ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “I knew I was glove-addicted,” Ned O’Malia wrote to me, “when I read your first paragraph.”
That first paragraph in another column described the habits of sculptor Jaymes Dudding, who has picked up wayward gloves off the street for decades and found homes for them in pieces of art.
“When you start finding old gloves by the curbs, on sidewalks, along grassy roadsides, and you start bending down to pick up those gloves and examine them and stuff them in your pocket or throw them in the back seat of your car, the law of synchronicity kicks in: Once you start finding gloves, gloves start finding you.”
Those words struck a chord with O’Malia because of the glove tree growing in his front yard. He enclosed in his letter snapshots of a large, multitrunked affair made completely of what looked like a thousand or more gloves.
Because I love it when the telling of one unusual tale uncovers another one, and because I know O’Malia to be a fine baker and you really never know when a baker might have something good coming out of the oven, I invited myself right over to have a look.
My, oh my.
In the front yard of his house in Albuquerque, O’Malia’s tree extends about 12 feet high and at least that far across. (It would have been easy to measure, if it had occurred to me, because O’Malia also collects tape measures.)
It is covered by an assortment of gloves, ranging from the dirty leather workman’s glove to the fuzzy purple child’s glove to the one-of-a-kinds – the soft hand-knitted beauty, the oversized glove advertising a Danish beer, the rust-covered rubber mitt whose hidden story is surely worth knowing.
O’Malia collects many things. His house near Hyder Park is filled with the aforementioned measuring tapes and with eyeglasses, tea bags and tin cans from around the world, rusty old padlocks and dented trombones, saxophones and other horns washed up in New Orleans in the debris of Hurricane Katrina.
Some people collect things and some people don’t. I don’t know whether or not it’s genetic, but O’Malia, a semiretired professor of religion at the University of New Mexico, a tour guide and a pie judge at the State Fair, told me that his mother possessed 100-plus salt and pepper shakers.
Because he has a collector’s disposition, he knows where it can lead. And so he hesitated a few years ago when he was out on a walk and saw a glove.
“I remember thinking, ‘Don’t pick up that glove. Don’t. Don’t,’ ” O’Malia recalls.
Every addiction starts with just that one. As O’Malia has traveled the world, his glove addiction has traveled with him. He has stapled gloves to his glove tree from all over Europe, and he brought a trove that filled a satchel back to Albuquerque after he spent a year teaching in China.
He has had to wrestle with some philosophical questions along the way.
“I’ve had to figure out what constitutes a glove,” O’Malia told me. He decided that mittens are gloves, that baseball gloves are gloves and ditto for oven mitts.
And O’Malia, like Dudding, has found that once other people know you pick up gloves and keep them, they start picking up gloves and keeping them for you.
“I’ve come to my mailbox at the Honors College and found a glove. No note,” O’Malia says.
Some of the neighbors on his street, which is just a few blocks long, make their own contributions. “They sort of delight in it – I hope,” O’Malia said.
The glove tree has grown to include more than 2,000 gloves. At some point, the universe will decide that it can grow no more.
What then, I wondered.
O’Malia has a back yard, of course. And he told me has started collecting boots.