Dan Ruth - Among the Collectors

Dan Ruth - Among the Collectors

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Museum

There was an amazing magical building that was a ten minute walk from my house. It was a hideous 1970’s grey brick construct; a Museum of sorts called The Richland Mall. I can remember clearly going to the Museum as a child and wondering through one of the Museum’s prized exhibitions. The Spencer Gift Store was to a young boy in the early 70’s, a menagerie of bright filament fiber optic lights looking like possessed creatures out of Dr. Seuss, the black-light posters, lava lamps, prismatic rock and roll belt buckles, glittering key chains and the first smells of adolescence. The black lights in Spencer’s had an all too familiar smell, as did the incense, the cigarette smoke and the smell of the freshly made transfer tee-shirts - hundreds of them. The transfer images were catalogued along the wall in metal frames like a puberty exhibit. Superman and Keep on Truckin’ were two of the most popular one’s but I distinctly remember the “Eat at the Y” tee shirt with the image of the woman standing there, the denim lines of her crotch assembling a perfectly formed “Y.” I didn’t get it. There were faces too. Faces that I would follow for the next decade or so in the pages of Circus and Creem magazine – Mick, Keith and Roger – Pete and Jimi, Alice and David, Donna and Leif. . .

Then there was the glassware in the Spencer Gift Store. The highball glasses with images of women and men nude save for the small patch of plastic that covered their naughty bits and was supposed to “disappear” when you added a cold beverage. These were the things that I remember. Truly vintage items that continue to bring me back to that specific place and time. I wanted all of it.

I wanted the things in the Spencer Gift Shop. I wanted more comic books. I wanted the comic books not only for the comics themselves but for the ads in the back of the comic books. The ads for plastic toy soldiers, red-hot pepper gum and most importantly I desperately wanted my own pair of x-ray specks. I was now curious about my body but far more curious about the bodies of other boys. I thought it would be cool to have a pair of x-ray specks to see what some of the other boys looked like naked. I was on a quest now because it was beginning to dawn on me that I was not like other boys my age. Instead of playing in the backyard with the other kids, I felt more comfortable playing with my sister’s Barbie dolls, putting on puppet shows for my family and neighbors or doing something somewhere else - pretending to be someone else – anyone else. More often than not, I would wander the mall alone. I wandered through the adolescent Museum looking for keys and signs of what was to come. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t lonely at all. I preferred to be alone and wander without anyone telling me what to do or say – to be free in the Museum was a coveted feeling, a feeling I will be forever grateful for.

Overall, my favorite wing of the Museum was the National Record Mart and my favorite exhibit, the “New Release” wall. Almost everyday I would visit the new release wall and take in the colors, outrageous costumes and beautiful album cover art work. I would wonder for what seemed a divine infinity every time I entered the record store; looking through the stacks with all of the posture of a drill sergeant and all the fascination that I should have been exhibiting in school - the albums were far more interesting. . .