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.
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.
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