Tim Parati is, by his own admission, a little funny-looking.
Stringy hair and hollow cheeks have earned the native Charlottean small roles as haunting characters in a variety of movies – as a redneck racist in 1996’s “A Time to Kill,” a wacko woodsman in 2002’s “Cabin Fever,” a backwoods bully in 2007’s “The Great Debaters.” The list goes on.
So picture this: He takes a woman out on a date, brings her back to his apartment in Elizabeth for the first time, sits her down, and says, “I have to show you something in the back bedroom. Don’t be scared ...”
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No, it’s not a trap. It’s just that when you have a room filled top to bottom and wall to wall with almost every type of “Planet of the Apes” collectible you can think of (and many you cannot), better to find out if such an obsession is a relationship deal-breaker sooner rather than later.
Today, Parati is 52 and a newlywed, having forged the bond with someone who not only wasn’t scared off by those damned dirty apes, but who actually finds the whole thing kind of sexy.
His collection is massive – “over 10,000 (pieces), if you go down to individual trading cards or magazines,” Parati says – and will only grow as toys and keepsakes tied to 20th Century Fox’s new “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” movie trickle out this month.
“I can’t even imagine how much money I’ve spent on it. I probably could have bought a house a long time ago.”
Tim and Kim Parati did recently purchase a home together; but an addition or an attic renovation would be required to accommodate Tim’s “Apes” cache, so he keeps it in the hot, stuffy second-floor unit that he now calls his studio.
‘I went crazy with it’
Tim Parati’s love affair with apes began in 1973 when – as a student at Smith Junior High – he caught a TV airing of “Planet of the Apes.” Released in 1968, it starred Charlton Heston as an astronaut who crash-lands on a planet where the animals speak and behave like Earth’s humans. Four sequels followed, as did two television series and various comic books.
“It was total escapism, going into that world. I was enthralled,” he says. “And I just went crazy with it.”
Through his years at Olympic High School, he’d cash paychecks from his job as an usher at the Park Terrace movie theater and buy “Apes” comic books, trading cards, models.
But before enrolling at UNC Charlotte as a theater student in the fall of 1979, Parati boxed up his “Apes” stuff so his parents could put it in storage.
Years passed until the box came back to him, in 1993, when his parents got rid of the storage unit. The box continued to collect dust until eBay was founded in the mid-’90s.
“I thought, ‘Great, I can sell all this and make some money’ – that was why I kept it all that time: to sell it,” Parati says. “And I could not do it.
“I was emotionally attached to it, certainly. Most collectors do get emotionally attached to their collections. But I also just saw all this other stuff (on eBay) that I had always wanted, that I should have bought when it was a dollar-fifty, and now it was much more.”
So after his roommate moved out of the Elizabeth apartment in 1997, he decided not to find a new one. The bedroom became “The Apes Room.”
He was now a middle-aged man, but that childhood thrill had returned.
‘I love weird’
Tim Parati met Kim Watson Brooks at a Halloween party he hosted in 2001. They had run in theater circles; Kim performed for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, where Tim had been doing work as a scenic artist (he has been on permanent staff at CTC for the past decade).
Someone at the party was talking about Tim’s “Apes” room, and she was led down the hall for a viewing.
“I walked in and thought, ‘Oh, my God,’” Kim says. “But I love weird. And it was weird in a good way. Fringe in a good way. I am a minimalist, and so I always find it interesting when people go so deep with something. ... To go into that room and see what to me was a manifestation of his passion, I thought it was really cool.”
They remained friendly for several years, then officially start dating in 2011. During their courtship, Tim asked Kim to watch all of the movies – including Tim Burton’s 2001 remake and the 2011 reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” She didn’t resist, and found herself actually enjoying the post-film discussions.
The couple was married last month.
Parati says that over the years he has been mostly practical when adding to his collection: “If it was a choice between rent and food and buying some toys, then I certainly ate and kept my shelter over my head.”
He has a big notebook and several “sub-notebooks” that catalog each item and how much he paid for it. He periodically scans eBay, but mainly to see if someone’s got the same item in better condition; that’s because at this point, he says, there isn’t much that he doesn’t have.
Parati’s most prized possessions are quirkier keepsakes, bought online: a bass drum adorned with the likeness of chimpanzee archaeologist Dr. Cornelius (paid $150); a life preserver ($150); a beach ball ($200); and a child’s sleeping bag featuring Cornelius, Dr. Zaius, Zira and Gen. Aldo ($350).
Items he is afraid to let guests touch are kept in a large, glass case he got from a baseball card shop that was going out of business. Everything else is OK to handle, though he enforces a no-food-no-drink rule in the room, and – because he does get anxious about a catastrophe – the collection is fully insured.
He’s never had to file a claim, but a few years ago, his apartment was burglarized. It was summer, and a window had been thrown open to cool off the place, and someone used a ladder to let themselves in.
They took the flat-screen TV, a bicycle and some other items. They clearly had discovered the “Apes” room, because he always keeps the door closed and the door was open; but nothing inside appeared to have been disturbed.
“He probably freaked out and left,” says Parati, adding that he isn’t overly concerned about thieves.
“Who’s gonna break in and take that stuff? It’s just a bunch of crap to most people.”