so eager and excited during the hunt, only to feel nothing when he finally takes home his prey? How can I place so much importance on one object only to consider it insignificant once I actually have it in my possession?

I don’t have the answer to those questions. I doubt I ever will. But I can guarantee it’ll be a question I ask myself again.

No, I might not have the answers I’m looking for, but at least I can take solace in what I do have: a list of comics coming out in May. Comics with storylines I’m really excited about and simply MUST NOT MISS! And if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get around to actually reading the books I already have.


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sew_darn_cute said...

Well I must say I'm the same way when it comes to collecting cross stitch books and fairies. Last time I was in the book store I purchased almost every cross stitch magazine they had because I started to become fustrated and sweaty and I couldn't decide. I knew if I picked one but not the other, I would be missing out on patterns and I couldn't possibly do that. I have to disagree with something you said however, I still love and use all the old books I have. I don't think the old stuff suddenly becomes useless just because I got knew stuff. In fact some of the patterns I most love come out of the old stuff. Have a good day!