The collector

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Jul 11, 2006 12:05 AM

When I was a kid I collected stamps. I never had much of a collection; most of my stamps were commonplace, the sort that came in packages of 500 for a buck or two. But I enjoyed looking at them and sticking them in my big blue album. They gave me a sense of the world beyond Los Angeles and a grounding in geography, but, mainly, I liked them because they were pretty.

My favorites came from a place called Tannu Tuva. Stamps must have been a major source of income for the country because they really went all-out. Most nations were satisfied commemorating monarchs, explorers, and presidents on little squares and rectangles. But Tannu Tuva’s stamps were huge and colorful, and, often as not, they were triangular.

As I look back after all these years, I seem to recall they were often illustrated with wild animals and jungle scenes. Which is why I assumed the country was tucked away somewhere in Africa. Only recently did I learn it’s in Asia. (I did say that collecting stamps gave me a grounding in geography, I never claimed it turned me into Marco Polo!)

While moving from one place to another, my stamp album and I got separated. I took it as a sign. For a while, I considered collecting coins, but I never really liked the way they looked.

It wasn’t that I lacked for interests. I always liked music; books; movies up until, say, the 70s; tennis; poker; and, of course, writing. But once the stamp collection went missing, I fell out of the habit of collecting things.

But in recent years, I’ve found the old urge creeping up again. The things I find I now enjoy sticking in a book are the really wacky, self-serving statements made by politicians. For instance, all by himself, Al Gore, Mr. Junk Science, could fill a fair-sized volume.

Of late, Mr. Gore has become the Cassandra of global warning. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, he’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere, proclaiming that Omaha will soon join Atlantis at the bottom of the sea. Being a liberal, he naturally closes off any possible debate by insisting that no serious scientist disagrees with his dire prophecies. Any climatologist who dares to suggest that Gore is suffering from delusions of competence is branded a charlatan in the pocket of the oil industry.

Furthermore, Gore intentionally overlooks the cyclical nature of the world’s climate, which apparently has little or nothing to do with man’s relatively puny activities on this planet. One question among many that Gore ignores is how it was that in a Newsweek cover story in 1976 the question being posed was: What can be done about global cooling?

As Charles Dudley Warner once remarked, everybody talks about the weather. But, fortunately, having passed away in 1900, Mr. Warner was spared ever running into Al Gore, the man who never shuts up about it.

However, when it comes to collecting the twaddle of politicians, the true aficionado doesn’t hesitate to cross party lines in pursuit of a golden nugget. So, although he’s not in Mr. Gore’s league, you can’t fault the GOP’s Sen. Arlen Specter for not trying. For instance, in explaining his opposition to an amendment defining marriage as the joining of a man and a woman in holy matrimony, the senior senator from Pennsylvania actually said, “We should keep the government off our backs, out of our pockets, and out of our bedrooms.” What’s more, he said it with a straight face, which is what separates the men from the boys in the nation’s Capitol.

Inasmuch as the proposed amendment doesn’t outlaw sodomy, his reference to bedroom activities makes no sense at all. But when a U.S. senator announces that he wants the feds off our backs and out of our pockets, you expect to see his nose expand like a telescope, putting Cyrano and Pinocchio to shame.

The problem with collecting political hokum as a hobby is that it hardly leaves you time for anything else. Really, no sooner are you jotting down Hillary Clinton’s self-righteous remarks about Ann Coulter then President Bush is once again denying that his amnesty plan, which certainly waddles, swims, and quacks like an amnesty plan, isn’t really an amnesty plan. Perhaps he and Sen. Specter could have a competition involving dueling noses and sell tickets.

One thing is for sure—so long as politicians keep talking, I’m going to need to get a much bigger book!