This is my dream: I am in a city—unnamed though familiar enough to me in my dream—in a commercial district dominated by antique shops, second-hand stores, and used bookstores including several antiquarian bookshops. The store front windows are crammed with the bric-a-brac, curios, gimcracks, and bibelots characteristic of the particular shop. They are both luring and alluring to me.
I am, by the way, entirely alone in my dream. No one else walks the streets. There is no sound of traffic, no buzz of commerce. I am not sure this means anything, and I certainly take no notice that, in my dream, none of the stores has customers or shop-keepers.
I browse through bins of leather-covered books, their colors, textures, and musty odors massaging all my senses. Here is a store filled with Toby jugs of all sizes and characters; there a store filled with nautical memorabilia—scrimshaw, ships’ bells, brass lanterns and portholes, nautical compasses, brass telescopes and sextants, even an old copper-covered diver’s helmet and a full-sized ship’s wheel. Another store front window is festooned with old gold jewelry, pocket watches, gold coins, gold cigarette cases all of which glitter and gleam, pulsing with a light of their own.
There is a sort of Dickensian “Old Curiosity Shop” feel to the streets and the stores. I feel a little like Nell’s grandfather in his shop…
The place through which he made his way at leisure was one of those receptacles for old and curious things which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust. There were suits of mail standing like ghosts in armour here and there, fantastic carvings brought from monkish cloisters, rusty weapons of various kinds, distorted figures in china and wood and iron and ivory: tapestry and strange furniture that might have been designed in dreams. The haggard aspect of the little old man was wonderfully suited to the place; he might have groped among old churches and tombs and deserted houses and gathered all the spoils with his own hands. There was nothing in the whole collection but was in keeping with himself nothing that looked older or more worn than he.
These are fantastic, chaotic displays that somehow never seem to completely overwhelm my senses. In fact, I find great comfort in both the extent and the variety of the treasures that surround me.
The dream is recurring, and I always welcome its return. I would like to think that, somewhere in this favored land, bands are playing, hearts are light, and the streets and stores of my dream really do exist. What a fine place that would be to live. But I know that I have never actually trod the streets of my dream nor browsed in its shops. And yet…and yet!
So, from what springs this curious, charming, welcoming dream? There are many theories about dreams, of course, dating from the ancient Sumerians in 3100 BC, to Plato, to Freud, to Calvin Hall in the late 1950s, to Ann Faraday in the 1970s. Preoccupation with unfulfilled sexual fantasies, and stress dreams—taking that test for which you are unprepared, forgetting your lines as you step on-stage, running naked down a crowded public street—aside, why might I be having this dream?
Well, Gentle Reader, the answer is that I am, in truth, living the dream here in my small suite of rooms at Stately Johnson Manor South, a space that some—even I—refer to as “The Bunker.” The Bunker, by the way, includes a sign that lights up in neon-blue like a ten-fold beacon in the night proclaiming The Bunker. It’s a beautiful piece of art given to me by my brother. Given—I fear—not so much as an embracing of my dream, but as a gentle chide.
Toby jugs? I’ve got about three dozen from miniatures to almost head-size. A ship’s wheel? Got it, though not full-size. I’ve also got a glorious, full-color, 18-inch tall, papier–mâché statue of a ship’s captain at the wheel. Next to him stands a shorter (15 inches) ship’s captain at the wheel, this one in bronze.
There are a dozen or so book-end sets some of which are actually used to support books, though most of the books—twelve-hundred or so—are found in the 14 bookcases that occupy much of the wall space of The Bunker and my attached bedroom.
The bookshelves contain, not only books, but other treasures such as a matched pair of rabbits in livery holding service trays upon which a candle might be impaled. There are commemorative plates including a John Wayne Commemorative Plate given to me, in jest, by my great and good friend, John Fortier. John Fortier is no fan of John Wayne, but the plate was produced by the Franklin Mint on bone china and trimmed with 24-carat gold. This is my only John Wayne Commemorative plate and I treasure it. There are many different John Wayne plates depicting him in various of his movie roles and I am a fan of John Wayne’s movies—if not the man himself or his politics. If you are somewhere and see a John Wayne Commemorative Plate for sale, buy if for me. I will gladly and promptly reimburse you.
