Sara Peté and James Maeda are two stalwarts of the Olympia underground. We first met each of them individually through their outposts at the Olympia Timberland Library and Rainy Day Records, respectively—two essential pieces of the culture of downtown. But it became obvious that they’re a pair of eccentrics who magnetically pull toward each other with some kind of mystical combustion, and together they have created some of the most amazing collections this side of the Mississippi. James has taken it upon himself to become the leading historian on Olympia flyers from the 1980s and 1990s—the times during which the punk rock culture of the town had a huge impact on not just the rest of the country, but the world at large, through riot grrrl and what was to be later referred to as “grunge.” Neither of them is originally from Olympia, but many of their collections—like jumbuttons, a thing that seems to only exist at Lakefair, the yearly downtown carnival—are specific to the region. The amount of history that dwells inside their modest home is immense, and they are dutiful keepers.
Sara: I’ve heard [they’re called] Sillisculpts. There’s Berrie, that’s one of the brands. Paula is the other one. I love the ones that have a little bit of color. Some of them are so fucking creepy and weird, you know, one of my favorite things is like, “Who the fuck bought this originally? And who for?” There’s one that’s in our bathroom that’s like an old guy with a young looking girl in the bathtub, and it’s just like, “Eww!” There’s something kind of slimy, like, “What the fuck!” They’re basically like demented greeting cards, I guess, is how they were used originally. That’s why there’s so many, like, “World’s Best Mom,” it’s that idea, but I like to imagine, “Who originally bought this for whoever?” Like, in 1972 or whatever.
S: I usually just find them at thrift stores, but sometimes I’ll remember to look on eBay for them, but I only want them if they’re $2.99. There are some that people are asking hilarious amounts of money for, but most of these are not worth anything. My friend Jonathan goes to thrift stores all the time, and he also goes to the library all the time, so he’ll be like, “This one is at such-and-such,” and he’ll show me a picture, and [when I go] it’s never gone, like, no one wants those but me, unless it’s a really unique weird one. It’s a fun thing to collect because they’re worthless and they’re still common enough that you can hunt for them, or you can still buy them on eBay for $3.99 if it’s one that you’re like, “Ooh, I don’t have that one yet!” But I’m so ridiculous, I’ll even buy duplicates. As you can see, James had to just keep building shelves.
James: They take over everything.
S: For a while I was doing a series on Instagram where I would just post them, and some friends who have been over here know about my… [whispering] problem… I usually don’t bother with World’s Greatest Mom, Dad, or Grandpa unless there’s something weird about it, like, “What? Grandpa in a speedo with a Superman ’S’? I’ll take it!”
J: If they have something glued to them or fake hair, they’re awesome.
S: They’re all the same material. Like, I could throw them across the room. Next time there’s an earthquake they’ll all be fine. They might kill one of us. I found [some of] these at real thrift stores, like, you go to the coast and it’s someplace where everything is still a quarter, and they always have weird shit. One time a friend of mine, when I was in the middle of posting them all online, texted me a picture of this collection that was at the Aberdeen thrift store, and so we went there; like, it didn’t line up with my weekend because it was a Salvation Army and they’re closed on Sunday, so we went there on a school night, spent the night there on a Sunday, and drove home from Aberdeen to work the next day in order to get them. It’s so ridiculous. Yeah, we went there on a Monday, right? We spent the Monday there to get them, and then drove home on Tuesday.
S: There’s some special ones, like this gi-normous one.
J: That one’s pretty big, too, that crazy grandma one.
S: Yeah, exactly. Some of the huge statues that we get that won’t fit on our shelves anymore we put outside. I wanna have a crazy grandma lawn eventually, too. I love lawns like that.
J: I wanted to start collecting chainsaw sculptures but with something slightly off about them, so if you’re just driving by it would look like a normal person’s lawn but with a bunch of chainsaw art, but some of them would be kind of fucked up, like they had weird things about them that if you stopped and looked at them it’d be like, “What the fuck?!”
S: My dream is still to have the life-size chainsaw art of Pee-Wee Herman, just like hanging out in your lawn. I feel like it’d be really expensive, like, as they should be, that’s not a cheap thing to commission, but it seems kind of worth it, let’s invest in that. I don’t know how much it would be, it’d probably be hundreds of dollars. I don’t know if it’d be a thousand.
J: Oh yeah, easily.
S: Did you see the bathroom, too?
S: Everywhere has weird stuff. This [the bathroom] is one of the first areas we expanded into. This is a cabinet I put a bunch in. [laughs] They’re all dusty. I love the weird devil ones. They’re so covered in dust but they’re so good!
