It started with my grandmas.

One of them gave me the birthday angels every year.  You know, these ones:


An angel for every year, with your new age and ever-increasing height. They each sent me other beautiful things that I collected and put on shelves. Glass animals, music boxes, tiny figurines; fifty white thimbles, each with a different state flower painted on. On my shelf, a green glass frog with white eyes and black dots for pupils sat next to a crystal kitten with pink-tipped ears.

My own collecting bug took hold:  a pink plastic elephant that had topped my hamburger at a roadside diner took up residence next to an exquisitely painted doll from my grandma. To me they were both beautiful; I couldn’t tell the difference.

When I was very young I somehow broke a ceramic teddy bear music box that my mother had made. I never knew what I did that broke it- I was at that age of disconnection between my thoughts and my actions where I didn’t even notice that I had caused it to fall from the top of my dresser. But my mom was mad. I saved two little blue birds from the dustpan and put them on the shelf next to a newborn baby doll with a bisque glass face I had bought with my birthday money. It played Brahm’s lullabye when you turned a key in its back and I thought the blue birds looked nice against its white gown.

There were other collections. Most of the girls I knew collected cosmetic samples and miniature soaps. The tiny tubes of fragrance were the most coveted, and god forbid the girl that actually used a sample. She would never live it down.

I collected books, which probably could have gone without saying. And records. Later, I saved every issue of Guitar Player and Guitar for the Practicing Musician that I ever bought.

I hauled everything I owned, including my collections, with me when I moved out of my mom’s house.

When the time came for me to move to Dallas for an internship, I’d been living with a boyfriend for a while. He couldn’t decide if he was going to come with me to Dallas or not. I lived in this stressful state of limbo for months, unable to make plans because getting an apartment with another person is a completely different thing than affording an apartment all by yourself.

Until I finally realized that I wasn’t willing to put my life on hold for anyone.

I set up an apartment sight unseen, over the phone. I mailed my deposit. I bought a map.

I ended up leaving with just what I could fit into my car, which wasn’t a whole lot, being that it was a Dodge Dynasty. He promised that no matter what, he’d bring me all the rest of my stuff, soon.

And that’s the story of how I let go of every sentimental keepsake and collection that I owned up until age 24. Every yearbook, each baby book, all the birthday dolls, the clear green glass frog with the black and white eyes, my journals, a biography of Zappa that I was only halfway though, my winter clothes.

It’s also the story of how I realized that stuff is just stuff. Though it took a while to come to this point, I know my burden is far lighter with all of that gone and I am even grateful for it.  The only thing I am genuinely sorry I lost is the white ceramic Nativity set that my mom had made and that she gave to me after I moved out.

Which is why, after all of that so many years ago, I find myself baffled to be compulsively collecting my used train tickets.


On New Jersey Transit when the conductor takes your ticket, they punch it, and at certain stations (like mine) they give your ticket back to you because you have to put it in the turnstile to exit the station.

I started noticing that the holes weren’t the same every time. They’re like clouds; I’m always trying to figure out what they are. I’ll smack CC on the arm and go, Hey look! It’s a rabbit! {smack} Hey look! It’s Stonehenge! One of the conductors told me they’re issued their own specific hole punch and it’s like their ID. Everything can be traced through the shape of their punch.


I found myself digging them out of the wastebasket in my bedroom if I accidentally threw them away. They got their own box. Then they outgrew their box.

That’s when I was all like, why the hell am I keeping my used train tickets?

Today I’m letting them go. No matter how many I keep, they won’t ever magically transform into my mom’s nativity set. But I’m still going to be looking at the punches each night on the way home from work, guessing what they are. Maybe one day I’ll get a hole punch that looks like the Virgin Mary. I mean , it’s no Jesus in a tortilla but, hey.

Do you collect anything weird? Ever found yourself collecting something without realizing you were doing it?

Oh Yes I’m Hot

The town I grew up in got cable when I was eight years old. It consisted of three channels: WTBS-Atlanta, WGN-Chicago, and USA. Plus you got a free month’s trial of HBO and I remember straining to listen through the family room door while my father watched Bo Derek in Ten, which was deemed inappropriate for my sister and I.

I still haven’t seen that movie. But I remember a bunch of the dialogue.

MTV hit the air in 1981 but we didn’t get that in my town. On Friday nights, if we could stay up late, we could catch some videos on USA’s Night Flight  or WTBS’s Night Tracks.

We had the same three channels up until my parents got divorced and I moved to the “city” with my mom and my sister.

And then, holy crap: there was MTV.

Between the summer we moved and the summer my grandma died from cancer, she came to visit us at our new apartment. That was my eighth grade year, highlights of which included seven Jennifers in my class (none of whom would speak to me), my locker number (666), getting mono, and wearing out the grooves on Duran Duran’s Rio and Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil. My sister and I introduced Grandma to MTV, and her favorite video, inexplicably, was Van Halen’s Hot For Teacher. 

This was the first thing to ever indicate to me that old people could be cool. It’s one of the reasons I’m staring down the barrel of 40 with anticipation rather than trepidation.

CC has a theory that you can’t be depressed while listening to Van Halen (and by “Van Halen” I mean everything up to and including MCMLXXXIV and not anything after that). I’ve tested this theory numerous times over the years and it appears to be true. Also, I have found that you cannot drive the speed limit while listening to Van Halen, and it is compulsory to scream sing along.

Grandma loved Hot For Teacher’s itty-bitty Van Halens, the ridiculous four-man choreography performed by a band containing only one member who could actually dance, and even the stripping teachers, but most of all she loved Waldo. Waldo in all his nervous, nerdy glory.

I love Waldo too. I feel like Waldo inside probably more often than not.

Grandma just howled every time Hot For Teacher came on- which at the time was approximately every 22 minutes.

I guess I have an extra reason to not be depressed while listening to Van Halen.

Every time I’m driving by myself, listening to Van Halen, blowing my voice out and shaving twenty minutes off my commute, I think of my grandma.