Fiction: Memorabilia

By Peter Cherches


This happened about 30 years ago. I was shopping at Macy’s Herald Square. They were running a 40% off sale on Levis, and I needed a new pair of black jeans; since the ’80s I’ve only worn black jeans, never blue. I always get pangs of nostalgia at that Macy’s. My mother used to take me shopping there when I was little, and the surviving old, narrow, wood-sided escalator with wide slats on the metal steps always gives me a bittersweet jolt of memory.


Anyway, I was looking for my size when I heard my name. I looked up. The guy looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place him. He saw the blank yet searching look on my face and said, “Nick.”


I was trying to think of what Nicks I knew. I could only come up with a few people I’ve briefly intersected with over the years, people of no significance in my life. When I didn’t say anything, he said, “Nick Stamatis!”


Of course, Nicky Stamatis. We were pals in junior high, around 1968, when we would have been about twelve. “Nicky!” I exclaimed.


He started laughing. “You’re the first person who’s called me Nicky in a dog’s age.”


“In that case, you can call me Pete, Nick.”


I had fond memories of Nicky. Nick. His parents were Greek immigrants. We were best pals in 7th grade. I remember we once went to the Mad magazine offices, as they encouraged visits from kids, and we met Dave Berg, who autographed one of his “Lighter Side” features in the magazine I presented him. He did a quick sketch of his head atop a foot and wrote, “Hi, Peter.”


I was really pleased to run into Nick. It’s that way with old childhood friends. You may not see them for years, but to run into them brings back fond memories, and in my case any fond memory from childhood is always welcome.


“Hey, listen Pete,” Nick said, “my place is just a few blocks away. Why don’t you take a walk over with me when you’re done here.”


It’s rare that I accept such invitations at moment’s notice, but I really did want to catch up with my old friend, so I said, “Sure.” 


“Cool. I’d love to show you my collection of memorabilia.”


After I’d tried on and purchased my jeans we took a walk over to his apartment on 8th Avenue and 37th Street, a tenement walk-up. His apartment was on the fourth floor.


I saw a lot of clutter. “Pardon, the mess,” Nick said, “but when you’re a collector...”


He brought out two bottles of beer for us, New Amsterdam Lager, which is no longer made, but was quite a good local brew.


“Let me show you some of the highlights of my collection.” He handed me a plastic bottle in the shape of Goofy, the dog from Disney. “Remember these?”


“Yeah, bubble bath,” I said.




Next was a set of New York Mets baseball cards from 1966. All were signed by the players. I looked at the first one. “An original card with a Ron Hunt autograph, that’s impressive,” I said. But as I thumbed through the cards I saw that all the signatures looked like they were made by the same person. Choo Choo Coleman’s autograph bore the same handwriting as Hunt’s, as did those of Cleon Jones, Ron Swoboda, Nolan Ryan, and Tug McGraw. I didn’t say anything, and I wasn’t sure if he realized they were forgeries or if he had even forged them himself.


“And this one is really cool too,” Nick said, handing me an LP jacket of the Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man album. It too was signed, on the back, by the band members. But Jim McGuinn’s autograph looked like David Crosby’s, which looked like Chris Hillman’s, which looked like Gene Clark’s as well as Mike Clarke’s. “I knew it was genuine because McGuinn signed it Jim instead of Roger. Roger would have been a dead giveaway it was a fake.”


“That’s quite a hobby you have,” I told Nick.


“Yeah, but I’ve saved the best for last. I could go on forever, but I don’t want to keep you. But this you’ve gotta see.” He handed me a pair of dirty old white Keds tennis shoes. “Guess!”


I guessed I was supposed to guess who they once belonged to. “I don’t know. Did professional tennis players wear Keds? Bjorn Borg? Pancho Gonzales?”


He laughed. “No, not a professional tennis player. Don Adams. These tennis shoes were once owned by Don Adams!”


This was significant because Get Smart! was our favorite sitcom. We’d talk about it at school all the time. We’d repeat dialog from the last episode. We’d impersonate the voice of Maxwell Smart. We’d make cone of silence jokes all the time.


But they were just a pair of old tennis shoes. Are they really valuable because they once belonged to Don Adams?


“Adams wore these in an episode of the show,” he said. “And I got them for a song. The dealer was asking $2,500, but I bargained him down to an even two.”


Two thousand bucks for a pair of old tennis shoes? I suspected his hobby had gotten out of hand. I noticed these weren’t signed.


“No autograph?”


“No, but the dealer gave me a certificate of authenticity.” Just then I heard a key turn in the lock to the apartment. “Ah, looks like my wife is home from work.”


“Hi, honey,” she said. She was beautiful, Nick’s wife. Tall, svelte, and beautiful. She looked kind of familiar. Then it struck me: she looked like Barbara Feldon, Barbara Feldon at the age she was on the show.


“99,” Nick said in a Maxwell Smart voice, “I’d like you to meet an old friend.”

Peter Cherches, called “one of the innovators of the short short story” by Publishers Weekly, has published four full-length fiction collections as well as a number of chapbooks and several nonfiction books. Since 1977, his work has appeared in scores of magazines, anthologies and websites, including Harper’sFenceBombSemiotext(e)North American ReviewFiction International and Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 project. His next book, Everything Happens to Me, an episodic novel, will be published by Pelekinesis this fall. He is a native of Brooklyn, New York.