An Idiot’s Guide to Button Collecting

I love buttons. Okay, some people might say I’m a hoarder or something, which I think is incredibly rude. Hoarders keep everything.  I just happen to love buttons. All shapes and sizes of button, the weirder the better. Hand em’ over. You don’t really need that bottom button on your shirt or vintage 1950’s hot pink blazer, do you? No, I didn’t think so. At some point you’re going to realize that, and I’ll be there, ready to pounce.

Yes, you might think I’m absolutely crazy. I get that a lot. I haven’t had a girlfriend since 1996 for that very reason. They all think I’m nuts.

But you know what? I’m happy, and that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

~

Last week Thursday, I was in a thrift shop, just minding my own business and browsing for clothes with interesting buttons. The key is to look at clothes from the ’60s and ’70s. They always had the most outrageous clothes imaginable, with buttons to match.

I rifled through racks of clothing, oblivious to everything but the thought of new buttons to add to my collection. I hardly even noticed what the piece of clothing itself looked like, only the buttons adorning it.

I was taking in the buttons on a particularly stunning yellow sundress, the round plastic pieces smooth beneath my finger tips, when I heard a strangled noise behind me.

I turned and a woman stood behind me, about my age (35) with beautiful shoulder-length brown hair and the loveliest plaid-patterned buttons on her white button-up shirt. She cleared her throat again when I looked at her, obviously a little nervous.

“Are you, um, are you going to purchase that?” she asked, pointing at the dress in my hands, her cheeks turning slightly red.

I shrugged, gazing down at the yellow buttons. “Unsure. The buttons are really very good quality, but I only have so much money and I haven’t looked through even a quarter of the store yet…” I glanced back over at her, staring longingly at the dress.

I had no choice but to hand it over to her. She looked so sad, and if I had taken that dress from her, I would have felt like I had killed her dog or something. I passed it over to her, saying, “You take it. I’m sure I can find a similar button elsewhere.”

My comment snapped her out of the joy of admiring the yellow dress that she now held in her hands. I took a reprieve from my loss for long enough to think that the yellow of the dress would go beautifully with the reddish-brown of her hair.

“I’m sorry if this is rude,” she said, a grimace on her face that made her look like she was regretting every word that left her mouth, “but why do you keep talking about the buttons?”

“I’m a button collector,” I said, despite it historically not being a good start with the ladies. However, I was also a historically bad liar, so telling the truth seemed like the best idea in that moment.

“A button collector? For real?” she asked before clapping a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, that was quite rude of me. It’s just a pretty random thing to hear from someone.”

I shook my head. “I’ve heard a lot worse. Yes, for real. I think they’re fascinating. Each one has a different story, a different experience, a different origin. Of course, they can’t talk, so you’re often left guessing what the story may be, but that’s part of the fun. Take these, for instance.” I pulled a dress shirt off the rack. “These buttons could have lived the life of a diplomat, an unassuming wallflower at fancy parties and important meetings. Or they could have been the buttons on the only dress shirt a man owned as he finally began to search for a job after months of homelessness and addiction. The story is never the same.”

I replaced the shirt and turned to see if she was still standing behind me. She was. She hadn’t fled with the dress while my back was turned to the clothing rack.

“It sounds to me like what you really are is a story-teller,” she said, shrugging. “And buttons are your muse.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but stopped short. Was this true? All this time, have I been defining myself as ‘button-collector’ when I should be ‘story-teller’? I frowned, unsure of this possible change in title.

“You could be right,” I told her, “or I could just be obsessed with buttons.”

“That very well could be the case,” she said, shrugging again. “I’m not trying to offend you, it was just a suggestion. A fleeting thought. Either way, I find the concept of button collecting intriguing. You must tell me more.”

I felt as if my eyes were going to pop out of my head. A woman who was interested in the art of button-collecting? Who even postured that I may, in fact, be a story-teller as well, rather than just a button-collector?

“I’m sorry, may I ask your name?”

She smiled a little, the corner of her mouth quirking up. “Of course. My name is Maggie, pleased to meet you.” She extended a delicate hand.

I took her hand and shook it warmly. “Reuben, pleased to meet you as well, Maggie. Now please, let me educate you on the beauty of buttons.”

~~

Three hours later, Maggie and I sat at a coffee shop, talking about more than just buttons. It was the first proper conversation I had had in a long time. Usually people are dissuaded from talking to me the minute I mention buttons, but not Maggie.

See, she used to be painfully shy. So shy that she couldn’t even look at someone who wasn’t looking at her, for fear they would be able to tell she was looking and then wish to speak with her.

When I was holding the dress she wanted, she was so close to just leaving it with me so she wouldn’t have to have yet another stressful encounter with a stranger. As part of her therapy though, her therapist thought that a good strategy for her would be to have one encounter a day that scared her.

She was so much better than she used to be, she said, but sometimes talking to a stranger was still excruciatingly difficult. And I was her difficult task that day. Plus she really wanted that dress.

So Maggie challenged herself to talk to Reuben (not that she knew my name at the time), and now here we sit.

And she was lovely. Not once did she insult my button collecting (although she did bring up her ‘story-teller’ theory more than once). She didn’t seem ‘weirded out’ by me like most people, neither was I ‘weirded-out’ by her extreme shyness. She didn’t seem too bad to me, even. Pretty normal, if I do say so myself. Then again, who am I to determine that?

“You’re nice to talk to,”she said suddenly, her cheeks going slightly pink.

“People don’t talk to me much, so that’s a nice surprise,” I responded, feeling myself smile. She really was very pretty. More so than any button I’d ever come across. “I thought I would be severely awkward. That seems to be the common consensus, anyway.”

“I think you need to stop saying those kinds of things about yourself,” Maggie stated, nodding her head as if agreeing with herself. “My therapist says that visualizing who you want to be is a good way to become that person, so if you’re always thinking about yourself as awkward and that no one wants to be your friend, that is what will happen.”

“Has visualization worked for you?” I queried.

Maggie shrugged. “Hard to say, really. But I’m talking to you now, aren’t I? I’d say that’s not a bad amount of progress.”

“Indeed,” I mused. Finally, I turned to face her. “You know what, I think I’m coming to like your idea that I am, really, a story-teller, first and foremost.”

“Oh yeah?” Maggie asked, a smile quirking up the left corner of her mouth.

“Yes,” I replied. “And let me tell you the story of Reuben and Maggie now. It all began with some yellow buttons on a thrift store sundress…”

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