I collect Junes.
Like, months of Junes. Good Junes.
I've collected other things in my life. Tangible things. In third grade, I wanted a collection of something so badly that I dropped an entire five dollar slice of savings on erasers at the McMillian Elementary School school store. Clown, baseball, space aliens, even little bunny erasers. The parents running the store, thankfully none of them parents of my friends, must have found me strange to stuff my pockets full of eighty-seven erasers. But I wanted a collection of something desperately just to say I had something.
For who doesn't want a collection?
I don't know why I didn't start to collect something more masculine, something with heft, like baseball cards. Or Battle Beasts, those action figures with the magic stickers on their bellies. Actually, I do know; I didn't know where to get baseball cards. As tender as my father was, we were never baseball people. And Battle Beasts weren't cheap, so they were out of the question. The family budget was to be spent on important things. So I tried erasers and showed my loot to my classmates who, predictably, were unimpressed.
Not discouraged, I showed my new collection to my mother when I came home. She was even less impressed than my peers. "They look all the same, Brian," she said. "No," I insisted. "They are all different colors. I illustrated my point by showing the clown erasers were in no less than five different colors, and there were even three distinct types of clown erasers, and I had each unique clown in every color offered.
"Gee," said my mother. "Huh. I guess that's great. As long as your happy. You'll certainly never be without an eraser when you need one!"
That was one of my earliest recollections of someone being patronizing to me.
And it killed my eraser collection.
I ended up giving them away to my classmates, who were grateful, and possible forgave me for my eccentricity because of it.
But I still wanted to collect things.
So now I collect Junes. Bright Junes, Happy Junes. Junes stuffed with roller coasters and Coca-Cola. And Cedar Point Trips. Two of them. Or excursions to Buffalo.
But before catching the June-Bug, and after failing with the erasers, I tried caps. Baseball caps, certainly, but any cap would do, even foam trucker caps. I was in fifth grade now, proud to be older, and wandering around the neighborhood garage sale. For some reason, it was orchestrated that every home on our long, Pennsylvania road had a garage sale on the exact same Saturday of the year. In retrospect, I suppose this meant we were all swapping each other's junk, but I was insulated from such observations. I bebopped around the neighborhood buying up every cap I could find, so I could start a collection of those. I scored at least twenty-six of varying credibility, but I didn't care; I wanted a collection.
I took my hats home, rummaged in my father's workshop for a fistful of nails and a hammer, bounded up the steps, climbed to the top of my bunk bed, and BAM, BAM, BAM nailed little hooks into the wall for my hat collection. The nails, of course were meant to be the hooks.
I did six rows of six, then plunk, plunk, plunk, draped each cap's plastic clip with the adjustable Braille on each nail. I surveyed my work and it looked amazing, all those hats hanging there above my bunk bed. Outstanding.
My father wasn't as pleased. What was done was done, he supposed, the hats would look better than the nails and their holes, so they could remain, but he spoke to me about real estate and the art of keeping things nice.
But what about the art of collections?
"Why don't you collect baseball cards?" he asked, or some other such similar question.
"Because you don't take me to baseball games," I responded, or some other such similar response.
Which wasn't true; he had taken me to one by that point, but that was hardly fertile ground to start a card collection. One needed to be emotionally invested in the players for that. Of course, it never dawned on me how I was emotionally connected to erasers or caps either.
"Just ask next time you want to bang something into the wall," he said.
And the hats stayed up until they one by one got lost on camping trips, confiscated at school (boys could not wear hats, though girls could, a horrid injustice to me at the time) or stolen by my younger brothers yearning for fraternal accessories.
So that was the end of my cap collection. Scattered and lost to Puckish winds of boyhood.
But I don't lose Junes. No, sir. No one can lose Junes, and that's the beauty of collecting them. Junes ferment like wine and never spoil, never go bad, and stick around for the long hall. And you don't need to bang nails into walls to display Junes. Junes don't take up space.
