For their new book What We Keep, Bill Shapiro and his co-author Naomi Wax asked prominent people to talk about the objects they carry with them through life, from home to home, office to office, place to place. Some of their responses are poignant; some are sentimental; some are a little goofy. The contribution from Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon — as you’ll see in the exclusive-to-Vulture excerpt appearing here — is all of the above.
“My strat” sounds cooler than it is because it isn’t a Stradivarius or Stratocaster. It’s my straw hat—a boater, like they had in the ’20s. We had to wear them at Winchester, my boarding school in England, along with a jacket and tie. We couldn’t be bothered to say “straw hat.” Just “strat.”
We’d treat our strats like shit, and at some point the housemaster would say, “You’re holding a piece of straw, and that won’t do.” I got a new one my senior year, which is the one I keep on the wall of my bedroom, where you’d hardly notice it.
I was 15 when my mom and stepdad, who were both teachers, left New York for a sabbatical in England. They didn’t believe there were actual schools in California, where my dad lived; they thought everyone out there was making movies and fighting Indians. Winchester had the best academic rep in England—and I had no business being there.
My strat brings up the most delicious Dickensian memories: All of the classrooms at Winchester were stone, all the kids had fingerless gloves, and everyone’s suits were shabby. But even sullen teenager me would look around and say, “This is the most beautiful place and these are the best teachers in the world.”
There’s some guilt at how much work I didn’t do and how much I didn’t live up to what I wanted to be there; a lot of the things I was going through didn’t have acronyms yet, and if it wasn’t English or history, I almost physically wasn’t able to study. But the teachers were phenomenal, and although I was originally supposed to go back to New York after a year, I decided to stay. I stayed for the education … and then I abused it. I basically majored in dropping acid.
So while my strat really serves no purpose—it’s not like I’m sporting it when I go barhopping—it’s this absolute tangible reminder that my life was once that weird and that old-fashioned, that I lived through this crazy experience of being dropped into a hermetically sealed time capsule, a 600-year-old, all-male boarding school in England.
There’s a certain amount of pride—well, not exactly pride, more like ownership—and a little delight at having been part of something that shouldn’t have existed in the modern era.
I’m not a collector of things. I’ve walked away from a lot and I have thrown away a lot, including a perfectly healthy relationship. So I’m real good at moving on. But the strat is different. There was never a time I didn’t want my strat. There was never a moment when I was like, “I’m over this.” I was at Winchester until I was 18, but, in a way, I never came back.
It does nicely on the wall.
Reprinted with permission from What We Keep. Copyright © 2018 by Bill Shapiro with Naomi Wax, Running Press.