You don’t think I collect all this junk just because I like junk, do you?
You don’t think I collect all this junk just because I like junk, do you?
I’m not well, friends. Just show me something useless, call it a souvenir — and I'll buy it. It's hopeless, I'm hooked — I’ve got souveniritis
I WAS AWAITING my Vancouver-flight call in Honolulu when I saw a friend sauntering along, lugging a chunk of wood about the size of a three-by-three, four feet long and richly dark.
I’d once seen the things on sale at the flying-boat landing stage at BoraBora and if you whacked them hard with a stick they’d give out a loud and melodious thonk.
“What are you gonna do w'ith it,
Al?” I asked.
Sure, I knew that this thonk-post was a souvenir, but I also knew that when a hard-headed businessman buys a souvenir he figures he’s got to justify it, moneywise. So I asked. At first,
AÍ explained that a shrew'd native had asked six dollars for it, but he had beat the price down to four. A good buy, he said. (I could have told him he could have got it for three.)
“Okay, but what will you use it for?” I persisted.
“Well. I’m going to have it set up beside my desk and I’m going to use it to call my secretary.” Thonk!
See what I mean? Justification. And what other businessman has such an apparatus? And what a conversational gambit! Beautiful!
Too bad I'm not the kind of hardheaded souvenir hunter that Al is. I don’t need to justify anything. I just buy — and buy.
Our cleaning lady Ruby must spend the first hour each w'eek just shaking the dust from Mexican sarapes and wiping off little blue-and-white Dutch flower vases and brushing tweed purses, and there is a cute, furry Australian koala that plays Waltzing Matilda but we lost the winding key a long time ago. She must often wonder about all this junk cluttering up the house. She’s too polite to ask. but I could tell her — I have that dread disease known as souveniritis which, in its most violent form, is a terrible thing to witness.
I was idly poking around my den recently and. lo and behold, I found a walking stick. It was a Maori walking stick, all carved and varnished and far too good to use slashing at ferns while walking through the woods. Ah. the memories it stirred!
It happened in Auckland. I had an hour to kill waiting for the airport limousine and another chap and I wandered into a souvenir store. He is a world-famous cartoonist and must make $250,000 a year, and he wanted a walking stick, for w'alking. You’d think he’d be the one the perceptive saleslady zeroed in on, but no, he got away easily with a nice six-dollar cane. But 1 had sucker written all over me.
“This cane, sir, very beautiful,” she said, and explained that it had been carved by a half-blind Maori chief, who usually took several days to find just the right piece of gnarled root and another week to carve it into a portable totem pole. "Not many like this, sir.”
I wavered, then stiffened my resolve. She read me and set me up tor the kill.
“Are you an American, sir?”
“No, Canadian. Vancouver.”
"Oh, how lovely. I’m so glad,” implying that such a walking stick should remain forever in the Commonwealth.
continued on page 34c
So you buy a 40-pound Eskimo carving. Now it’s a doorstop
That did it. 1 walked out swinging my Maori chief’s stick and the shop had my $22.
I’m going to use it some day.
The thing to remember is that souvenirs arc useless. Well, nearly. Take spoons, for instance. My wife has a collection of those small silver coffee spoons. You know the kind, stamped with the name of the city and an emblem. She’s got them from all around the world, but I think they’re all punched out by the billions in one factory in Japan. Besides, they’re not really very good stirrers.
I was in Fairbanks, Alaska, recently and was drawn to a souvenir shop like a drunk to a bar. There they were, those spoons. Hundreds of them in a big basket, from every state in the union. Except Alaska. Why not Alaska? I asked the sales girl. “Oh.” she said, “we had to send them all hack. They spelled Alaska wrong.” Alsaka? Alaksa? Aklasa?
And then there was the time I stopped at a shop deep in the Scottish Highlands. I didn't sec anything I wanted, but I bought four staghorn egg spoons because I didn't want to walk out without buying anything. The young couple running the shop seemed like such nice people. Ever since. I’ve had boiled eggs for breakfast each working day. After all. I’ve got the spoons. Only trouble is, I like bacon and eggs for breakfast.
Those cow bells? Well, if you must know, I bought them in a dark and dusty shop in a small Swiss village because I was enchanted with the soft tinkling they made on the alpine pastures at dusk. We’ve used them once. To usher in the Centennial year like every good Canadian family was told to do, we stood on our doorstep at midnight and my kids clanged the bells, making a dreadful racket. My wife blazed away on her silver Girl Guide leader’s whistle, and I dingdonged madly on our Avon Lady Calling door bell. Fun.
There is. of course, one comfort in
suffering souveniritis, even in its advanced stages: you are not alone. Take my friend Tom. for instance. He made a trip through the western Arctic. And what happened? He came back with a monstrous Eskimo carving that weighs about 40 pounds. Tom's wife is a lovely girl with flawless manners, so she didn’t say anything, but she was obviously horrified. Now '.hey have the only $47 doorstop in town.
What can you say about a guy who has two of those shrunken heads made by the Jivaro Indians in South America? He’s a friend of mine.
And I know a family that brought back a sack of those huge pine cones Iront Yellowstone Park. They painted them gold and silver and used them, tor one year, as Christmas-tree decorations. That little tree barely made it through to Boxing Day. Then, crash!
continued on pupe 34f
Think you’ve got problems? I bought a fertility charm...
I know a World War II infantryman who liberated an Olivetti typewriter somewhere south of Cassi no and packed it north on the road to Rome, then through the campaigns of northwest Europe, and brought it home in 1945, triumphantly. What stories that machine would tell! Then one day about 1956, wdien they were moving to a new house, his wife got tired of seeing the damn thing lying down there in the basement and gave it to the junkman. Soldier-boy never missed it.
Soldiers, come to think of it. have always been strong on souveniring. And they’ve been at it longest. In the wild old days they souvenired w'hole nations. It was called war — and still is, for that matter. The age-old rules go this way: il it's not nailed down, take it; if it is, wreck it. Look what happened to Carthage.
Of course, souveniring has its wild side even in peacetime. Remember John Dillinger, that strange Depression hero who was gunned down by the feds in Chicago after being fingered by the Lady in Red? It was in 1934 and there was a world's fair on and thousands flocked to the killing ground outside a theatre. And there was a man selling bits of cotton batting, stained, he said, with the blood of the notorious gunman, which the doctors had used to try to stop the flow of blood. It didn't matter that Dillinger was very dead before he hit the cement, or that the cotton came from a drugstore and the blood was from a pig packinghouse. This entrepreneur made a killing at a dollar a wad, and every buyer was happy.
The lesson, of course, is that if people want souvenirs, there will always be someone around to sell ’em.
I once bought a fertility charm from an old pipe-smoking Polynesian woman sitting outside Quinn’s Bar in Papeete. Cost me 400 Pacific francs — about $4.50. Don't ask me why. It must have been the Hinano beer. When I got home I didn’t know what to do with it. Would you? I ended up giving it to my secretary as a goodluck charm.
Well, that’s the way things are with me. I guess I'll just go on hauling home souvenirs, heaven help me, constantly certain, like all who suffer with my affliction, that I’ve just carried off the best kind of souvenir there is, the kind you wangle from some innocent seller by doing him one better on the deal — and just as constantly realizing later that I didn't.
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