S: We have a weird wooden owl collection on that wall. It keeps expanding. This kind of tile, my grandmother used to have it in her bathroom, so when I was a kid I was obsessed with that kind of marble stuff. [Owls are] another collection that we kind of inherited. James went to a garage sale and somebody was getting rid of their entire owl collection, and also a friend of mine who noticed that I had a lot of owl stuff, she boxed up all her owls [and gave them to us]. It’s like, when someone is like, “Oh, you like these weird things,” then it just grows, even when you’re not adding to it. There’s so much good owl stuff from the ’60s and ’70s. But it’s funny because I’m not that into the more recent stuff, and somebody like my mom is like, “Oh, you like owls!” And I’m like, “I don’t really like contemporary owl shit.”
TIKI, JUMBUTTONS, AND CULTS
S: We have some tiki stuff in the kitchen, too.
J: I used to collect tikis because I’m from Hawaii. They’ve gone out of vogue because of people’s changing views on the world. They’re a bastardized version of what American culture thought of ’50s [Hawaiian culture]… I have so many tikis. I probably have at least ten boxes of them. I just opened a couple boxes and put them up when we moved here, which was about ten years ago. After the earthquake I just packed up what was left of some stuff like that. I lost hundreds of tikis in the earthquake, they were all from the ’60s and stuff.
S: This wall wouldn’t do so well in an earthquake.
J: I don’t really care. What are you gonna do? I haven’t bought a tiki in years.
S: This is our jumbutton collection. They don’t age well. You can see that they’re just totally disintegrating. That one is me and the dogs and my friend Kristen, that one is on fax paper or something, you can tell by the way it just fades. It’s before the dogs were old and their faces weren’t even white yet, but the picture is aging with them like they’re Dorian Gray. We have a ton more of those.
J: I just got this, Beat Happening’s checkbook. I got a bunch of stuff from Calvin. He has a couple things that I need for my collection, so I’ve been harassing him. You’re taping, so I can’t talk about it. I have a lot of amazing things that the public can never see.
J: I was buying stuff from this cult a while ago, and I got all these crazy mystical games that they invented. They’re like these really amazing Ouija boards that they invented, they’re from 1972. You play it like a Ouija board. So, I bought a bunch of them off of this cult, and I was going to sling them to record stores all over the place, like in Portland and stuff, but then I realized that these games don’t exist anywhere and that it’s made by a cult and so it’s probably really rare so I shouldn’t sell any of them. And they’re a cult that’s still existing. And they have more of these. After I gave a few of these away—because I was like, I can’t let anyone have any, it’s psycho, and so I give a few away to friends, and even when people try to pay me I won’t take money because I’m just, like, whatever—and then someone ordered one from the cult and no one had ordered one since the ’70s, and then someone figured out that the cult was still the cult, so they contacted the cult to try to, like, get one. But she had given me all the instruction manuals and all the planchettes, so I had to give her back the instruction manuals.
J: I’m gonna have to go out to the cult to buy more if she’ll sell me more. I kind of paid her a lot because I wanted to be cool, you know, because they’re from 1972. I’ve gone back a couple of times and I need to keep going back because there’s a lot of cool stuff there, but every time I go out there I spend a thousand dollars or more, so I can’t just go out there every month and waste a thousand dollars on a bunch of weird shit, and half of it’s moldy. That place is amazing; they used to own one of the earliest head shops in Olympia, so they had all this head shop type stuff. It’s really weird, this hippie cult thing. It’s actually kind of cool at the root of it. Oh! The coolest thing, you’ll freak out about this. Oh, you’re recording. I’m really careful about that. I’ll tell you a bunch of stuff, but you can’t record it. They believed that through psychic communication and fine-tuning your psyche you can communicate with a higher power. It’s really cool in many ways. One of the crazy things about it is that they have this warehouse, you know, in this headquarters. In this warehouse, the only person who still runs it is this grandma. The guru is no longer living. I don’t want to offend her by calling it a cult; she’s very nice and I talk to her sometimes. But basically, they have their entire run of their insane-looking newsletters for their thing, and they have the most amazing pictures on the covers. There’s, like, an alien fetus and it says ‘Astral Rape,’ just amazing.
S: James, your jukebox doesn’t work right now, does it?
J: It might. I can’t remember.
S: You don’t have anything in there, anyway, right? They’re kind of hard on records, aren’t they?
J: Yeah. Well, the idea of this one was that the only song that mattered in the world was “Sometime” by Gene Thomas, so there’s nothing in there except for one thing that says “Sometime” by Gene Thomas. It’s this lesser-known oldie, and it was gonna be like, if you wanna play it just press anything and it’ll be that song. It’s only a $2 record, you could put 40 of them in there. Anyway, that place, those newsletters are amazing, but it would be fucked up to try to buy them because she might think you’re teasing the thing. There’s also weird things, like, you can’t call the phone number there unless it’s called you before, and things like that. It’s set up real crazy. I was trying to look into the cult online and then I realized she’s probably tracking who looks at their website and where they are, so I was like, I’m not gonna do that.
