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FRIDGE TURNS INTO A MAGNET FOR COLLECTIBLES

I JUST REALIZED I have been unwittingly caught up in the popular culture. Without premeditation, I have become a collector of refrigerator magnets and T-shirts.

A colleague gave me a new fridge magnet the other day, and when I got home I counted 20 of the little critters already on our fridge.Boy, are those little items useful for photos or reminder notes.

Must be one of the greatest advertising gimmicks of the 20th century.

We took the family to Yellowstone Park this summer and, predictably, I brought home an Old Faithful magnet.

It has joined the other illustrious magnets that advertise such things as the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Ask A Nurse, several pizza places, drugstores, dentists and real estate firms, National Egg Month, St. Thomas, the Boston Celtics and Spam Lite.

There are even a couple advertising this newspaper - a red apple with the words "Newspaper in Education" and one that says "Best Local Business Coverage."

Then there are some strange magnets that must have come in the mail at various times, because I know nothing about them - like Delta Data Systems from Nashville, Tenn.

Huh?

The most eye-catching is one that looks like a tiny Time magazine. It says, "TIME - If it's important to you, you'll find it in TIME."

Then there is the T-shirt craze that is sweeping the country. In almost any city, I find myself rummaging through the T-shirt racks to find some really great remembrance of the visit.

I'm proud of myself for resisting the urge to buy one in Yellowstone. In bold, blue letters it said, "Where the hell are the bears?"

The fact is we had been unable to find a bear. I even studied a book about Yellowstone bears.

The author suggested starting very early in the morning to find a good place to see bears, deep in the forest, then stay there quietly for as long as necessary - even to "full dark," periodically spanning the area with a scope.

A sure-fire indication, according to the book, was an elk with its ears raised.

We weren't willing to go through all that. With little effort, we did see quite a number of fine specimens of buffalo, deer, elk and moose. As we drove, we would see eight or 10 cars parked, then yell "ANIMAL ALERT!"

We watched numerous tourists get dangerously close to buffalo - despite the widely disseminated instruction sheet: "Many visitors have been gored by buffalo."

It reminded me of the time Marti and I camped out in Yellowstone Park during the first year of our marriage. A bear emerged from the woods and pounced on our picnic.

At first, we ran to the car and waited while the bear destroyed our cooler.

Then, impetuous and stupid young guy that I was, I jumped out of the car and tapped the bear on the head with a shovel. Miraculously, he lumbered off into the forest instead of mauling me.

But back to the T-shirt. I asked myself - how many times will I actually wear such a shirt? I thought probably two or three times.

When I got home, I realized I was right. My collection of T-shirts has already gotten out of control - both in numbers and appearance. Most are shrunken, with misshapen, crinkled necks.

To make matters worse, their messages are so weird or outdated that I have shoved them into a drawer, where they just might stay for the next 40 years.

Gotta start buying shirts with collars.