When I learned German there was always one word that stuck with me. I just loved saying it. Sammeln. When pronounced the word sounds an awful lot like “salmon” said by a kid who needs speech therapy. (I’m still considering writing a letter to Merkel asking her to put Germans through speech therapy) During class, when Professor B would make us state things in German I would always just fall back on sammeln. “Am Mittagesen sammeln ich Serviette.” When my turn passed I would just daydream about the things that I used to collect. We’ve all done collected something–stamps, butterflies, various meats. Show me a person that didn’t collect something at childhood, I’ll show you someone who didn’t have a childhood, an “invisible child” if I may.
Some of my earliest memories start in my uncle’s truck sifting through a new deck of Upper Deck trading cards. Oh, shit. You should see my collection. It’s an early to mid-90s who’s who of professional football, basketball and baseball. Off the top of my head, I can remember having Ken Caminiti, Allen Iverson, Keyshawn Johnson, Eddie George, Steve Young and Terry Glen rookie cards. That’s a Hall of Fame class, son. I was so crazy about trading cards. Outside of beating Sonic and Knuckles, trading cards were all I could think about. When am I getting my next trading card fix? Every fall there was a new line. I needed it. Unfortunately, I grew up poor, so I wouldn’t get like the whole set. I would just get packs from time-to-time and luck out. I don’t know what the trading card industry was really like in the 90s, but it seemed booming.
I remember staying up on weekends watching the Home Shopping Network. I would gawk at the collectors sets they would parade across the screen. Getting the entire Upper Deck baseball trading card series of 1997 seemed like the coolest fucking thing on the planet. For some reason I thought TY Beanie Babies were a waste of fucking time, but getting my hands on a Rafael Palmero trading card wasn’t. Oh, the Nineties.
HSN convinced me that perhaps trading cards and sports memorabilia were too expensive for my blood. I stowed my collection away, which is still alive in Houston, and moved on. I moved on to POGs. I moved on to POGs–hard. I would stack ’em high. I loved POGs so much that’s all I could think about in elementary school. When can I get my POG on? I didn’t “collect” POGs. I defeated people and took my spoils. It was my first foray in Modern Vikinery.
“I got some sweet purple ones. Oh, shit. I’m willing to sacrifice some of these stupid white ones. Let’s do this! I NEED POGz!!!1”
Like purchasing trading card packs, it was a gamble every time you stepped into the POG Arena. Much like dude-brahs with their poker today, POGs was a great distraction for snot-nosed brats to compete, lose “chips” and enjoy each others’ company in a totally platonic way. The nineties seemed like a time when boys were encouraged to engage in competitive games with moving parts and yelling. Some of you might remember Crossfire, the ressurgence of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and super soakers.
I run into kids who love Pokemanz and Yugi-Oh way too much these days. Whatever happened to crushing people without having to resort to “magix” or wizardry? What happened to a good ole whack to the POG and a fair handshake? You couldn’t cast a spell on a sweet spin from my Power Rangers Battle Spinner, could ya?! It’s no longer about physical skill, but about how much you coddled your stupid ass Magikarp or Goldeen. You might as well be playing with your Polly Pocket at that fucking point.
As I deal with adulthood, I find myself sort of missing out on collecting. I don’t really collect anything these days except for paychecks and lame friendships. I suppose guitar playing has taken up a substantial amount of my life for the past 12 years, but I really do miss the exhilarating effect of getting a new “toy” to add to your collection. The older you get, the more expensive the things you want to collect become. I could probably afford that 1997 Collector’s Set of Upper Deck trading cards now, but what purpose would that serve? I’m sure the people buying those sets in 1996 were mostly the thoughtful parents of some lucky kid, but a few of those were probably sex offenders or graduate students. At a certain point, we’re expected to put down childish pursuits and keep our eyes on some fictional “prize” that no one has clearly explained to me. We don’t give ourselves time to appreciate how wonderful time by ourselves with the silly things that we love. Life doesn’t get much simpler than your Ninja Turtles Van and action set.
As the sun sets on my adolescence, I’m going to try to remember that. I’ll accept that my need for a collection-type hobby will eventually manifest itself into something totally awesome like being a Trekkie or Ewok enthusiast.
Anyone wanna POG?