The Experience Collector

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When I was younger, maybe 12 or 13, I had a fantasy one night while laying in bed that as I was about to fall asleep, someone burst into my room with some sort of crises easily solved by someone who had been in that situation before. Someone like me. I would be an adviser, a guide, what I would later realize might be the equivalent to a dorm’s resident director, perhaps? In my mind, I was Charles from Charles in Charge. Somehow, I thought Charles from Charles in Charge was cool.

When I was younger, maybe 12 or 13, I had a fantasy one night while laying in bed that as I was about to fall asleep, someone burst into my room with some sort of crises easily solved by someone who had been in that situation before. Someone like me. I would be an adviser, a guide, what I would later realize might be the equivalent to a dorm’s resident director, perhaps? In my mind, I was Charles from Charles in Charge. Somehow, I thought Charles from Charles in Charge was cool.

I would later fulfill that role to some degree in high school after I had stayed back in 9th grade. I was a year older than many of my new friends. I grew my hair long, could finally grow a respectable beard and subsequently looked older than my 15 going on 16 years. Looking back, I did not fully enjoy my role as wizened elder, because I was still trying to find my place in the crowd. I had not experienced enough to consider myself satisfied, thus comfortable to give advice and guide from the sidelines when necessary. I was only a kid.

It would be fair to call myself sheltered (I mean, c’mon, I thought Charles in Charge was cool). I grew up in central New Jersey and did not stray far from it until I was almost 22 and the Brookdale Community College forensics (speech and debate) team participated in a tournament in the Czech Republic. I did not lose my virginity until later that summer, the summer before I went away to Alfred University. I did not vote until I had finally left home and moved into a shared house in Princeton in late 2006. I wanted to catch up.

South Korea was a way to meet that need. What a way. Even though no one had called me on being sheltered, wet behind the ears, green around the gills (or does that mean you’re about to get sick?), to me it stood out like the kid who pooped himself in class. No, that never happened to me. Instead of moving to the big city, I’ll move to the other side of the world. That’ll show’em.

At some unrecognizable point in personal history, I redoubled my efforts to see things, do things, experience things I never had before and that I felt I never would have done in another life, in that life prior to that unrecognizable point in personal history. Before the point, I let the tide figure it out for me. It could be easy to say the shift occurred when my mother died in 2000, but one: that is too easy a place marker, and two: it’s untrue and would only be used for the sake of literary tidiness. Though, it might have served as a precursor – a “soft” turning point. She died, my father very nearly died the year before. It was not a good time to be a kid. It changes you.

Going to the Czech Republic could be another good place marker. I was the first in my immediate family to get a passport, to leave the country, to see things I and they had never seen before.

Sex? No, that first time was terrible. My fault.

Going away to college, to Alfred, could be a good one. I was living out of state for the first time, six hours away in western New York. Though I was in a bubble (the auspices of the Alfred University dormitory system), I was separate from my family and its bubble for the first time. I was my own man, man!

Or it could very well be when I went to South Korea in 2005. Looking back four years on, I remember myself very naive, at 26 a man by most standards, but still a boy in my eyes. Four years from now, I might look at my present self in the same light. No experience experienced now would be the same were it experienced four years ago, or four years later. And every moment has its own luster, even when the moment is dirty.

The decision to leave Jinju on Christmas Eve 2005 might have been the final “soft” turning point over a period of five-plus years of experiences that finally flipped the switch, from letting things happen as they may, to becoming the aggressor, to taking the passive voice off the table. From there, I rode my first century (100 miles) on my bike in Lake Tahoe. I moved out of my family’s house. I rode 500 miles from Lake Ontario to New Jersey. I traveled to Vegas solo. I moved in with a girlfriend (not every experience is a wise one. But, it’s still an experience. This is important). I did less glamorous but no less important things like set up a mutual fund and begin paying off my credit card debt. Late in high school, Matt, one of my best friends, chastised me for not even having a savings account set up and blowing any little money I made at the gas station on cigarettes, fast food and comic books. Look at me now, Matt, look at me now.

I once went on a videogame-buying binge, around 1996-97, when all it did was reduce the amount of comic books I could get that week. Sega’s 32X add-on for the Genesis was a confirmed flop and the prices of games had dropped to $20 a pop. Who cares if 98 percent of them were complete crap, I had to have them. I had to have them. So, I did. Today, they are in some box up in my dad’s attic, among the other pack-ratted crap, collecting mold and corrosion on its components. How was I to know 10 years later I would be able to download every single game for free? Though I am grateful for every experience I have had (the wise and not-so-wise), I sometimes wonder if I run the risk of not just having experiences but becoming “The Experience Collector,” a man whose goal in life is to do everything, see everything, experience everything for the sake of being able to say I experienced it, but never stopping to see if some of the experiences are worth lingering over a little longer.

It is a quality I find unhealthy in myself and others, the need for something for the sake of having it, not because you want or need it. Experiences, collected exclusively for the sake of collection, gather dust just like trinkets. Somewhere later in life, you’re left with a stuffy hope chest of memories but no one to share them with. And you realize Charles was not cool, only a creepy manchild who liked ogling a teenage Nicole Eggert before Baywatch made her get a boob job.

Also, in honor of what I witnessed this morning on my drive to work, I present you the following, courtesy of Emancipator.



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