Magazine article The American Conservative

Thoughts for Your Penny?

Magazine article The American Conservative

Thoughts for Your Penny?

Article excerpt

Sentimental slob that I am, I am a terrible bettor. If I drop by Batavia Downs to watch the horses run, I inevitably blow my dough on a hobbling long shot starting from the eighth post position. My March Madness brackets are filled with improbable victories by small Catholic colleges and schools from Upstate New York and the Rockies; my Final Four is liable to be Siena, Binghamton, Montana State, and Brigham Young. On Election Day, I predict impossible third-party upsets and dramatic rebukes to the Masters of War. I never win, but then what fun is winning?

So it was found money when I won a pile of "units" in my friend Steve's annual college football bowl pool. I bet this year like Dick Cheney ordering assassinations: grimly, ruthlessly, without a drop of human feeling. Competence is cold comfort.

Upon receipt of the loot, I consulted my list of Stuff I've Wanted to Buy But Never Got Around to It: a poster of "Zabriskie Point" (Antonioni's ridiculously bad but mesmerizing "youth rebellion" movie), the collected albums of Tom Russell and Townes Van Zandt, a signed Sarah Orne Jewett The Country of the Pointed Firs. As the tune goes, I'm not askin' for much.

My dad is an inveterate collector who is always picking up milk bottles from defunct dairies and old baseball gloves and railroad watches (befitting a New York Central man).

I have inherited the trait, albeit in desultory, sporadic fashion. I collect things for their evocations, their associations: programs and ticket stubs (1960s baseball, local theater, Canadian Football League); postcards (our street in 1910, Sinclair Lewis's home, 19th-century observatories); badges and banners from local fairs and rallies; hatboxes and shoehorns from the downtown stores of my boyhood; campaign pinbacks from the ones who had a notion, from Hiram Johnson to Norman Mailer.

In Candy's room, there are pictures of her heroes on the wall. Thirty years ago I played that album so hard it skipped every other groove, and if I never got to Candy's room, well, my walls, too, are plastered with pictures I have collected. Scattered among my daughter's artwork and family photos on my office walls, these real Americans look down on me, and I up to them: William Jennings Bryan, Gore Vidal, Randy Smith, Eugene V. Debs, George McGovern, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman, Batavia Clippers teams of the 1940s, Dorothy Day, Thomas Wolfe, Barber Conable, Al Smith, Burton K. …

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