The biggest “miscellany” in my life is a section of our house in which I store all my Jean Shepherd material. This interconnected space of three rooms began as my large study (large enough to fit my forebears’ heirloom pool/billiard table), full of books and artwork and odds and ends that strike my fancy; a smaller “annex” area also full of books and off-season, stored family clothing and decorations; and, beyond a locked door, the “hardware area” with its sharp and otherwise dangerous equipment in which I sometimes make minor handyman repairs. As I began my intense re-interest in Shepherd back in early 2000, the previously sedate but impressive collection of books, artwork reproductions, and hardware inherited from my father, began to be muscled aside by Shep-materials in those three rooms. I do my best to keep the mess organized. (My wife, a genius of categorical organization, refuses to participate as my Shep-oriented organizer and file clerk. She has her own hobby horses to ride.) Now the three rooms and a few minor outliers form a rich and complex conglomeration which I self-deprecatingly, yet with humor and kindly forbearance toward myself, refer to as my “Shep Shrine.” This miscellany I’ve compiled here may well be, for Shepherd’s wide-ranging creations, and for my collecting and organizing the related fragments, a decent description of his and my efforts and an all-encompassing metaphor.
I won’t mention all the effluvia which, in these Shep-cavalcade areas of our home, must remain on the sidelines without description. (Nothing about my reproductions of astrolabes and a small collection of kaleidoscopes; nothing of several shelves filled with a chronologically arranged collection of books on art through the ages and my collection of that insufficiently appreciated field of art, artists’ books; nothing of my collection of poetry books and volumes on music I treasure; and I won’t say a word about books on Spain and bullfighting and a small, shriveled, desiccated pomegranate sitting atop a little paper model of the Alhambra, with all its associations that hark back to my previous, disastrous marriage to a woman from Granada. Nada.) None of those who drive by this otherwise undistinguished house in Massapequa, New York could imagine the dusty but stalwart clutter inside that helps keep alive the memory and artistry of an insufficiently recognized genius of their recent American past. I must focus on this that I have found, written about, bid on and bought, gathered out of the electronic ether, archived on printouts, clustered on real shelves and in real boxes.
This is the biggest and most impressive exhibit in my mini-museum. The dominating pool table in the middle of the room has a scattering of tear sheets and printouts waiting to be dealt with and filed in Shep-folders. On one corner of the table is the enlarged repro of the cover of Excelsior, You Fathead! attached to the stick I held high, advertising my forthcoming wares to conventioneers as I did the rounds of the annual Old Time Radio convention in late 2004. There is a bookcase with a miscellany and shelves devoted to creativity and writing, on one side of which is a signed letter from Norman Mailer and an Esquire magazine cartoon showing Charon’s boat to Hell, filled with despairing sinners, Dante, complacently in the back, commenting, “I don’t mind it really—I’m only here to gather material for a book.” Most importantly, I maintain several shelves with first editions and signed books by Shepherd, including all four different editions of his I, Libertine, some books with introductions by him, such as The Scrapbook History of Baseball, several books with partial chapters discussing him, and other books focusing on nighttime radio and talk radio. Various Shepherd ephemera fill out every spare inch. There is a set of the nine CD boxes containing my program notes for the Syndicated Shep audios being produced, and copies of my Excelsior, You Fathead! alongside my scrapbook loose-leaf books containing reviews of it and other noteworthy collectables. There is a loose-leaf book I’ve titled “Lois Nettleton’s Jean Shepherd Album,” full of reproductions of the many Shepherd-related materials she had saved and that were auctioned after her death.
On the wall near that bookcase is one of the elaborate, hand-crafted valentines Lois made for Jean and the lone hand-drawn valentine Jean did for Lois, plus several framed original ink drawings by Shepherd. Filling out the crowded walls are reproductions of paintings and drawings by Picasso, Miro, John Marin, and Arthur Dove. Small photos of Picasso, Hemingway, Cummings, Mailer, Blaise Cendrars, and Charles Wright hang near the window. Among them, two disparate American masters, Henry James and Henry Miller face each other. Up near the ceiling, right next to a grouping of Excelsior seltzer bottles, and dominating the room, is the framed, poster-size version of the photo of Shepherd that also graces the cover of my Excelsior, You Fathead! His upraised hand seems to bestow his benediction upon the scene.
Opening from the study is the small area I call the annex, full of important but less picturesque items, although it does contain a copy of my favorite Van Gogh, a Krazy Kat poster, a personally autographed eight-by-ten photo of Soupy Sales, a signed, original Cerebus drawing (he’s the hero of the graphic novel originally issued in a three-hundred-month, comic book format), a very small bobble-head of American Splendor creator Harvey Pekar, and a very large hand-made banner of the saying “Excelsior, You Fatheads.”
Less visually impressive but having exceeding import for me are: in plastic shirt-storage boxes, many hundreds of cassette tapes and CDs of Shepherd audios covering his broadcasts from 1953 through 1977; CD copies of my special Shepherd high-light selections; copies of my manuscripts on CDs; the original tapes of my dozens of interviews done for Excelsior, You Fathead!; a file box of my promotional ideas, a file box of folders containing materials of special Shepherd-related people; and my treasure chest—a file box with notes and ideas for the still hoped-for TV documentary featuring Shepherd. I can dream, can’t I? As for family-related nostalgia, there in a net bag are the finger puppets I used to tell and sing to our two very young sons, the ditties of Old McDonald, Red Riding-hood, Goldilocks, and the Three Little Piggies.
Originally muscling aside the tools had been those cassette tapes, but, realizing their vulnerability in the unheated room, I’d shifted them to the Annex and left the space for other Shepherd matters. Besides reference books about the Beats, Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, and others, there’s a collection of Shel Silverstein volumes and a file box full of miscellaneous folders labeled “Shep, Shel, and Herb,” etc. There are many file folders based on the wide-ranging chapters of Excelsior, You Fathead! , full of an ever-expanding collection of notes and references to Shepherd’s career; there are folders with Shepherd’s occasional writings, articles and obituaries of him; a pile of stuff about the Hammond, Indiana A Christmas Story/Jean Shepherd celebration; and, to appropriate the “Rhinestone Cowboy,” regarding some of the comments about my book, cards and letters from people I don’t even know. There is also a small box of Shepherd-related musical instruments: nose flute, kazoo, and jews harp, plus a couple individually designed and made brass figlagees. And, a large box of real excelsior.
In addition to the main Shepherd rooms there are a few odds and ends scattered elsewhere. On my wife’s desk in her study is a zip-locked bag with an inscribed copy of Excelsior, You Fathead! and our living room coffee table has my worn reference copy of the book I use all the time. On the dining room bureau, where my wife says we can keep it all year long, is an eighteen-inch high version of A Christmas Story’s infamous leg lamp. On my bedroom bureau, courtesy of our younger son, are bobbleheads of Ralphie and the Old Man. In the small room we call “The Attic,” with its computers and wrapping paper, is a framed photo of Shepherd, virtually unknown except maybe to myself, because it came from the photographer’s studio, taken in 1956, showing a young, confident man at the beginning of his New York career. Maybe for me, the most important object in our house, aka The Shrine, is The Attic’s authentic piece of nostalgia—recently bought on ebay.com, the exact model of my original “maroon plastic Zenith AM/FM radio with the big simulated gold dial” on which, fifty years ago, I had originally heard and recorded ol’ Shep.