What else decorates the bookshelves? I am an admirer of lusterware— a type of pottery or porcelain with a metallic glaze that gives the effect of iridescence—in its several variations of copper, gold, silver etc. On my shelves you will find a dozen or so lusterware pieces, none of which were particularly expensive, but all of which are fine examples of the craft. There are small brass or irons busts of characters from Mark Twain to Lincoln to Eisenhower to JFK, as well as a nifty Nixon commemorative medal.
Then there’s the array of decorative wooden boxes from cigar box size (oh, I have several old cigar boxes too) to breadbox size—about 15 or so of these little gems. These find a place primarily atop the bookcases. What also finds a place atop the bookcases are a half-dozen replicas of three-or-four-masted sailing ships. They will serve as a nice complement to the half-dozen or so framed pictures I have of three-or-four-masted sailing ships. But since there’s no current room on the walls to hang all these pictures, several of them are leaning against the bookcases, along with about two dozen empty frames that I recently purchased at a thrift shop.
My intention is to use these empty frames to hold some of the several hundred pieces of old sheet music—popular tunes of the day—that I purchased at Chester Creek Books & Antiques in Duluth, MN, my favorite “old stuff” emporium. The sheet music runs from the late 19th century to the 1920s and 30s. The graphics are spectacular and are works of art in their own right. I also purchased a trove of WWI sheet music, equally as spectacular, with titles like I didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier, Good-bye Broadway-Hello France, We’re all Going Calling On The Kaiser, Hunting The Hun, and Set Aside Your Tears Till The Boys Come Marching Home. They are going to look fantastic matted and put in my recently-acquired frames.
I can’t end the tour without mentioning my “Wall of Industry” that features an antique, hand-cranked, wall telephone, two 100-year-old+ regulator clocks that keep excellent time, a bright red (and very heavy) fire alarm box, and a card-punch time clock.
There are a few other odds-and-ends, but I sense you are getting weary, Gentle Reader, and so we will stop for now. Refreshments are available down in the fire-place room which, you will see, has a wall of books and treasures that is part of a separate tour.
You are always welcome here in The Bunker, even though my long-suffering wife, on her rare visits to The Bunker, claims she cannot breathe here. I claim that, if that’s so, it’s simply because she is out of shape and the climb up the stairs to reach The Bunker has winded her.
I’ll tell you who is not welcome here in The Bunker: any of those irritating Marie Kondo-decluttering-types. You know Marie Kondo, don’t you? The current guru of “organizing.” By the way, when I hear her name, after I stop shuddering, I hear Engelbert Humperdinck singing, Quando, Quando, Quando, Quando, and I start shuddering all over again. Of Marie Kondo, Wikipedia says, “In junior school, Kondo ran into the classroom to tidy up bookshelves while her classmates were playing in physical education class. Whenever there was nomination for class roles, she did not seek to be the class representative or the pet feeder. Instead, she yearned to be the bookshelf manager to continue to tidy up books.” But wait, it gets worse: Kondo said she experienced a breakthrough in organizing one day. “I was obsessed with what I could throw away. One day, I had a kind of nervous breakdown and fainted. I was unconscious for two hours [hmmm—sounds like Nancy’s recent experience here in the bunker]. When I came to, I heard a mysterious voice, like some god of tidying telling me to look at my things more closely. And I realized my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying.”
“God of tidying?” This is not the “what ever gods may be” that drove William Ernest Henley to pen Invictus. “God of tidying?” Give me a break!
On the other hand, there may be a kernel of wisdom here, if only one can extract honey from the weeds. Kondo’s calls her method of organizing KonMari [now I am thinking of Louie Prima’s Oh Marie which does not make me shudder]. The KonMari method consists of “gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that ‘spark joy’ and choosing a place for everything from then on.” Well, all righty then—all my belongings “spark joy” in me; and as for “a place for everything,” that’s summed up in a framed cartoon hanging on my bedroom wall whose caption reads: “A place for everything and everything all over the place.” Thank you, Marie Kondo, for providing me with a quasi-philosophical underpinning for the state of the bunker. I find that I am living, not only the dream, but KonMari as well. Kondo preaches: “Treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual monetary worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object.” Of this philosophy, I am a true believer.
So, back to the dream. I don’t remember when I realized that the dreamscape was, in reality, sort of the stage version of the bunker, but when that realization did come to me, it came like a bolt out of the blue. I still have the dream occasionally but living the dream—and practicing my own version of KonMari— is so much better.