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The thrilling, and calming, days of yesteryear

Is this heaven? No, it's the antique store.

It’s been a few weeks since you last heard from me. I don’t need to ask how most of you are doing, because I can guess.

Cindy and I already were on edge before COVID-19 grabbed the nation by the throat. Nolan’s services for his after-school program were put on hold for the second time in six months, with no definitive return date as of yet even though the state surprisingly approved a request to have 2-on-1 support for him – and within 48 hours, no less. The last couple weeks of school have been anything but stellar for Nolan, who has ramped up using his head and body as a punching bag. And now the governor has ordered that the state’s schools must be shut down from Wednesday until at least April 6.

So what does ol’ Kirk do when R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” is on repeat in his brain and he’s ready to go out to the garage, find the shovel and dig a deep hole? In the words of Otter and Boone in the movie “Animal House:” Road trip.

I’d hoped to spend most of this Sunday at a flea market in another city 75 miles away, but social distancing from strangers who have been God knows where and are carrying God knows what must take priority – especially when I have a wife who is asthmatic and could become very ill if I brought home a virus. So last Sunday I opted for a shorter drive to an antique store 15 minutes from our home. I went in with the goal of simply relaxing. I came out three hours later having walked through all three floors twice – or maybe three or four times; it really is like stepping into a time portal when I go there – and bought three issues of Sports Illustrated from the 1950s, including Nos. 3 and 5. You remember magazines, right? There was a time when you didn’t read everything on a phone or tablet.

Picture Harrison Ford screaming “That belongs in a museum!” at the villain in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and that’s pretty much me when I’m clutching a decades-old, dust-covered treasure I found at the bottom of a dirty box under a table. There are bumper stickers that say, “This vehicle stops at all garage sales.” I hit the brakes on my Corolla at garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, and antique stores. I drew the line at dumpsters a few years ago when I went searching for what I thought was an old thermometer that had been hanging on a recently demolished garage and came out with just scratches.

Pickin’ and grinnin’ has a much different meaning to me than it did to Buck Owens and Roy Clark on “Hee-Haw.” Collecting things brings me great joy. It’s an opportunity to step back into those thrilling days of yesteryear and preserve a piece of the past. Check that. I mean, pieces of the past. I just did a 360-degree turn in my chair and realized I’ve got a lot of stuff in my office. And I can’t even see all of it because there’s a lot more of it shoved in the closet. And then there’s my hundreds of records in the living room. And the many issues of TV Guide from the 1970s someone gave me that are sitting in the basement. And the … Excuse me while I stop Cindy from calling the producers of “Hoarders” and dragging me kicking and screaming to an intervention.

My stuff -- and this is only some of it.

I love the thrill of the hunt. I love bragging about my prized possessions (“Ever heard of The Beatles’ ‘Butcher Cover?’ I have a Second State cover! You can see Ringo’s black turtleneck showing through!”). I love talking about the things I’ve found in the wild. It’s my version of the fisherman who tells his buddies for the 150th time about the 5-foot, 60-pound muskie he caught:

“That ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’ lunchbox was on the Facebook marketplace was 10 bucks! Ten bucks! I drove on snow-covered slippery roads to pick it up!”

“Can you believe I found Billy Joel’s debut album ‘Cold Spring Harbor’ – the original pressing mixed at the wrong speed – amongst a pile of jazz records? I paid the guy a buck for it!”

“I bought a ‘Rocky and His Friends’ board game at a sports memorabilia show at the mall for 25 bucks. I took the game board out of the box when I got it home and there it was: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 1969 Topps rookie card!”

I’m sure some of you don’t understand the appeal of digging through things that haven’t been shiny and new since the Kennedy Administration. And yeah, sometimes my inner voice goes Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty” and screams, “It’s just stuff!” Why do I buy more stuff that I can’t take with me when I’m six feet under? It’s about trying to capture a piece of the past.

It's about going to an antique store that once was a furniture store where my grandfather worked for a time in the 1950s.

It's about a man who bought a Beatles serving tray made during the height of Beatlemania in 1964 because he’s really grown to appreciate their music. And it makes him think of his late mother, who was a high school senior when the Fab Four first hit it big and had a huge crush on Paul McCartney.

It’s about a man who thinks about his late father when he looks at the 1971 Green Bay Packers trash can and remembers hearing about how he’d been fortunate enough to watch Pro Football Hall-of-Famers like Bart Starr and Ray Nitschke play on television during the Lombardi era.

It's about the boy who really, REALLY wanted a “Star Wars” lunchbox in 1978, but whose parents said no because he already had a perfectly good Marvel Superheroes lunchbox. I have both now, along with several others – a few of which were saved from Goodwill or maybe the landfill when I answered a Craigslist add for a woman who was liquidating her late mother’s estate.

It’s about the boy who sold most of his comic books in the 1980s at a rummage sale and has since replaced them with even better ones from the 1960s and 70s. That might not have happened if I hadn’t gone back to a rummage sale a few years ago and grabbed that copy of Marvel Comics’ “Tales of Suspense” with Iron Man and Captain America on the cover.

I think a lot of people like to take a trip back in time and remember life as being idyllic in a particular era. Of course, it’s revisionist history. Billy Joel was right when he sang “You know the good old days weren’t always good” in his song “Keeping The Faith.” It seems as though the world is always going to hell in a handbasket. Every generation deals with something that seemingly will spell certain doom for mankind. There’s no escape from information overload now thanks to a never-ending news cycle besieging us. And that’s saying nothing of the day-to-day challenges every family deals with.

Nolan’s Autism will be a part of our lives as long as we’re upright, and at times it’s still overwhelming to think about even after all these years. The threat of COVID-19 will subside in time, but for now it’s very real. I was reminded of that the minute I got back to my car and turned on the radio.

But for three hours last weekend, I was in a much simpler world far away from problems. I feel a little bit of that comfort anytime I step into my office and see pieces of the past.

Even if it’s only for a little while.

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