S: You sound a little paranoid, dear.
J: It’s a fucking cult. You should be a little bit paranoid.
DEAD MOON, SEAGULLS, AND BOXING
J: I’m actually pretty anti-materialistic and I go through things pretty fast. I’m a weird hoarder but I literally give everything I own away most of the time. I just have a serious problem buying everything I see. It’s all weird stuff. I collect certain types of records, I guess, but I used to get a lot of stuff because—I don’t have a lot of money now, but I used to really not have any money, and then I used to just buy anything because I couldn’t afford anything cool and then I’d just fix it up or whatever and trade it with people, and I just ended up with so much crap that I’ll never actually use, so I’m trying to get the few things that I’ll actually use in my lifetime to actually enjoy. Recently, as the town gets gentrified pretty hard and they’re building all these condos, I’m really pushing to save all the punk flyers before they’re all gone because I think it’s really, really sad how a lot of them are being destroyed. Some of the best collections that have existed were in people’s garage and it leaked and stuff. It’s really sad how that works.
J: I think that [points to a Dead Moon pendant] is my favorite object. I had one of those and then one of their [Fred and Toody] friends was dying of cancer. See how the black is worn off? They all got like that, so she gave her’s to her son to repaint and she wanted to buried with it. I’d wear mine everyday, too, back then. I took mine off for the first time in forever and I gave it to her and she was buried with mine, and then later on I got another one from [the band]. Pretty crazy. That’s my replacement.
S: You can tell we don’t get rid of that much stuff.
J: I get rid of stuff all the time.
S: But you also collect larger things. Our entire basement is filled with your shit. A lot of this crap in this room [living room] is mine; I mean, you enjoy this stuff, too, but I collect this kinda crap and clothes. Our spare bedroom is my walk-in closet. It’s not very photogenic, but you can peek in here.
J: She got rid of like a million bags of clothes, too. It’s pretty weird in there.
S: The closet’s filled with clothes. I got this clothing rack from Dumpster Values.
S: [Pointing at a seagull painting] I love seagulls. They’re one of my favorite animals, other than dogs. My parents live in England and they live on a river. They live in this apartment and they have a seagull family that’s moved into their porch, so sometimes they’ll fall out of the nest and my dad will put them back up. They’ve had a couple generations there. Seagulls are so amazing. They’re common but they’re so graceful. We got this seagull artwork when we went to the coast for my birthday. It was one of those real thrift stores on the side of the road kind of thing; I think that one was outside of Seaside, maybe, or maybe even in Seaside.
J: It was $10!
S: It still has the price tag on it! [laughs] Remember when I came outside and there were a whole bunch of seagulls swarming over it? They’re like, “Hey, that’s my cousin!” [laughs] We had a program where a bird expert came and talked about gulls at the library, and in the library there’s that atrium that has a glass ceiling, and for most of that program there was a seagull on the tippy-top of it preening itself, like, “Oh, you’re talking about me?”
J: I’ve got something that’s not too crazy to get to that has an interesting story. So, there’s this boxer around the teens, and his name is Kid McCoy, and he’s this weirdo—not a very cool person, I think he may have even murdered his wife and then gotten away with it by doing some crazy acting at the trial. He probably wasn’t a very cool guy, but he’s this really famous insane boxer, and to make more money—because the circuit was so bad for money-making back then—he’d do after-hours fights with anybody for money. So, there’s all these legends that he went to this place once where he knew the other person was gonna box barefoot so he’d throw tacks down; it’s just that kinda thing, where the person would step on a tack and be like, “What?” and then he’d knock them out or something. But then, there’s this story where, basically—from what I’ve heard, anyhow—there’s this story where he goes into a bar and he’s done with a fight or whatever and he’s just getting a beer or something and this big guy walks up to him and is like, “I heard you said you were Kid McCoy.”
And he goes, “Yes, I’m Kid McCoy.” And then he just minds his business.
Then the guy’s like, “You’re not Kid McCoy.”
And he’s just like, “I’m Kid McCoy. Please don’t bother me.” Or whatever.
J: And he keeps doing that, and finally Kid McCoy just turns around and punches him in the face and knocks him out with one punch. When the guy came to, he gets up and goes, “Wow! That’s the real McCoy!” I guess that’s where that phrase is from. So check this out. This is kinda crazy. My basement’s not really navigable, but you can see, right up here, if you look at this, so, Kid McCoy worked at the Ford motor plant toward the end of his life. This envelope was mailed from Kid McCoy at the Ford Motor Company from 1938, and that’s his autograph, the “Real McCoy.” It’s one of my favorite things. I bought all these boxing photos from a guy. It was his dad’s collection. But he liked it all. Joe Lewis was the world champ. These are all signed. It’s pretty neat. I hate boxing. I like history.