Saturday, August 13
Don't Look In The Basement
Above: Most of the button collection (there's about half as many on the back), stuck to an old satin smoking jacket, now residing in a covered clothes rack in the basement. At one time it graced the dining room, but then my wife decided she wanted the rescued department-store mannequin that wore it to take to school for some reason.
Sometime in 1968, shortly after putting on my manly gown, I saw a two-page feature on buttons in a magazine and was immediately hooked. Buttons seemed like the very pinnacle of East Village smartass cool, which was all I aspired to be. Then that summer my best friend came back from the Auto Show with posters! Posters, we knew from other magazines, were also very cool, in more of a West Coast psychedelia way. I conned my dad into thinking I wanted to go look at cars. Instead I immediately went looking for the poster guy, and when I found him he also had...buttons!
My dad's a very sweet guy, and he always rather encouraged idiosyncratic behavior in his children. So he didn't even ask to see what I'd bought, and I'm not sure how he'd have reacted. My allowance money had covered three: a Peace symbol, "Where is Lee Harvey Oswald Now That We Really Need Him?", and "Marcel Proust is a Yenta." I didn't know what that last one meant, exactly, but I was pretty sure it was funny.
Buttons, sadly, disappeared sometime after that, as did the three I bought that evening, but they made a comeback in the 80s, which is what most of that collection dates to. I worked downtown in those days, and generally stuck a button on my lapel to entertain my co-workers (never more than one at a time, which I consider the height of gaucherie). I used to pop over to O'Malia's grocery for lunch, and as I approached the entrance one sunny afternoon, there stood then-Indiana First Lady Susan Bayh, wife of Evan, who ironically enough is cute as a button. She was collecting for some charity. She was standing there by her cheery self, no visible police guards or flunkies, greeting people walking into the store and telling them about whatever her cause was. I dropped a fin in the collection box, because at least her father-in-law was a real Democrat, making sure she saw it the way you do with charitable giving that you'd rather not give. "That's very nice of you," she said. "Oh, what's your button say?" I was slow to react.
It was one of the more scabrous ones. I don't remember which one exactly; maybe one from the list below. All I remember is she moved her head in long enough to read it, turned even whiter, and took a step back in a sort of unobtrustive, wife-of-a-politician way. I wished her good luck.
The basement's now fairly kitten-proof, but I'm still moving stuff around, and I pulled out the smoking jacket this evening. Thought you might enjoy some of the highlights:
• General Philosophy:
"It's never too late to have a happy childhood"
"Every day is a blind date"
"Live Each Day as if You Gave a Shit"
• Human Sexuality:
"Are you using your mouth for anything important right now?"
"Do you give good head or are all my friends lying to me?"
"Guess How Many Donuts Can Fit On My Dick"
"God Revealed Himself to Me, and Boy, Is He Hung"
"Jerry Falwell Can Suck My Dick"
"Money is how people with no talent keep score"
"We Cheat The Other Guy & Pass the Savings On to YOU!"
• Popular Culture:
"Ward, You've Been Awfully Hard on the Beaver Lately!"
"Are you going to come quietly or do I have to use earplugs?"
"TV Made Me What I Am Today"
• Personal Growth:
"I Don't Speak English"
"10 Cents A Dance"
"Cheerful People Are Just Ignorant"
"I Take Drugs Seriously"
• National Politics
In the I-thought-it-couldn't-get-any-more-depressing elections of '80, '84, and '88 I relied on antiques: "I Like Ike" and "No Third Term"
'92: "Shit happened" with picture of Bush/Quayle; "Schwarzkopf for President. Let's Just Get It Over With"
'96: "You're Just Mad Because You Aren't Getting Any"
• Best of Show
Belongs to my wife: "If They Can Send a Man to the Moon, Why Can't They Send Them All?"