But books do. Ah, books! I started collecting those in earnest after returning from the Philippines. I had big dreams, big, big, dreams of teaching literature and pontificating like a gladiator to arenas of undergraduates. I wanted to be Harold Bloom.
So I bought books. This was a good collection. It was a collection, yes, but a collection with purpose! This was a collection of tools for my future trade, bricks for my castle of literary awesomeness. And not one to purchase inferior bricks, I study lists of Good Books: The Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century; The Harvard Honors Reading List; The Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels of the 1960s, etc. etc. etc. The purpose obviously being that when I was scouring thrift stores I would be able to separate the bricks from the rubble. After all, I worked at a gas station where I chased cars trying to steal 3 dollar a gallon gas; I was on a tight budget. A true collector approaches his material with maturity, pragmatism, and strategy.
And the best part was, no one mocked me for my collection. Yes, this young man had learned his lesson regarding erasers and caps. Those things are stupid. Lame-O City. Books are cool. Chicks dig a man with book-lined walls in his bedroom. It's a sign of class. It oozes and bleeds sophistication. And books have heartbeats. They pulse with living words, because if a book is still present, it's author is still living, still speaking, and alive. I liked lying awake in my bed at night looking at my stacks of books, their heartbeats sounding like war as I drifted to sleep.
I thought I finally had it made. I had a collection and it was good.
But Junes gave heartbeats too, and I learned this soon.
In an October, I went to the library at college and Met-A-Girl, a blonde girl, which I was partial too, because I once had blonde hair but through my impurities, somehow lost its splendor as it darkened to light sand, then dark sand, and finally what others call brown but I insist is matured blonde. This girl had no such misfortune. Her hair remained blonde, and bright, and sunny, and I knew that symbolized good things.
With testosterone (after all, I was a collector of books! a hearty bibliophile! no erasers in my pockets or trucker hats on my head now!) I requested a date with her, an offer which was accepted, and together we stumbled through jack-o-lanterns, Niagara Falls, Thanksgiving tucked into Tupperware in a nocturnal gas station, Christmas trees, Christmas cookies, Christmas presents, Christmas carols, a Valentine's Day, a St. Patrick's Day, a spring break, and an Easter where negotiations were made, plans ironed out, rings bought, rooms booked, flowers ordered, and a dress obtained, all so my first June, my very first fluttering June, could be captured, a jar lid punctured, and have its multifaceted beauty glow in my collection.
2005 was the last June I passed by, a mundane month where I knew no blonde girls, and June 2006, on the 3rd to be precise, is my vintage June, the earliest in my collection.
And so good reader, today I now have eight of them. Eight good, good Junes. Junes with good health that when I place the stethoscope of my thoughts upon I hear the circumstances that crafted my sons, good memories that make me wish to build and remain and see how long the architecture of companionship can last.
Oh, I still collect other things. I think a guy like me has to. Those close to me know I have a soda can collection in my basement right now, a little clutter I operate with my sons, a strong 261 cans and counting. My wife, my bride, my Eighth June, just brought me another one, a limited edition Dr. Pepper Vanilla Float just yesterday evening (she sees things and thinks of me like that) bringing my collection to 262. I even keep a little blog about my soda can collection (Google the words Cans-In-The-Basement, it will be the first hit, like a champ) which is a far better strategy I suppose than banging nails into the walls of my home. I like my soda cans. I love my bride for indulging in my habit.
And I like my books. I still collect those too, and I am grateful my bride allows me to keep so many.
But Junes, Junes are intangible, you see, and that's what makes them great. Junes are the appetizers of summer for me, when I am reminded of my Girl-I-Met, and I recollect the good fortune of having a companion by my side, a companionship that started eight years ago.
Yes, Junes have heartbeats, their memories are alive like books, and they beat a little louder every year today.
So, Happy 8th Anniversary, Rock Star. Let's begin hunting down that ninth June. I hear it's a beautiful one, and it sparkles in the light.