Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ever Elusive Always Exclusive

Just like most gay men, I love to shop. More importantly though, I love to hunt. My addiction to finding the ever elusive always exclusive deal dates back to childhood where I would pester my mom into taking me to the grocery store. There I would sit in the shopping cart pointing out things that I wanted my mom to buy. I was always on the lookout for my favorite cereal (BooBerry) mostly because I knew it was hard to find on the shelf. The cereal's Count Chocula and FrankenBerry were much more popular, but BooBerry - that was the rarity on the shelf and consequently I loved it all the more.

Plus it made my milk turn blue. What kid wouldn't love that?

Once in Third Grade, while playing over at my friend Chris' house I spotted a box of BooBerry nestled in the top of the shelf of his kitchen cabinet. I distinctly remember being disappointed that someone else had discovered this cereal. I thought I had the exclusive rights to this brand and flavor! It never occured to me that there were others out there that were connosieur's of this hard-to-find cereal.

Chris did not seem like a likely candidate. First off, he dressed poorly, in ugly printed shorts (the precursor to the '80 surfer jams) and ill fitting shirts - and since he was the oldest, he didn't have the same excuse I did with hand-me-down clothing. His tight curly hair was always a mess - and looking back it definitely fit the definition of a "white man 'fro" ala Larry Bird.

Plus he was Catholic. I'm not sure why this mattered, but in my young mind Catholics were not connosieur's of exclusive difficult to obtain items. Catholics were too busy going to confession and eating Mrs. Paul's fish sticks on Friday (something that seemed the exact opposite of "hard-to-find"). No, this mindset was something only us Asians, and my fellow Jewish friends understood.

In short, I didn't think Chris had the taste that was needed to really love BooBerry. But I was also slightly thrilled that Chris might be one of my kind. Was he someone who understood that BooBerry was special because it was so rarely available at the local grocery store? Had I misjudged him from the get go (our friendship was more of proximity than anything in common - he lived at the other end of the street in our neighborhood). Was he more than the sum of his parts?

Alas I had not. He hated the cereal, and his parents bought it for his younger brothers (they were fraternal twins) who both adored it. I had a new found respect for them (despite being Catholic) but my friendship with Chris did not last. He moved to a different subdivision the following year, and though we still went to the same school, I rarely hung out with him anymore.

As I grew up my desire for the limited edition item evolved. After my brief flirtation with comic books (ask me anything about the X-men circa 1986) I started collecting music. Music became my passion from high school throughout college and beyond. I still have a huge music collection, but most of it is digital - which is a good thing, as AJ and I are slowly but surely outgrowing our "cozy" one bedroom cozy apartment. I use the word "cozy" strictly in a real estate term meaning our apartment is small and full of stuff. Because it is - mostly my stuff, but still. Stuff.

My obsession with buying music had me seeking out rare and deleted 12" singles and remixes - hard to find items that were even harder to find in the suburbs of St. Louis. Once my friend Seth got his driver's license I would pester him into driving our group of friends down to Vintage Vinyl in the city, where I would peruse the used CD's and records, in the hopes of finding that rare CD's and vinyl records such as the out-of-print limited edition pressing of the Talking Heads' Speaking In Tongues where Robert Rauschenberg had designed the vinyl edition.

side note #1: Seth was the first one in my group of friends in high school to drive because he was a year or two older than everyone else. He was held back in school, because of health issues. He had a rare chronic condition similar to severe arthritis that made it too difficult for him to actually walk on his own, though he had the use of all limbs. Thus, despite the fact that he was in a wheelchair, he was the only one of us that could drive.

We would have to put his wheelchair in the trunk of his Ford Mustang convertible as he drove us around, and then pull it out when he parked and wheel it to the driver's side of the car for him to get in. We would cruise down highway 40 in his convertible listening to The Steve Miller Band singing along to "I really love your peaches.. I wanna shake your tree..." a lyric that his girlfriend Debra would get completely offended by.

One of our favorite things to do was to go to McDonald's (where one of my best friends Carrie Collins worked) and go through the drive thru and get a Big Mac and fries, and eat them in the parking lot. Every now and then Debra would pull out his wheelchair - while Seth was still sitting in the car, and wheel herself in the wheelchair around the parking lot. When she saw someone who was coming out of McDonalds, she would slowly get out of the wheelchair, shaking as if she was weak, and tentatively start walking. Then she would raise her hands in the air and proclaim "It's a MIRACLE!" in her best southern baptist born again voice. A feat all the more remarkable, as Debra was Jewish, complete with a full on jew-fro. Occasionally she would pretend to collapse onto the asphalt right after her proclamation of a miracle, just to see the customers reactions. I think the manager of McDonald's finally caught on to us, and we stopped hanging out there.

