Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

                                                                                         entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #7  (original pub. date, Lion Magazine, Feb. 1995)

You can collect these columns, you know!          

The first time I ever heard of a "Swatch" I was in a train in Switzerland. I was bewildered by the wristwatch that a young lady across from me was wearing, and I wanted to tell her that maybe she should take it back. Clearly, the manufacturer hadn't finished with it; I mean, you could see the springs and cogs springing and cogging around inside. There was no dial. Ho-ho, she explained to me. This is the famous "Swatch". Get it? I didn't. Oh, Swiss Watch. Cute, I thought. The Swatch, she explained, had saved the once high and mighty Swiss watch industry from being ruined by all those Japanese imports.

I later found out that the Swatch is a 'collectible'. Swatch puts out an incredible number of wristwatch models, each weirder than the last, and all of them looking like Rube Goldberg devices for telling the time: the movement of the earth swings the pendulum in the center which in turn knocks over a peg releasing the spring-operated door of a tiny cage, permitting a white rat to scurry over to your telephone to dial the operator and ask the time. Presumably, there are as many different models as there are times of day. Some people have them all. I don't collect Swatches —or much of anything, for that matter.

I used to, though. As a whippersnapper I had a collection of trading cards that featured baseball players; they came in bubble-gum packs and pouches of chewing tobacco, but I didn't get sick if I swallowed the gum. I have no idea what happened to those cards; they probably wound up with my comic books, thrown out with other accouterments of childhood when one's interests change from collectibles to soft living non-collectibles who made you buy them stuff just for one lousy kiss.

At the time, I collected the cards for fun and had no idea that they would one day be worth money, that they would command not only trading card stalls of their own at fairs, but would, indeed, actually be the entire fair —the International Trading Card Expo, or some such thing, taking up thousands of square feet, with dozens of stands, veritable Wall Streets of Collectobilia where dealers make a healthy living trading in nothing but cards, selling them to kids who have too much money but who are temporarily out of bad music to spend it on. I had no idea that a single card in mint condition of one of my favorite ballplayers would one day sell for more than the average factory worker's monthly wage.

I think I would have been surprised at today's wide-range of trading cards. I have heard of an Elvis Presley series of cards, for example. They show The King at various stages in his career, from hip-grinding proto-Rock 'n' Roller to garish roly-poly Vegas amphetamine addict. Now, in the United States there's a set of trading cards featuring serial killers, such as, among others, Jack the Ripper and his recent gruesome incarnation, Jeffrey Dahmer. The cards have a likeness of the murderers on one side and helpful biographies of them on the other, telling you just how many victims they did in, how they did it, and what they did with the remains —and, in some cases, the leftovers. Children are trading these cards.

On the other hand —maybe— is a recent set of Bible trading cards. I say 'maybe', because I'm not sure they're any better than those serial murderer cards; among the 161 New testament personalities, there are cheerful little reports about the terrible deaths of some of them. Saint Barthlomew's card, for example, reports that he was "crucified upside down after being flayed alive."

Back to the Swiss. They are in this collectible business big-time. You can shoot an apple off my head if I haven't just seen my first "Snife" (get it?). You know those infamous Swiss Army Knives? The red ones with all the blades? By the way, those are not really Swiss Army Knives. Those are Swiss Army Officers' Knives, which Swiss brass are required to purchase. Swiss grunts, as one might expect, are issued much less; they get a standard colorless (well, zilch metallic, if that's a color) two-blader without so much as a beer-can opener, which tells you just how useful that baby is. The new Snife is packaged as a 'collectible'. That's what it says on the box. The one I saw was green. I didn't get a chance to count the blades, but if the Swatch experience is any indicator, we can look forward to generations of variety. Maybe even a Switch-blade (You know, the kind of knife that Swiss Witches use) for getting out of tight spots, like maybe when you're trapped in a drive-by yodeling.

No one knows where the Swiss are going with this. Snumbered bank accounts? I could collect a few of those.

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