Vancouver
2 min

Keepers of the flame

Like a foster parent to a community's treasures

Whenever I’m feeling bored or uninspired, I like to browse the secondhand section at Little Sister’s.The shelves are stocked with other people’s collections of old editions that I remember looking at when the store was still on Thurlow St, but I was too embarrassed to buy.
 
My heart goes out to these books. They are like animals at the pound; I wish I could take them all home and look after them.
 
There are some I can’t resist: rare editions or pristine copies that have survived the decades like an AIDS patient on protease inhibitors. I snap them up with no intention of reading them but to keep them safe until they find a permanent home, as a foster parent would a child.
 
Recently, I followed an eBay auction of original beefcake photos “from an important New York collection.” There were about 50, including one of Steve Reeves, the original Hercules.
 
It seemed safe to assume the collector was gay and probably dead. As I watched the bids skyrocket out of my price range, I imagined the collection scattering like leaves in the wind amongst gay men across North America who will keep them until it is their turn to auction them off — Bedouin photographs looking for a place to call home.
 
The photos reminded me of a friend’s silverware collection, inherited from all his friends who died in the 1980s. His drawer was so full of the stuff he stopped organizing it.
 
“Help yourself if you’d like,” he would offer. “There’s some from Tiffany’s.”
 
As much as I love Tiffany’s, I couldn’t bring myself to indulge. That drawer always gave me the creeps; the clanging sound it made reminded me of the teeth of holocaust victims.
 
To the untrained eye, many of my belongings could pass for those of an eccentric pack rat — memorabilia from bars long since gone, souvenirs of Pride Days past and, of course, books.
 
“When I die, sell this, this and that, then cremate me with the proceeds,” I tell my neighbour. “And blow my ashes in the faces of my enemies.”
 
Nonetheless, I harbour a fear that all these treasures I feel charged to protect will end up in the landfill.
 
“Why do I bother?” I ask myself as I dust them off.
 
But I can’t stop myself from believing these things, however small or fragile, are on a journey, passed along like the torch that is at this very moment travelling across our country.
 

And like any flame, it is born from the hope that they, and the people they represent, will some day get the respect they deserve.