Of course, I could be recalling it all differently in my head as opposed to what really happened, as I have a rather faulty memory when it comes to that sort of thing, but I will say that we always got great parking whenever he drove us anywhere. He would often say "Membership has it's priveledges" as we would pull up into a parking lot....

side note #2: I did eventually find a copy of the Talking Heads Robert Rauschenberg edition of Speaking in Tongues, but not until much later. My friend Renee came across it while we were shopping together at the same Vintage Vinyl in college and came over and showed me her find. I begged and pleaded with her to let me buy it instead, and finally she gave in, even though I know deep inside she wanted it. I have always felt guilty about that day, but when I tried to give it to her a couple of months later she refused.

My love of 12" singles and remixes and limited edition musical releases evolved to a point where I was tracking down hard to find bootlegs and promotional copies of CD's that had unreleased tracks by random obscure artists. It didn't matter that most of the bootlegs I got were crap sound (six generations down cassette dubs...), nor did it matter that I really didn't like or listened to most of the obscure remixes that I had discovered while working at the college radio station (KWUR 90.3FM - a radio station that operated on 10 watts of power, or as we kids like to say "10,000 Milliwatts of power! - you could barely get receive it in the dorms). Did I really need a copy of Sinead O'Connor's Jump in the River (extended remix) featuring Karen Finley ranting on it? Good question, and at the time I would have told you ABSOLUTELY. Now, I'm not quite sure.

Nowadays, with the internet, P2P file sharing, and websites like EBay and eil.com tracking down out-of-print or promotional only copies of CD's and other music rarities aren't a big deal. I no longer have that drive or desire to search for that only released on dubbed cassette copy of the side project by the lead singer of Tsunami and the member of Ida. That's not to say I haven't spent many hours online trying to track them down, but I know eventually it will find it's way to me. And if it hasn't, I really didn't need it (if anyone knows where I can find a copy of that project, by the way, which is called SLACK, please pass it my way).

Every time I think I'm slowing down and no longer obsessed with something, this quirky part of my personality flairs up again. A couple of months ago, AJ and I became obscenely obsessed with a game called Killer Bunnies. Killer Bunnies is card game with a silly name but an complete addictive gameplay. We've played it with a multitude of friends and most (not all) have fallen under the thrall of it. One of friends ran out and bought the game right after playing it with us the first time.

Killer Bunnies has many expansion packs. Each pack changes the nature of the game, and though this isn't a problem per se, the problem lies in the fact that there are these limited edition promotional cards called "the Omega Series" circulating around. LIMITED EDITION PROMOTIONAL CARDS!!!! Once I found out about those, I knew I was in trouble.

Half the promotional cards are no longer available. The company that makes Killer Bunnies were kind enough to send me the ones that were available though. And though I love those, I feel sad knowing that I won't have every single card available out there.

On top of that, the next expansion pack (the Ominous Onyx Booster Deck) is suppose to be the last pack. What are we going to do when that is released? We'll have NOTHING TO COLLECT!!!!


AJ and are working on this though. Our obsession has grown to the point that we are currently planning and designing our very OWN booster pack. All originally designed and created on our inkjet printer. We can't simulate the paper stock of the cards, but we figure, if we have enough cards printed, it won't matter. Most booster packs have 55 cards. We have 40 card ideas already. I'm sure coming up with another 15 won't matter. I'll keep you informed, and if you ever want to stop by and play with us, let us know. I promise you the expansion pack will dazzle and delight you.

The Killer Bunnies obsession has actually waned a bit recently. We haven't played the game in weeks, and our obsession with making our own booster pack was put on hold for various reasons. We have every intention of finishing it, but I think it might be a longer term project for now. Along with my other longer term projects like creating our vacation scrap book/website slideshow (see my unfinished prototypes here and here), reworking my design portfolio/website, and writing that novel that I was suppose to write in this month of November.

For now though, my obsession with that game seems to have been replaced with an obsession with finding the perfect t-shirt. Actually this T-shirt obsession started way before Killer Bunnies, but was just waylaid a bit during the KB time period. As the KB obsession wore off, the t-shirt obsession has come back with a vengeance.

