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Volume 5, Issue 2                                    University of Houston

Remember Hector the Collector 

By Ellen Simonson
Guest Columnist

I want to write about someone who lived down the street from me, because he is about to be forgotten, and I do not want that to happen. We called him Hector the Collector, after the Shel Silverstein poem of the same name. We called him that because that was what he did. Nobody knew his real name. Even now, after the news report on his death, I can't remember his real name. He will always be Hector the Collector.

He lived three houses down from us. His yard was full of broken junk, piled three-feet high on the lawn, beginning at the sidewalk and stretching in an unbroken mass through the driveway and beyond. There were eight-foot fences separating his yard from those of the decent people who lived next door to him.

There were computer motherboards in there, old tires, broken dressers, ancient sweatshirts. Anything that belonged to no one belonged to Hector; he rode a rusty bicycle all around the neighborhood, picking up objects with unabashed delight. He was an old man with the smooth skin of a child, his smile shining with the peace of the newly converted or the completely insane.

The other neighbors hated his house; it was a refuse heap, they said. It was a trash pile; it had no place in the neighborhood. Kids would wander by sometimes and taunt him, venturing into the yard to remove some object, and Hector would appear on his porch and tell them to go away. "It's my stuff," he would say gently.

"It's mine. Don't touch it. It's mine." He was still smiling. He was always smiling.

We always said it would be so funny if the inside of Hector's home were immaculate, or if all that crap was just an elaborate disguise. If buried somewhere beneath the mounds was one secret lever that would allow a section of wall to swing aside and a stairway to be revealed.

Maybe he was a scientist, conducting secret experiments deep beneath that yard; maybe Dick Cheney's undisclosed location was really beneath his house. Maybe, of course, he was just a gentle, crazy old man. We liked him as though he were all these things.

Whenever we saw him, someone would say, "There's Hector." And we would watch him ride by, politely, almost respectfully. What is not to respect about someone who casts no qualifications over what he needs to be happy? Everything was equal in Hector's eyes; a discarded bassinet by the side of the road could have been the Hope Diamond for all he cared. Objects, just objects, were all he needed to be content.

Hector died last week, in his house. It turned out the house was just as full on the inside, and he laid there amid his stuff for four days before he was found. It might have been forever if it weren't for the angry neighbors, who had been complaining about the trash for months without seeing any action from the city.

They called again and finally got someone out there, and when the knocks on Hector's door went unanswered they realized nobody had seen him in a few days. When the cops finally broke in, they found him there. Dead of natural causes amid all his stuff.

I hope for Hector's sake that you can take it with you. I hope that, like a pharaoh, he was accompanied to the next life by all his myriad possessions, worthless though they may have looked. Workers are cleaning away his stuff now; after two days of work they've barely made a dent.

At first I was sad to see this, but now I realize it does not matter. When Hector was alive, his stuff was alive with him. It was his, a giant mass of unrelated things only drawn together because Hector owned them. The pile grew with every acquisition; it shifted sometimes and revealed new treasures.

Now Hector is dead, and his stuff is just a monument -- the strangest mausoleum ever seen. They can cart it away if they want to. Hector's got it all with him, somewhere else.

Simonson, a Psychology Department employee, 
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