Having a few salt-and-pepper sets is one thing; having close to two hundred is quite another. There seems to be something harmlessly but nevertheless so, so sadly eccentric about having all that many. Why would any rational being want to surround himself with so many different versions of more or less the same sort of objects, objects whose only obvious purpose, unless you are determined to ingest enough salt to die of a massive coronary and enough pepper to create a sneeze large enough to blow the CN Tower down, seems to be to fill up too much space and offer an endless nagging reminder about how much you hate dusting. Which I do. I hate dusting a lot. So how did I end up with so many, many things that need dusting?
I feel safe in saying that it wasn’t really my fault. I admit that I did buy that mouse and cheese–and that, in the months following that first fatal purchase, I did buy a few more pairs that interested me, for reasons I plan to talk about later.
But then, ah, then–
Then my children noticed them. And realized that I had been buying them. For me. And said Eureka!–or something to that effect.
The thing is, they’d been complaining for years that when gift-giving occasions came around, on Father’s Day and my birthday and at Christmas, they could never figure out what kind of gift to give me. It wasn’t that I didn’t have needs and desires–anything but. it was that, as they saw it, when I had those needs and desire, I immediately went out and did something about it. I bought whatever it was that would satisfy my craving. I was, in other words, way too self-indulgent to ever need anything the might think of giving me, for by the time they gave it, I already had it. Or maybe even two of them, if two is what i felt like it. It was impossible to get me a gift.
But, now, finally, there was an apparently endless supply of gift possibilities for an ongoing parade of gift-giving occasions. When all else failed, they could always get me some salt-and-peppers.
And so it has been. For years now, I’ve received two or three or four or more salt-and-pepper sets every birthday, every Father’s day, every Christmas. The collection has become a family activity, not just mine. Everyone seems to be always out there, on the hunt, wresting various weird sets of unusual binary opposites from secondhand shops and flea markets everywhere. And everyone has to watch and join the commentary as I open the packages and unveil the eccentric treasures inside and taslk aobut how quirky or vulgar or interesting they are.
And here is the result:
About forty feet of shelves. An army of salts and peppers. Not a large army, I realize, as I look around the internet at collectors with thousands and thousands of shakers and an apparent lust for ever, ever more.
As I look at my collection as a group, I’m reminded of trips I took as a child to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where they were what seemed to acres of rooms full of low tables of marching Chinese armies made of terracotta or porcelain–figures buried in the tombs of great warriors, I believe. Those miniature armies were interesting in theory, but boring in fact: each warrior looked so much like all the other warriors, and each army looked so much like all the other armies. They were no competition for the dinosaur skeletons and halls full of medieval armour in other parts of the museum. But salt-and-peppers, had there been any in the ROM in those good old days, would have been competition, I think. They may have, en masse, the teeming anthill effect of the funeral troops–but they are intriguingly unlike each other, in a rainbow of colours and a cornucopia of shapes and offering a deep pool of implications to think about. That’s why I’m writing about them here.
So I’m not the least bit sorry I have them. They give me much pleasure. I just wish I also had someone willing to dust them.