My brother Jake used to collect baseball cards. He was really into sports statistics and other stuff I just couldn’t pretend to care about. I cared about sports only as much as necessary to keep my friends from discovering me as a fraud. Still, I coveted my brother’s baseball cards. He wouldn’t even let me look at them.
Jake wouldn’t tolerate me starting my own, because it was his thing. He had a strict “no copying” rule. I bought a pack or two, but he ridiculed me and made it clear he would not tolerate my baseball card collecting. So I started collecting football cards.
I wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but I really wasn’t a football fan at all. I actually played organized baseball for years, albeit badly. When my family traveled to Vero Beach over spring break every year to visit my grandparents, we’d always catch a Dodgers spring training game or two. Once every year or so we’d take a family trip watch a Cubs or Reds game during the regular season. I even watched the Cubs on Channel 9 occasionally, but I doubt I ever watched an NFL game from beginning to end. I never even had a favorite NFL team.
So I bought these football cards in part because I didn’t know how else I should spend my money. I was seven or eight; I didn’t really have any interests yet. I bought pack after pack of cards, chewed the gum, glanced over the cards, read the trivia on the back, and then tossed them into a large shoe box. I enjoyed the act of buying the cards and first opening the pack, and then I enjoyed watching the shoe box become full. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment, though Jake ridiculed me for failing to keep my cards organized.
Around age nine I discovered how I really wanted to spend my money: buying record albums. I wanted so badly to own all of the albums by Kiss. I owned Kiss Alive, Kiss Alive 2 and Love Gun, but I really wanted Destroyer, Hotter than Hell and Dressed to Kill as well. I wanted to join the Kiss Army and buy the Kiss comic book, with real Kiss blood in the red ink. And I knew how I could get some money that didn’t involve dreaded yard work.
I knew a kid a grade or two below me at my school who was really into collecting all sorts of sports trading cards. I approached him in the cafeteria one day and asked him if he had any interest in buying my cards. “How many are there,” he asked. “I don’t know exactly,” I said. “I think there might be a thousand – it’s a full shoebox, a big one!” He said, “how much will it cost?” “I don’t know,” I said. “Ten dollars.” “Okay,” he said, “bring them by my house and I’ll give you ten dollars.”
After school that day I rode my bike across the park to this kid’s house and handed him the box of cards. He glanced at the box and then handed me a ten dollar bill without a word. I rode home, giddy as I considered which two Kiss records I would buy with the money. Although I’d invested probably fifty dollars in the football cards, I felt no regret over the sale. The cards really meant nothing to me, the ten in my pocket meant everything. It meant two Kiss albums.
That evening the phone rand during dinner. I could tell by the way my mom stared gravely at me over her glasses as she spoke that the call was about me. “Yes, yes that sounds reasonable,” she said. “I think that’s a fair solution, and I’m very sorry this happened.” When she put the phone down she said “that was Mr. Jordan, and he says you sold his son some sports cards.”
Mr. Jordan was a science teacher at the high school with a reputation for being a tough grader and a stern disciplinarian. It seems Mr. Jordan had taken the time to count the cards. Rather than the advertised thousand cards, the box only contained seven hundred twenty three cards. Mr. Jordan was pissed. So he called my mom and said “Your son sold my son a box of one thousand football cards for ten dollars, a penny a card. Since there are only seven hundred twenty three cards in the box, my son is entitled to a refund of two dollars and seventy-seven cents.” What an asshole, I thought.
So after dinner I rode my bike back over to the kid’s house and knocked on the door. Mr. Jordan, a square-jawed guy with combed-over reddish hair and cold blue eyes, answered the door as his son stood by his side. “Well,” he said, “I guess you’d better count the cards next time you make a bargain.” I said “yes, sir.” I handed his son the two dollars and change and quickly shuffled back to my bike. I stole a glance at the door and they both stood there, staring at me through narrowed eyes.
I still managed to buy what I really wanted with the money, a copy of Kiss Destroyer. And the album brought me many hours of joy. I don’t think I learned anything from the exchange, and I doubt I’d have counted all those cards under any circumstances. I just wasn’t that sort of kid.