The Ross Bros Interview

Excerpts from a conversation with Jacob Ross
regarding his toothbrushes.
And an email conversation with Joel Ross about his.


Melinda: Did you ever count them?
Jacob: No. Yeah that's 15 years of brushes. You would think after 15 years. [I might have counted them]
Its interesting that you're like wow look at those and then she's like it doesn't seem like very many.

Melinda: Not for 15 years.
Jacob: No?

Roommate: Well for 15 years - it's like really dense.

Melinda: Can I just dump them out?
Jacob: Sure.
(Sound of brushes being shaken out of jars)

Jacob: They look like pickup sticks.
Melinda: I'm done taking pictures.
Jacob: But you know the most beautiful one's are on the bottom.
Melinda: Oh really. So I should flip this over?
Jacob: I think so, cuz those are all my older ones, I developed better taste.
Melinda: What happened to this one?
Jacob: Well you know - some kind of bit the dust - this one - there's another broken one here too - there's a yellow one.
Melinda: I just saw it.
Jacob: Yeah there it is.

Melinda: What's your favorite one?
Jacob: That probably changes - at the moment it's this one, because this is the one I was using when I met Deborah.
(laughter, moans)
So there you go.
Melinda: So each toothbrush has its own story behind it? Or could you look at one and tell what was going on in your life at that time?
Jacob: Some of them but no not all of them. I can tell you which one though, there's some I can but not all of them.
Melinda: That's a nice one.
Jacob: Yeah I like this one actually and lets see cuz some of them you know are similar and I have to look and see, actually no this is the one I had in Las Vegas. When I went with Joel and Amy and Danielle. I remember that.
Melinda: Did you win a lot of money?
Jacob: No.
Melinda: So it's not lucky?
Jacob: Yeah it is lucky I actually had one of the best times of my life with this toothbrush.
Melinda: Are those natural bristles? Do you prefer them?
Jacob: Yeah I mean lately, see that's the thing, all these - I've been, all the one's that are more, I mean basically now I only buy European toothbrushes.
So... (laughter)
Melinda: Where do you buy them?
Jacob: At Merz's Apothecary, except for this one I got in Iowa City.
Melinda: Why do you think they're not this size? I mean I would prefer that.
Jacob: Yeah but that's too little.
Melinda: No not this end, this part. You don't need all of that.
Jacob: Not necessarily but they don't make them in this size with a big enough here. This didn't last very long cuz its annoying.
Melinda: Its for kids.
Jacob: I know. There's a couple other ones in here that I tried like that but this is from when I was much younger this is when I was in high school or something like that, when I was much more a dork about things.
Melinda: And you're not now?
Jacob: Oh of course not.

Jacob: There's another one from that era. It's in here somewhere.
Melinda: Since you keep them all have you found that you're much more selective about how they look?
Jacob: Yeah, all these that I think are much more aesthetically pleasing are all from actually around the time when I that Danielle is when I discovered Merz's Apothecary and that's where I get all these really beautiful ones except I went to the apothecary in Iowa City where I got this one. But all those, these striped ones, the checkered ones. This one didn't last very long either because it looks nice but its totally not functional. Its all straightness - a little bend helps, people.
Roommate: So did those break in the jar or when you were trying to brush?
Jacob: Yeah. This one I hadn't have very long either, I got it in Vegas, I didn't start using it until I got back but you can see its not very worn, it broke easily. But, most of them I don't really, y'know, I only have, there's only like a few that I remember specifically like, I mean I know the period in my life when I changed to these kind of toothbrushes.

Melinda: Why do you think you keep them?
Jacob: I think, well, I don't know - I thought about that - I think that its because - I was trying to think back, I kept them before I ever made a conscious decision, it was just something I did. If I look back and try to think what was it about my personality that was not letting go of them, I think that for me its because they're a really intimate object. Its like, you know, you put it in your mouth and brush your teeth with it. Thinking about it - there's not many people you'd share your toothbrush with, you have to know someone or have a certain level of intimacy before you would offer to share your toothbrush. As an example of how intimate it is - because of that level of intimacy and I'm such a sentimental sap I couldn't let go of it.

