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Columnists

Unrequited Love

March 4, 2023

BOULDER, CO – Joel Haertling is a fierce advocate for the lifeless. Haertling, 64, who once oversaw the film program at the local public library… collects stuff.

Okay, he hasn’t scored a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card or a Sherman tank. Still, don’t be surprised if, they, too, find their way into the stockpile one day. Haertling, then, is a foster father. Guardian of the spiritless.

His show, ‘To Have and to Hoard’, which was featured earlier this winter, showcased his adoration of ephemera. Most of the stuff he picked up at local yard sales, where’s he made a name for himself.

But the sensory overload abrutly ceased when I stopped to examine the vertical container containing old transistor radios. It’s vertiable feast of electromagnetic energy. A testament to the glory days blanketed with the snap, crackle, and pop of the AM band, where, come sundown, you could tune into the baseball bats from hundreds of miles away, courtesy of a phenomena known as the ‘atmospheric skip’.

Other items include: Fisher-Price record player; dozens of unopened Maxell cassette tapes; (literal) stack of Bibles; bright red vest festooned with political campaign buttons; tray embossed with pictures of Lawrence Welk and the Lennon Sisters; vast array of attache cases; board games like the Man from Uncle and Tip-It; glass bottles that once held Pepsi and 7-Up.
“It frightens me that only a percenteage of what I’ve got,” makes up the exhibit, Haertling declared nervously. Showcasing the whole kit and kaboodle would mean, I’m hypothesizing, rounding up the small army of homeless individuals that populate the grounds around the library to help unload where he keeps the rest of the stash. In this case, try seven trailers that used to be part of an 18-wheeler. Add to that the several garages he uses as storage.

Andrew Novick, who curated the show, recalled that when he and Haertling venture out to the trucks to take inventory, it becomes an experience within an experience. “Soemeitmes you’d need a crowbar to open the doors. In the summer, wasps would come out. It was part spelunking, part archeological dig.” He’s been bedeviled by a question. If the weight of the stuff inside were to suddenly shift while they’re inside, “will we be stuck in here forever?”

What Haertling displays offers a peek into one’s soul, observed Jaime Kopke. “What is so special about this exhibit, is that it is a clear portrait of one person’s passions,” said Kopke, senior manager of prorams and events at the library. “I think that is because we are all creative beings in our core and yearn for the same outlets.”

“The real subtext,” he chirped, “has to do with what happens at garage sales. There’s an instant rapport (with others) that doesn’t exist otherwise.”

Novick, a Denver resident and musician, praised Haertling for his thoughtfulness. “He’s very generous. If he finds something that he knows somebody collects, he’ll get that and give it them them.”

While the outside storage spaces he rents grab the bulk of the attention, there’s also Haertling’s home to consider. The apartment he rents on the second-floor of a house – “it used to be the ghetto of Boulder” – as expected, is a cluttered branch depository for other artifacts. “I can cook,” he promised, adding “it’s kind of like a galley on a submarine.”

Haertling spoke of a condition known as hyperthymia that, may be at work here. It features a sooped up energy level, mood, or behavior. Terms like ‘system’atic invalidation’ and ‘low self-esteem are tossed into the mix. “I couldn’t be happier with the diagnosis!” he chirped.

I asked Novick what bestselling author Marie Kondo, who called attention to the art of decluttering, might say about Haertling and his lifestyle. “I think he would agree with her in principle,” he declared. “Get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy. But these things bring him joy.”

As I plunged my soul into a few of the hand-scrawled signs in the show – one, with a misspelled word, reads “Got coffie or $ for coffie?” I met Dorothy Riddle. Clearly, here was a woman who was in the throes of sensory overload. “I guess he’s got it contained,” she said of Haertling’s organizational acumen. “Fifty years of stuff makes me want to get rid of things.”
But Haertling insists he has no plans to give up hoarding. “It gives me a womblike feeling.”

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