Skip to main content

Prison break


INTRO. HOBBY SHOP. Sunday afternoon. Winter time. It's slow. The walk-in traffic is mostly men. They shuffle in and out without buying a thing. Forty-five minutes pass between customers.

TIGHT SHOT on shop owner. Michael Kaminsky, 58. He goes by "Mick." Tall man, maybe 6-3. Balding except for overgrown curls in the back. Large paunch. Horned-rim glasses. He talks loudly. Vaguely resembles a sturdier more sober version of Harry Caray.

A woman and a 10-year-old boy walk in. Mick bellows hello.

Looking for anything in particular?!?!?!?

Um ... sort of. My son collects cards and he likes (woman pauses like she's about to say something embarrassing) ... old cards.

The boy glares at her disapprovingly.

Old cards?!?!?!?!? You mean "vintage"?!?!?!?!?!?

The woman shrugs with an apologetic grin. But the boy knows.

Mick knows he's seeing a child wise beyond his years. He leans over the counter and bumps his glasses down the bridge of his nose. His voice gets low, like he's about to speak in a language only he and the boy know:

Who do you like, kid?

The boy stares at Mick as if he just said the sky is blue.

Jackie. Jackie Robinson.

Mick snorts, caught off-guard by the answer. But he's also pleased. Kids don't come in asking about old Jackie Robinson cards. Who are these people anyway?

(The bellow has returned). Well!!!!!!! You don't mess around!!!!!!!! One of the best of all-time!!!!!!!

The kid looks at Mick again like he just said the grass is green.

(Deadpan) You got any?

Well, kid -- vintage Jackies just don't go for allowance money!!!!!!! They require quite a bit a savings!!!!! How many piggy banks do you have under that coat?!?!?!?!!?

The woman looks anxiously at Mick and answers defensively:

Look, money doesn't matter. He just wants an old Jackie Robinson card.

The comment surprises Mick. But he walks over to the back wall and pulls a small chain of keys off a hook. He bends over, puffing and weezing from a 35-year marriage to cigars, and puts one key into a lock on a door under the counter. With great effort and ceremony, he pulls out an item in plastic and props it up on the top of the counter.

This (pausing for effect) is a 1956 Topps Jackie Robinson card!!! It is the final card from his playing career!!! Beautiful card!!!! It is what we call "off-condition"!!!! There are a couple of creases!!!! But the corners are sharp and so is the picture!!!! You'll note the card has been graded in "fair" condition!!!!!!

The boy stares with the same deadpan look, but then his mouth opens in horror. His eyes grow big, and seem to be piercing the card.

Why is it in jail???

Mick stares back confused. The woman looks uncomfortable.


In jail!!! In jail!! The card is in jail!!!!!! Jackie is in jail!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The woman grabs the boy who is jumping as he is speaking. The boy spins and accidentally knocks a display box of 2014 Bowman Chrome to the floor. The woman yanks the boy's arm and pulls him out of the store and into the street.

Mick stares with his mouth open, his hands still grasping the graded card of Jackie Robinson.

The boy is still muttering about the card as the woman drags him down the sidewalk with the boy's feet barely touching the ground. They turn the corner. There stands a man leaning up against a wall.

He is short with sandy blonde hair, probably in his late 40s. His nose looks like the beak of a bird and he has large expressive eyes. He calls to the two:

Hey! You want Jackie to be free?



POOL HALL. Saturday.

It's two weeks after the incident in the card shop. The man on the street turns out to be a card collector like the boy. The boy's name is Jack. Jack doesn't know the man's name since the man only refers to himself as "night owl". But they are now collecting friends. Despite the age difference, it's not strange. The cards wipe away the years. Jack hasn't been able to go to the card shop since because he's haunted by the image of the encased Jackie Robinson card. But he's relaxed now.

Neither of them are playing pool. Instead, they're sitting, discussing old vintage sets. Jack fiddles with the vending machine buttons next to him.

I've gone back and forth on the 1962 Topps set so many times.

This again?

Yes, this again. The set looks very classy, but at the same time it looks ancient and proper -- almost too proper -- compared with other sets around that time. In some ways, it looks like the set went back in time, but in other ways it's innovative and timeless.

I'm bored.

I thought you liked vintage sets.

Yeah, when are we busting out Jackie?

Shhhhh! Not so loud. I've got the card right now.


What did I say? Not so loud! A friend got it for me. I don't want to name him, but let's call him "Jeff". Jeff and Mick kind of came to an agreement and now the card is mine.

Cool! So when do we bust him out?




THE BASEMENT of a residence. Night time, around 10 p.m. The area is dark except for a hanging florescent light.

