Some people have got sane friends, with normal hobbies; I've got Mike, the obsessive collector of almost anything. One day I told him: "Hoarding is not the same as collecting. A collection needs a form of organization, planning. A collection makes sense."
He had looked at me with those puppy eyes and retorted: "I do make sense. I've got this scheme; I'm going to be a dealer in memorabilia. Right now I'm just building stock."
"Yeah right, building stock. Where I come from, we'd call this junk," I said as I drew a woolen bathing suit from a pile of old garments.
"That's from the forties," Mike said and his eyes began to glisten. "It's genuine."
"Who'd want that?"
"There are people who collect this type of swimwear." It looked as if he could visualize someone being desperately looking for a bathing suit that went out of fashion before the war.
"If that's collectable, my mother has a whole suitcase full of collectables. Feel free to ask her for them anytime. I will gladly give you her phone number. Saves me getting through the lot and chucking it out when she dies. You'd be doing my sister and me a big favor."
He had looked hurt, so I had let the matter go. Instead I had asked him about his latest conquest a stunning Mexican beauty with a sexy voice that could melt butter on a frosty day.
"Consuela is out of the picture."
"I thought she was a bit pushy."
"No, that's not the problem," he said. "She didn't like the way I live."
"Too much of a free spirit?"
He has shaken his head. "She could have been your sister," he remarked. "She didn't like my apartment and she had a problem with my stock too."
I didn't make any comments about her leaving him, but it made sense. What girl would like to date a guy that had turned three of the rooms of the four room apartment into a junkyard, with old toasters, old clothes and the countless, worthless other items people had tried to get rid of in their garage sales. The apartment had once been e real asset, but that had been before Mike had started building his stock.
I hadn't heard from Mike for a couple of weeks, but last Thursday he called me again.
"Would you like to go on a treasure hunt," he asked me with an expectant tingle in his voice.
"Depends." Being a bit evasive was probably the best strategy. Sound a bit too eager and before you knew it, you'd be driving from one garage sale to another, having to go through boxes of discarded junk for hours.
"Are you busy?"
"Well, I have got these plans… parents, maybe dropping in on a buddy from my old baseball team…"
"That's settled then," said Mike resolutely, "You've got nothing planned yet. You're coming with me. It's going to be great."
"This bit of luck. Can you recall The Midnight Drags?"
It was a stupid question, how could I have forgotten them. When we were at college Mike and I had spent almost every Friday night at this club called The Scene, a small converted warehouse just off campus where they had been the main act for almost two years running. We had even talked about starting our own fan club for them, but either we had been far too lazy or far too drunk to really do it. Come to think of it, we might have been both. The Midnight Drags may not have made it nationally, but they were big around town and they had a loyal following. To us, the nerds who couldn't tell a guitar from a bass, they had been the closest thing to real rock stars and we had been proud to rub shoulders with them; a kind of stardom by proxy.
"Today we're going back to the club. You and I." Mike's voice started to croak with excitement. "Just the two of us."
"But they don't play anymore."
"That's what's great about it."
"Don't jerk me around. What's great about that?"
"What's great? It's great that we will be there before anyone else, before they're having that auction."
Mike started to explain things in an annoyingly patient sounding voice. "The club will be torn down in a couple of weeks, and next week they're going to auction off some of the things that belong to the club. Stuff that people would like to get. You know, when they're going down memory lane."
"So where do we come in?"
"Remember Steve, the bartender? Well, he spoke to Vincent, my cousin, who rang me and he told me about the auction. He also had Steve's phone number, so I made a call. Guess what? He remembered us and how we fixed him up with Trudy. As luck would have it, they are still together and he told me I could have a look around before the auction. If there's anything I like, and if I can make him a decent offer, I can already get some of the stuff. Provided we leave enough for the auction. It's great. It means I can get some quality stock for my business. Now, make sure you're ready in half an hour. I will pick you up."
