I admit it. My “design” preference is “clutter.” I have the only apartment with “Detour” signs to insure that anyone entering, should he/she actually move, won’t trip and break something (a bone, or my “stuff”). I thought of going on one of those “Hoarding” reality shows, except they’d make me throw out my stuff. And my “stuff,” unlike “their” stuff is important.

I have the only apartment with “Detour” signs.

We’re not talking here about 4,000 broken light bulbs, 30 bat wings, or turning aluminum foil into the Unisphere. No. My stuff is valuable. They’re collections.

When people stared at my “stuff” incredulously, I’d say: “We’re writers,” figuring that would give me carte blanche on clutter. I have jotted down critical ideas on gum wrappers, matchbook covers and return envelopes (from the IRS and mortgage company). Then there are five hard copies of everything I wrote, published, might publish, the notes, research. Ten years of Yellow Pages, newspapers, and catalogs from defunct publishers have held a place of honor at the head of the table.

I’ve often wondered where this came from. After all, mom was the queen of the Balabustas, or as liked to call her, The “Lysol Lady.” She wasn’t just tidy. The defense department could enlist her to maintain a “clean room” that would disarm nuclear reactors and render the free world safe from explosion-by-clutter. No speck of shmutz had the temerity, let alone the death wish, to enter her orbit.

Maybe this is why I rebelled against whatever balabusta gene made it to Ellis Island.

Some time ago, instead of counting my day’s calorie intake to put me to sleep, I tried counting how rich I’d be today had we not been “clutter-free.”

How Rich I’d Be If Mama Wasn’t a Balabusta …

1- My Tiny Tears Doll: Water leaked from her, top and bottom, but unlike Betsy-Wetsy, I was sure she was Jewish as her head was adorned with tight curls, just like mine. My very own lantsdoll! The second I got bored making her wee wee, she was gone gone.

Price Then: a few dollars.

Price Now? $600!

2- My Original Barbie. For one Birthday, I received a first-run Barbie, complete with striped bathing suit and those little see-through high heels. This was no modern Barbie. This was gezunta Barbie, crafted from plastic by Goodyear, with lifelike blond hair – not that glossy chazzerai with root holes you see today. And then I got …

3- My Original Ken. After all, Barbie had to make a shidduch and be a balabusta. Once I started dating and The Adventures of Barbie and Ken [Cohen] lost their luster? Gone.

Price Then: a few dollars.

Price Now? $8,000 for Barbie, and I figure $5,000 for Ken.

4- Comics. Mom let me buy a few each week in the candy store that smelled from egg creams, vinyl, sawdust, and paper. “Superman,” “Archie,” “Betty & Veronica,” “Little Lulu,” “Little Dot,” “Richie Rich,” “Nancy,” and “Little Lotta” were my favorites. I adored the underdog Betty, totally identified with the zaftig Lotta, and wondered if everyone in Metropolis had cataracts. Mom followed me around with a garbage bag. After three readings, Archie was sent by garbage scow back to Riverdale.

Price Then: 15-25 cents.

Price Now? $5 and up for each! Hmmmm … that would be a total of $5,000!

5- Howdy Doody: “What time is it kids?!” It’s Tchotchke Time! Every weekday, millions of kids and I tuned in to see the freckle-faced cowpoke. I had: a Howdy apple bag, a Howdy twin-pop bag, the lunch box, cookie jar, book bag, circus truck, puppets, and dolls.

Price Then: a few bucks each.

Price Now? $5,000 and up!

6- Winky Dink Kit: Now this was a clever “interactive” TV gimmick. We kids were asked to draw on a magic screen over the TV using Magic Crayons. Mom finally caved when I tried it without the screen using Magic Markers.

Price Then: 50 cents.

Price Now? A lot!

And then there was my Easy Bake Oven (that never touched treif), my Slinky, Colorforms, and all those View Master reels!

According to my calculations, “balabusta-ism” cost me the life of a low-rent heiress.

So, when our son was born, I made up my mind to toss not-one-single-thing; of his, of mine, of ours! Yes! We’ve been taken over by dusty He-Man figures, corroded Master of the Universe lunch boxes, “best” toddler clothes (he outgrew before he could wear them), dusty Mad Magazines circa 1985, Smurfs without heads, old comics, and everything my son ever made, including the Menorah that resembles a banana from Day School. But it doesn’t stop there. We have every newspaper from “Moon Landing!” to “Nixon Resigns!” out of date passports, ties (wide, thin, paisley), clothes from 1980 in one-size-fits-no one, dog-eared magazines from 1972, non-working Polaroid Swingers, and that’s just for starters.

Like “The Birdman of Alcatraz” I have a “nom du nuts.” People come from far and wide to me, “The Collector,” when they need – anything.

“Marn, I’m going to a 1950s Thing. Do you have a pink tie and spats?”
“No problem. I have a collection.”
“How about a Nixon mask?”
“Naturally. I also have a Dukakis in my collection.
“Eisenhower buttons?”
“Take your pick! I also have “The Three Stooges” and 25 that say: “Talk to my Agent.”

And so this is our legacy. When I get daily mail from “Atlas Insurance” that assures me for 10 cents a day my son can afford to bury me, this I toss.

Better than insurance, we will leave our son precious memories. And more, stuff he can treasure, hand down and maybe make a killing should someone be in the market for a chunk of the Berlin Wall, brochures from the French Revolution, slightly broken metal Beefeaters and other shmutzik relics. All he has to do is look under the piles of mags, soy packets, tie-ups, buttons, Obi Kenobi action figures and one day I hope he’ll say: “Even though we couldn’t sit, walk, or lie down, my mom sacrificed to make me heir to her clutter collections!”