Wednesday, September 15, 2010
It started with a few simple questions:
Do you like Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler?
Was your mother a Cub Scout leader?
Have you ever considered the priesthood?
Have you ever taken Valium?
Complete this phrase: “Clang, clang, clang.”
And: Did your mother have a hamburger press with a rooster on it?
These questions were often posed by my friend Lloyd as a “gay test.” If you answered yes to one or more of the questions, you were probably gay, he said. Lloyd asked a lot of people these questions, so one year as a joke Christmas present, I decided to find him a hamburger press with a rooster on it. I was driving through Sonoma and dropped into a thrift store, and there was one: a wooden hamburger press with a rooster on it. I presented it to Lloyd, and he was suitably delighted.
Little did I know that this would set me on a path where I would achieve my Warholian 15 minutes of fame. I often frequent thrift stores, and suddenly hamburger presses started appearing. It seemed like fate, so I kept buying them. There was one store in particular, where every time I went in, there would be three or four. In very little time, I had a collection. I decided that if I had a dozen or so, I would enter the collection in the San Francisco County Fair. This was back in the ‘80s, when the City had a tongue in cheek county fair, with lots of odd competitions, like a parking space race.
As the fair approached, I decided to make a great presentation, so I bought red and white, checked gingham, fake parsley, and even crafted a fake hamburger out of a Gaines Burger dog food patty, complete with airbrushed singe marks. I even made up little cards, explaining the lore and history of the hamburger press. Truthfully I made most of it up, but if you say anything with authority, people will believe you. The display looked great, and I loved standing back and watching people view my collection and say things like: “Why would anyone collect those?” Quite to my surprise, I took third prize, losing out to a fossil collection, and the first price winner, a collection of blotter acid. Only in San Francisco.
Soon after the fair, I received a call from the San Francisco Chronicle, they were doing an article for their Image magazine about people with odd collections. They interviewed me and took my picture with the collection. After the article ran, people started bringing me hamburger presses. It was around this time that I decided that this was an interesting conceptual art project and I would ride it as far as it went.
Shortly after the fair, I moved back to Orange County and decided to see how my collection would do at the OC Fair. Unfortunately, people didn’t get it as they did in SF (big surprise), but it did garner me an article in the Los Angeles Times.
It was during this time that I opened a thrift store, and after the article appeared, many more hamburger presses came my way. Eventually, the collection swelled to over 125.
It was becoming overwhelming, dragging around all of there hamburger presses, and I tired of the collecting and the “fame” being Mr. Hamburger Press brought me, but there was one more shot that would be the pinnacle of this project and also the end of it.
The Fullerton Museum, located in the Orange County city of Fullerton, is a institution dedicated to pop culture, and always has off-center exhibitions. One day while viewing a show dedicated to Fender Guitar founder Leo Fender, I saw that they were seeking out people with odd collections, mostly purchased on eBay, for an exhibition called “Gotta Have It.”
I wrote up a brief description of my collection and submitted it, not really expecting to hear anything back, but to my surprise, about six months later, I received a letter instructing to bring my collection to the museum and be prepared to speak about it for a video interview. I dropped off my collection a few weeks later, did the interview and was told that the exhibition would open a couple of months later. I was told to be prepared to speak at the opening night about my collection.
As I entered the museum, there was my collection, housed in a huge plexigalss case with a description, as if it were high art. I decided a long time ago that the character of Mr. Hamburger Press was slightly off-kilter and maybe a little insane (who else but a mad man would collect these things seriously?). On opening night, I donned my loudest Hawaiian shirt, handed my sister a video camera, and proceeded to give a serious lecture about the lore of the hamburger presses, one eyebrow cocked slightly higher than the other for effect. You can actually hear my sister on the tape saying, “He’s gone completely off his rocker.” I consider it one of my finest moments.
After the exhibition closed, I kept getting calls from the museum to come pick up my collection, but I had already decided I was done with it all and was just going to leave it there. I kept putting them off. Nearly two years later, the curator called and said he was going to be in my area and he would drop it off. I had no choice but to accept. Over the next six months, two boxes of hamburger presses sat in my office, as I would hand them out to anyone who dropped by.
Today, I have perhaps three or four.
While I may not be the only collector of Hamuburger presses in the world (there are always a few dozen for sale on eBay), I was certainly the foremost. In fact, if you search my name and hamburger press on the internet, there are still references.
So, that was my 15 minutes of fame. I suppose there are worse things to be known for than collecting hamburger presses.
By the way, my mother didn’t have a hamburger press with a rooster on it.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Click here to read my latest J. Weekly article about a Holocaust survivor and a former Hitler Youth speaking in Piedmont.