I am a collector by nature. As a young boy, I collected all sorts of stuff, but my fondest memories are of butterflies, lightning bugs and bottle caps. When I was seven, Mom bought a butterfly collecting kit for me. I’d capture them with a net, put them to eternal sleep and fasten the butterflies with pins to a cork-board.
The kit contained a poster with names and pictures of each butterfly to aid my bug murderin’. This was back when butterflies were plentiful and society approved of collecting. I’m sure I would be put in jail nowadays for cruelty to living things: “Officer, I just caught her, killed the little miss with chloroform and nailed her to my wall. Mom said it was OK.”
Like all kids, I collected lightning bugs in midsummer but only for 24 hours at a time. At dusk, I would get a jar, punch holes in the lid for air, then go outside with other kids to find victims. Afterwards we all compared our loot and made jewelry. We’d pull off the glowing parts and make rings for our fingers. The girls added them on their foreheads as body art.
I’d collect a dozen or so in my jar and they’d be fine overnight, blinking all the time in my bedroom. The next morning I’d let them fly away, except those who gave their lives for my amusement. “Hi, Officer. You again? About those corpses, lemme explain.”
I’m happy to report that collecting butterflies and lightning bugs did not turn me into a psychopath. I also collected things that didn’t involve torture, such as Coca-Cola bottle caps. In 1966 when I was 10, Coke had a promotion of 50 collector caps containing faces of famous NFL players. As with the butterfly kit, Coke provided a collection sheet with pictures of my heroes such as Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Jim Taylor. I pasted the caps onto their names to fill up the sheet.
To increase my chances, I would go hunting with my buddy, Matt. We divided up Ashland businesses with Coke machines. We set out after school armed with magnets attached to coat hangers to fish out caps from machines. I took the hardware store on Greenup below the bridge and Parsons on Winchester. Matt took other stores with thirsty employees. The payoff was wonderful — as many as 40 bottle caps from each machine.
For every sheet filled, I was entitled to a set of miniature NFL pennants to hang on my bedroom wall, a popular thing for young boys. If I filled five sheets, Coke would give me a leather football with an NFL logo. By the end of the promotion, I collected enough to fill 27 sheets, which translated into five footballs and two sets of pennants.
The pennants made my bedroom look cool, and after I discovered girls, I tacked up a poster of Raquel Welch to make it way cooler. Officer: “I’m here for a wellness check. Still nailing bodies up on your wall?” Me: “Yes sir, but the voices in my head have almost stopped and my psychiatrist says I’m making real progress.”