So the other day I went to the mall in search of a pair of sunglasses. I already have three pairs, but the two I like to wear are missing, and of course, the only pair I can find are the ones that make me look like a futuristic NASCAR fan. While at the mall, I saw they had a couple of sports memorabillia tables, card & autograph dealers, and the odd crate of Beanie Babies set up in the food court. It was a welcome diversion from the sunglasses mission, which I was failing.
Having already achieved my life’s dream of owning complete sets of Topps Nintendo Scratch Off Cards and Topps Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cards, I wasn’t too interested in the tables. Most were sports-related, and I’m not a sports collector. Behind most of the tables sat your scraggly-haired fat guys, guys who have taken the chosen profession of sport and non-sport card dealer. These guys are the bottom rung of the collectables vendors–comic book sellers are like the slacker rock stars, record & music memorabilia dealers are the asshole-chic, but card dealers? They’re just creepy, always with that 1000-yard stare.
I was breezing past the tables until I hit one table, where a man handed me a baseball card, saying, “here, have a free card.” I was both mortified and thrilled–on one hand, I had to interact with him now, and on the other hand, I had a free thing. I love free things! But ugh, now I had to say something. I thanked him and took a look at my card. Dusty Baker. Outfielder. Dodgers.
“Cool, thanks,” I said.
“Yeah, my son wrote on the back of all of them when he was a kid,” he said, smiling. He laughed. I forced a laugh too. Kids.
“My son’s dead now.”
“Oh, I’m uh, er, sorry,” I said.
“Yep, this is his collection. I don’t even know anything about any of this stuff. I just want it to go to a good home,” he said. “What do you collect?”
“I, uh, you know, a little bit of everyting.”
I stood there awkwardly, not wanting to appear heartless, now forced to feign interest in his table, holding his dead kid’s baseball card in my hand. Maybe it was meant to be–that his son drew me to this table, that I had this special card–all of it imploring me to buy something more. I would take care of it, and I would always remember that dead little boy.
I looked at an Exxon Gas Station baseball. I’m a sucker for an orange ball with tiger stripes. I wanted the Exxon Tiger ball, but not for $12. Oh well kid, I can’t afford to honor your memory. I walked away, thanking the man again, feeling like he’d given me something special, something with his own child’s handwriting.
I’d keep it in my wallet. Dusty Baker, Lucky Dusty. Outfielder, Dodgers. If anyone ever asked, (which no one ever would,) I’d tell them this wonderful story about fathers and sons, cards and baseball, life and death. Later I went to show the card to the girlfriend, and although she definitely didn’t ask, I was about to tell her the magical story of growing up and collecting, peanuts and crackerjacks, and the moment I shared with the card dealer at the mall. But as I pulled it out of my wallet, I noticed the dead boy made an odd marking on the back of the card:
He signed the card Harriet Baker. Who is Harriet Baker? Wait, that’s not a dead boy’s name. That’s the name of a little girl, pretending to sign her married name to the player on the front, Dusty Baker. I got the feeling there was no dead son, no son at all. There was just a creepy dealer with a 1000-yard stare, giving away a bunch of cards he found in the back-lot dumpster of the Fire Hall from the last card show.
So then this card has a different story, Harriet’s story. She signed her name to the back of all the cards, changing the last name with each player, just to see which one sounded best. Either that, or Harriet had a crush on the ugliest dude on the ’81 Dodgers lineup.
Either way, she’d save the gum for last. That waxy piece of gum was the best part. She’d try to blow bubbles, but it never worked with that crap gum. It would lose flavor and she’d spit it out after a minute. It never lasted long enough and that was her one regret when buying these cards.