There's a large glass container filled with matchbooks in my apartment. Actually they're in a big Ziploc bag because I'm too lazy to unpack them, but I used to have them out in a big glass bowl on a table in my living room. I'd use them like most people use matches: to burn things. But I also liked that they were a flammable little road map to all the restaurants I'd eaten at in the past: fine dining, bistros, pizzerias and basement bars in New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Charleston, New Orleans and elsewhere.
Some of the matchbook memories are more visceral than others. A blue box marks a memorable dinner I had with my mom at Zatinya in D.C. A black one with thin white lettering marks a birthday party where all my friends gathered to mark my third decade of not dying. I like those matches for far more than candle-lighting. Digging through the bowl is like paging through a photo album filled with my life's great meals.
The collection isn't growing as quickly as it used to, though. And it's come to a stand still since I moved to Dallas. Smoking bans have obviously caused the matchboxes that used to grace so many host stands to disappear. Maybe the reason is financial, too -- some of the more intricate and irregularly shaped boxes look like they were expensive.
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Whatever the reason, the business cards that have replaced those boxes don't have the same appeal. I'll grab one when I walk into a restaurant, but then it just sits in my wallet until the corners round and I dump them out on my dresser like playing cards. The restaurant Rolodex doesn't have nearly the romance as my bowl of matches. I need that strike of sulfur to ignite my memories.