The drive to our old college town took no more than three hours, but I was glad when we parked our pick-up truck in front of The Scene. Mike hadn't stopped talking about all the deals he was sure he was going to make. Deals that would turn him into a wealthy man.
Even after almost 5 years since we had been there, the club hadn't changed much. It looked just as worn down as in the days when we were regulars. The big yellow sign with the gothic letters was still there, although the place had been closed for almost a year, as Steve the former bartender told us.
"I closed the joint three months after Callahan died," he told us. "Things were rough, the college kids stayed away, and it became a money pit very fast. Callahan didn't have any kids himself, no relatives at all, and he had written in his will that I would become the new owner. Someday, the accountant showed me the financial situation and I knew I had to get rid of it. That was easier said than done. I've been stuck with the dammed place ever since."
"But now you're going to have an auction, that's going to get you out of trouble again," I suggested.
Steve looked me straight in the eyes, trying to figure out if was kidding.
"The place must be empty before they tear it down," he said. "Some big investment corporation bought the whole block. They're going to build a mall. Trying to sell some of the stuff here before they chuck it on some garbage dump is the only way to make some extra cash. I'll need that for the taxes I still have to pay. Out of trouble; I may still go bust."
Meanwhile, Mike was nosing around the club on his search for anything he could use for his scheme to get rich himself.
"That's going to be mine," Mike said as he pointed to the yellow sign above the tiny stage at the back of the club. It was a smaller version of the sign outside, but it had a number of autographs on it that were not on the bigger sign.
"Look," Mike told me, "the guys are all there, all five of them. Look at Tal's autograph, he must have been illiterate. It's more like a cross than a name."
He was right, the drummer of The Midnight Drags had scribbled something on the sign that looked more like the cross that ancient sailors used as their mark, than a real autograph.
"I'd recognize that anywhere," said Mike, "it's real. I'll give you two hundred bucks for the sign."
Steve didn't even hesitate about the offer. "Deal."
Mike went on with his search. It took him almost twenty minutes to go over the club. He found himself twelve more items he wanted to have, ranging from a set of posters to a small stool that was often used by the piano players in the club.
"Look what I found," he said to us as he took it out of one of the storage rooms behind the tiny stage. "Loudon used this a lot." He had a wide grin on his face. "Come and help me find more."
Mike handed the stool to Steve and dragged me away.
"It's just a stool, nothing special," I said to Mike as I followed him into another small room.
"But it's Loudon's. It must be worth a couple of bucks."
Five minutes later we returned with an entire box of t-shirts with a photograph of the band printed on them.
"Collectors' items," Mike assured us as we returned from our search of the small room.
"So is this," said Steve and he showed us the signature under the seat of the stool Mike had found. It said: "Loudon" in jet black ink. I was sure that autograph hadn't been there before we went into the small room.
"Missed that," Mike admitted, "but it's okay, it adds to it."
"It sure does," Steve eagerly confirmed.
When we left, Mike had parted with over a thousand dollars but he had several boxes of junk and the autographed sign in the back of the pick-up truck.
"Have you heard about that club in England?" Mike asked me after almost an hour.
"That one in Liverpool; The Cavern."
"Doesn't ring a bell."
"It's where The Beatles used to play. That was a famous club, a bit like The Scene."
I started laughing.
"What are you laughing about?"
"The Beatles, The Midnight Drags. Can you see the difference?"
"Sure, but they're similar in a way."
Mike took his eyes off the road ahead and looked at me sideways. There was that twinkle in his eyes again as he explained. "They also tore down that club, and they sold bricks from it to diehard fans. Something like twenty dollars a brick. They may not have been The Beatles, but they must be worth something."
Then it dawned on me. My friend the hoarder had come up with another one of his crazy schemes.
"Would you like to get a girlfriend?" I asked him.
"Sure, who doesn't," Mike answered.
"Just don't do it," I advised him.