Of course, being a gay man, my obsession and hunt for the rarest find naturally translated to clothing. This is all them more difficult as there really is no such thing as a the perfect t-shirt. This has not stopped me from become utterly obsessed with t-shirts of all sorts. I have found myself online surfing away, trying to find the cutest, funniest, coolest, most stylish, or just plain cleverest t-shirt that I can find. I find myself shopping after work or during lunch, going to the new mall across the street, or to H&M or Urban Outfitters trying to see if anything new has come in or has gone on sale. In short, I find myself utterly obsessed with t-shirts.

The absolute worst though, is when the t-shirt is labelled as "limited edition." Damn them. I hate being a target market, but that is exactly what I am.

And the reality is that I actually am a target market. As gay man, I'm inherently going to be overly concerned with my appearance. As a graphic designer, I'm going to inherently going to be attracted to a well designed shirt, a clever graphic, or a nice use of type. And as someone who reads incessantly, and writes long winded blog entries (hey I do have an English degree) I'm going to appreciate a witty pun, or a well-worded phrase used on a t-shirt. Add that all together, along with someone who loves to hunt for something that few others have, and you have the makings of a t-shirt whore.

But labelling t-shirts as limited edition is really the icing on the cake. Because the reality is, most t-shirts are limited edition. Who prints the same design t-shirt indefinitely? It's what they call "seasons" in the fashion industry. But you tack the phrase "limited edition" on to the design, and I'm so your bitch. Limited run, Limited edition, Short run, Hard to find, Supplies limited, Rare, Collectible, One-of-a-kind, Out of Print, Difficult to find, or Unique are all key words that make me drool. The idea that I could have one of only a few, that I won't actually be able to get it once they are all gone...it's enough to make me cry.

Thankfully, I have some rules for myself. I try to buy shirts that are made from small companies (not big chain stores - though I do occasionally buy shirts from Urban Outfitters, Old Navy or H&M) mostly via the internet (unless I can find it bargain clearance in a local store - or it's from a small boutique that sells local designers, or independent designers). I try to cap my t-shirt price as under $30 (it used to be $20 but I've since raised the price, and I think I have even stretched it out to $35 recently - but only if I really love the shirt). And I try not to have more than one delivery of shirts coming at a time. Thus if I have a shipment of shirts (a shirtment if you will) coming, I won't order anything until it arrives.

I still have a lot of t-shirts regardless of these rules. And in fact I know that I am completely obsessed with t-shirts when I start thinking of everyday items in terms of t-shirt prices. If I go out to eat for lunch I usually spend $10 a day. That's $50 a week. That's at least TWO T-SHIRTS that I could have purchased if I had just brought my lunch instead!

I used to think in terms of CD's (purchasing five lunches out during the work week equals five used CD's) but then I discovered burning CD's from friends and P2P downloading. Then I discovered TV on DVD, and that's how I judged costs (five lunches equal one season box set of a TV show). Then I discovered Netflix. Now it's t-shirts. If logic follows, my next big purchase will be a silk screening kit and then who knows that I'll be obessed with next.

And in the end I realize this is what life is about. Life isn't about the actual elusive item itself. It's about the search for the elusive item. And just as I go about trying to find that elusive item, I realize it's the hunt that is more important. It's the process of hunting that I enjoy so much. And it is process of seeking and looking that is so important.

Because that's where I learn who I am and what I want. And I though I may never find that perfect t-shirt, or that rare Carnivore 7" by Liz Phair, or that out-of-print Killer Bunny Omega Card, I will have found something more important. I will have found myself in the process. The person who is always looking for perfection. The person who is always looking for the next best thing.

And when I can't find the next best thing, that's okay. Because I will be the person who makes the next best thing. Because that is what life is all about. Striving for the best. After all, we're all limited edition of one. I'm just trying to milk that edition for all it's worth.


At 8:05 AM, Anonymous The Beautiful Kind said...

Oh my dear God when I read this I almost felt what it's like to use your brain convulutions as a rollerblade path. You covered some major territory in this posting: childhood, the cereal aisle, Chris' house, high school, McDonald's parking lot, and stores galore. I'm exhausted.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Rita said...

I like it.

Also, I love you.

Also, I'm waiting to see the AJ&Irvin Exclusive Killer Bunnies Expansion Pack, which I got excited and thought you were going to preview here. (You never know WHERE these posts might go!)

Also, your t-shirt collection is the bomb.

I find this post wonderful, illuminating, and also, reassuring! (Like seeing your vacation slideshow website prototypes, which I didn't know you had!!) Cuz, man, I've got a lot of projects on hold, too.



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