Melinda: Do you keep anything else?
Jacob: No I don't think so.
Melinda: Records don't count.
Jacob: I did have a fingernail collection for a long time. My dad destroyed that one. He was pretty pissed off about it and thought it was disgusting.
Melinda: But he didn't mind the toothbrushes?
Jacob: That was before it was obvious I was collecting them, that was in high school when I had the fingernail collection. At that point I had my toothbrushes not in a jar they were just sort of around in my desk drawers and on my dresser.

Melinda: I don't think that's 15 years worth of toothbrushes.
Jacob: Well it is.
Melinda: I still don't think it looks like 15 years worth of toothbrushes.
Jacob: Well it is.
Roommate: Did some of them get lost?
Jecob: Nope.
Melinda: Not if you buy a new one every six weeks.
Jacob: I'm sure that there are times when it's longer.
Roommate: That's like six toothbrushes a year for 15 years.
Jacob: Yeah, so that's not that many.
Roommate: It seems like it should be.
Jacob: So let's count.
Melinda: What's 15 x 6?
Jacob: I think its 15 ok wait cuz I'll be 31 in May and I made that art project with all my toothbrushes from junior high when I was a junior in high school. So So that would make you like 16 or 17 right?
Well I think I was 16. Maybe 14, well I'm gonna be 31 so well somewhere around there.
Ok so it should be 90.
Melinda: Maybe you're lying.
Roommate: Maybe lying, maybe slacking.
Jacob: Well I didn't measure - sometimes its 4 weeks sometimes its 8, I'm trying to give you an average here.
(counting noises)
(for a long time)
Jacob: 100.
Roommate: So the average would be 7 weeks. Approximately.
6 weeks would be 120. Every 2 months.
Jacob: Is his math right?
Melinda: I uh - don't care. Um, sounds right.

Melinda: So when you move do you ever fell like 'I should get rid of these'. Jacob: No, never.

Jacob: But there's another toothbrush story. Ok so I'd been hanging onto my toothbrushes and when I moved up here to Illinois, my brother was going to grad school in Michigan prior to that he was in Boston and we'd been apart for awhile and then I started to go see him pretty regularly on the weekend. And like the first time I went to see him I got up in the morning and on his dresser he had this huge pile of toothbrushes. And I said whoa man are these yours, do you keep your toothbrushes? And he said yeah and that was the first time that either of us had realized that we both had been doing that.
Melinda: So does he still have his?
Jacob: Yeah.
Melinda: So if someone had thrown any away would you be offended?
Jacob: Yeah.


Through email.

Melinda: Jacob talked about realizing that he was collecting his toothbrushes and then was visiting you and saw yours scattered around as his had been. Was this when you first realized you were saving them?
Joel: No, I realized I was saving them a couple of years before Jacob and I made the connection that we shared that fascination.

Melinda: Do you get rid of them when you move and start over or is it a forever kind of thing?
Joel:No, it's a forever thing. I can't honestly remember for sure when I started, I think it was in '91, but I've kept every single one since then. It's not as many as you'd think. I don't change them as often as the dentist recommends.

Melinda:Has it turned into an actual collection? Like they go into a special place?
Joel:Yeah, I'd call it a collection. They go into these large glass jars.

Melinda:Why do you keep them?
Joel:My initial compulsion had something to do with the fact that they are objects we stick into our bodies. At the time I was thinking a lot about orifices, and the whole inside the body, outside the body thing. This got me to thinking about how intimate the lowly toothbrush is. I know people who won't even share their toothbrush with a lover.

Melinda:Would you be offended if someone threw them out?
Joel: I would have been a couple of years ago, but now I'd probably be relieved. Like most collections it's become somewhat of a burden. Not physically, but conceptually. How long am I going to keep doing this and why? Even though I'm not that interested in it anymore, I still can't bring myself to throw out a toothbrush. So, right now it feels like some outside force will have to intervene or it will go on forever.

Melinda: Its a bit of a coincidence that you both do this. Did it freak you out when you discovered he did the same thing?
Joel: Well, it was pretty weird, but not totally surprising. We've discovered many similarities in our personalities over the years, so in a way it kind of made sense.