When Phil was in eighth grade, he tells me, he needed something to display for Hobby Night at Rachel Carson Intermediate School. He grew up in a small three-bedroom apartment in Queens, NY with his older sister and mother, so he didn’t exactly have room, aside from under his mattress, for collecting anything aside from low-rent porn, and even that, he tells me now, is something he can’t remember ever having. Nary a burlesque postcard in sight. Though if he had collected such items, it most certainly wouldn’t be displayed on a table for Hobby Night.
When asked what he’d be featuring, Phil looked blankly at his friend Peter. They both shrugged. There was a birdwatcher among them: the assistant principal, Mr. Sherman, who set up a table with binoculars, photos, and books of birds. Special bird calls, and perhaps, as I imagine it, a fishing vest and a peculiar hat. Some of the students set up dioramas and elaborate solar system representations. Phil and Peter couldn’t be showed up.
Displaying his grandfather’s collection of cigars would take too much explaining. Phil decided they’d collect business cards, so one Saturday afternoon, they set out to visit every single business establishment lining Northern Blvd. Entering car dealerships, restaurants, insurance storefronts, and nail salons.
“So what happened?” I asked, waiting for the punch line of his story, expecting some coming-of-age lesson.
“What do you mean?”
“Your point, what’s the point? I mean, so do you collect these business cards and find that asking for a business card at a corner deli is some secret code you two have just broken that reveals some prostitution ring?”
“Or that you met some woman in a nail salon who gave you your first blowjob?”
“Oh, I know, that you decided that day, in some big ‘before and after’ moment, that you’d go into business representing New Kids On The Block?”
“Um, you asked me if I ever collected anything.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
These words ought to be stamped on my new business cards.