The plastic-encased '56 Jackie Robinson card is sitting on a table blanketed with a red tablecloth. "Night Owl" puts on a pair of dark gloves, some goggles and grabs a hammer.

Yo. You ready?

Stop talking like that.

Can't you use pliers or something. Why you gotta use a hammer?

Making a statement here.

Night Owl positions the graded card so that a corner edge is hanging off the table. He's done this before. He gestures Jack to stand several feet back. He then raises the hammer in a motion straight out of the John Henry tail and brings it down on the corner edge. A sharp splintering sound echos in the cellar and jagged plastic sails out opposite to where Jack is standing.

Jack gasps at what remains. The plastic is now open on one side so the case can be split open enough to pull the card out. Night Owl lets Jack do the honors.

Jack, with a look of supreme concentration, slowly eases the card out of its prison. We fade to --

He's free.

Yes. He's free.

I want you to have him.


I want you to have the card.

But you love Jackie Robinson! You love vintage Jackie Robinson!

(Laughs) You saw how much my mom was going to pay for that card in the card shop that time. I can have whatever card I want.

As long as it's not graded or else you freak out.

At least I'm not almost 50 in my basement talking to some kid about cardboard ...

Night Owl has stopped listening. He's just staring at his new 1956 Topps Jackie Robinson with a couple of creases but with sharp corners and a sharp picture, graded fair, and best of all ...

It's free.



Many thanks to Jeffrey of Cardboard Catastrophes for sending me this card. His good fortune is now my good fortune and I am very appreciative.


steelehere said…
Do you have a want list posted somewhere on which cards you need to complete the entire 1956 Topps Set?
Robert said…

That's all I have to say....
Zippy Zappy said…
Man that's such an awesome card. Congrats.
JediJeff said…
Ahhh shit. I thought I was the Jeff and was about to get a Jackie card in the mail.

I hate the theater.
Fuji said…
The most beautiful piece of cardboard on the planet! I love this card.
night owl said…
I don't have a posted list of '56 wants. Someday maybe.
Kevin Papoy said…
Woohooo ! I got a graded WIllie Mays I want to free...I just need to find a pair of gloves (that Jackie Robinson is on the top of my want list. One day...)
Ana Lu said…
Tell me...did you get any tattoo to accomplish the break!? ;)

Popular posts from this blog

Stuck in traffic with Series 2

In the whirlwind that has been my life this month, I found myself going absolutely nowhere for a portion of Thursday afternoon. I was in the middle of yet another road trip, the third one this week. This one was for work, and because it was job-related, it became quickly apparent that it would be a waste of time. The only thing that could save it was a side visit to the nearby Walmart to see if I could spot some Topps Series 2. I found it right away, which was shocking as I was pretty much in the middle of the country, where SUVs share the road with tractors and buggies. Who knew that the Amish wanted Series 2, too? The problem was getting back into civilization to open the contents of the 72-card hanger box I bought. The neighboring village is undergoing a summer construction project smack in the middle of downtown. It's not much of a downtown, but the main road happens to be the main artery in the entire county. Everyone -- and by everyone I mean every tractor trailer ha

Heading upstate

  Back in 1999, Sports Illustrated published an edition at the end of the year rating the top 50 athletes of the century for every state.   As a lifelong Upstate New Yorker, I braced for a list of New York State athletes that consisted almost entirely of downstate natives, that is, folks from the greater NYC area and Long Island.   We Upstaters are used to New York City trampling all over the rest of the state. They have the most people, the loudest voices. It happens all the time. It's a phenomenon unique to this state. Heck, there are still people out there who, when you tell them you're from New York, automatically think you're from NYC. They don't think of cows and chickens when they think of New York. But trust me, there are a lot of cows and chickens in New York State. Especially cows.   So, anyway, when I counted up the baseball players that SI listed as the greatest from New York State, six of the nine were from New York City or Long Island. I was surprised all

G.O.A.T, the '80s: 30-21

  I often call this current period of the television sports calendar the black hole of sports programming. The time between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of televised Spring Training baseball games is an empty void when I'm looking for something to watch on traditional television. I don't watch the NBA and I find the NHL on TV holds my interest for maybe a period. College basketball I can't watch until the tournament. This didn't used to be as much of a problem back when I could turn instead to my favorite sitcoms in February. Do you remember when February was "sweeps month"? (Maybe it still is, I don't know). Networks would make sure that every top show aired original episodes that month, no reruns. So you'd always have something to view during the week even when the sports scene was boring. (I know, people have multiple streaming viewing options now. But I find myself going weeks sometimes before I see something I want to view on Netfli