He collected old things, dead things, failures, and told himself that in their faded colors and their missed glories some especial vibrancy still lived, some hint of a livelier and wilder time. Within himself he loved them, but he shied away from that thought, and called himself an historian, not without a touch of irony, or a collector, or, simply, an enthusiast, and not an admirer, not a devotee. He followed them backwards and forewards and sideways, tracing their inspirations and influence and revivals, affectionately; like an uncle or a godfather, solicitous and distant. He had friends, like him collectors, though not always of old things. One collected fads toward a museum, beanie babies and large-headed dolls, spring operated boxers shaped like ex-presidents. “Camp is Culture,” she said, and he laughed and nodded.

He was serious, his laughter quiet and subdued and earnest. It invited you to laugh with him, and people did, and liked him for it. He knew this, and laughed seldom because of it, distrusting his motives.

The books he liked best were old shockers with lurid covers, old bestsellers now long forgotten. He settled into stories of men and women gone astray gratefully, comforted by their straightforward, if draconian, comeuppance, his sympathy aroused by their suffering and their tawdriness. He read without faith and dreamed without belief.