Hans and the Flag Counter

When my son and daughter-in-law announced last year that they were not planning on having children, that was (sigh) a blow. One of the strange consequences was that I started looking at my possessions, so carefully saved for decades, and wondering what to do with them. Clayton and Maria might want some minimal number of things, but I’d really been counting on passing items further down the line to descendents yet unknown. Now what? Ebay was the answer, so with little steps at first, and now a flood of activity, I’m selling off the things in my life, and having a good time doing it.

In 1976, when I moved to Columbus to come out, I began buying, and, by the end of that year, subscribing, to the award-winning gay newsmagazine, The Advocate (twice it beat out Time and Newsweek for best newsmagazine of the year). It’s published every other month, and I’ve saved all my copies through the decades; they now fill sixteen large boxes. As I became more experienced at selling items on eBay, it occurred to me that I no longer needed this collection, which was gathering dust in my attic. Surely somebody would have a worthwhile use for these historic magazines, so I put them up for auction on eBay. I warned prospective buyers that postage would be a major concern for any auction winner, but I was not prepared for what happened. The winning buyer was Hans from Ghent, Belgium!

Hans (see photo) and I began a series of emails about his purchase, with me worrying that the cost of getting the magazines to Belgium would be prohibitive. However, Hans has a major collection of gay books and other items, and he is very enthusiastic about somehow adding all those Advocates to his library. He’d lived in the United States for five years in Florida, having fond memories of that experience, is a former gay activist himself, has a M.A. in philosophy, and is studying to become a librarian while working for the international section of the Belgian railroads. His description of his gay collection is very impressive. Hans suggested using the United States Postal System’s international M-bag system for shipping books as cheaply as possible to foreign countries, so I looked into that. At first my local post office said that M-bags (originally used by missionaries to ship bibles overseas—hence, I suppose, the “M”) could not be used for magazines, but after I did a little research, I found that was untrue, and, grudgingly, my post office agreed to take Hans’s first shipment of two boxes. The amount? It was $172! Knowing the Hans did not have a great deal of discretionary income, I was dismayed.

The Koreans have a saying that “things belong to those who want them most.” That seemed to apply here, and by now I had developed a firm determination that these magazines would somehow end up with Hans in Belgium. So I wrote him and suggested the following arrangement, but to understand it you first have to know about my flag counter.

I first started this blog in mid-December, and when I did so sent out a hundred or more emails to friends and colleagues, inviting them to visit the site. It didn’t occur to me to begin keeping a record of the number who did so until a month later, when I signed up for a service called “Flag Counter.” It not only keeps a record of visitors, but identifies them by country, sporting a little flag for each nation. I don’t know how many people visited the blog in the first month, but I racked up fifty visitors almost right away, so it had to be in the hundreds. My first foreign visitor was from the U.K., the next from Iran (!), and then one from Russia. I became intrigued with getting as many flags on that counter as possible. [Should you care to keep up with the tally yourself, visit the post entitled “Flag Counter,” January 12, 2010 (click on a flag to identify the country).]

So I told Hans to forget any payment for the collection itself, and then added that I would help him finance the postage for future shipments by absorbing $15.00 of the postage for every new flag (not each visitor) that appeared on my blog. Hans plunged into this task with vigor. Belgium’s flag appeared immediately and he also began reading selected blog entries. He posted the nicest comment to “My Heart Belonged To Andrew” [February 17, 2010], which I promptly called to the attention of Andrew’s mother and stepfather, who were much pleased by it.

Then Hans ran into a snag. While certain friends of his in France, the Netherlands, and Germany have been willing to visit (and even return to) the blog, many of his friends (he contacted over 30) were afraid to click on the blog link lest it spread a virus. He’s working on that problem now.

So that’s the story of Hans and the Flag Counter. But if you’re interested in helping us out here, I’ll also take $15.00 off of Hans’s future postage bills for every new flag that appears on the flag counter, no matter who generated it. If you have a friend in a country whose flag is not currently on the counter, and think that person might be amused (or horrified in some fascinated way) by my blog, see if you can run up a new flag on the counter and contribute to my international effort to get those sixteen heavy boxes into Hans’s collection in Belgium. We would both appreciate it.

Related post: “About This Blog,” August 23, 2010


  1. Hans needs these magazines. I've put the word out to my friends, hopefully we'll get some new flags up here soon.

  2. Visit my flagcounter!


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