I opened the back door into the kitchen where my wife was peering into the food pantry. She looked at me, confused, and said: "What?"
"Forgot my money," I said and hurried upstairs.
That was clue No. 1. And I hadn't even started on my journey.
From there, the signs of advancing age and senility were all over Sunday's card show adventure. Looking back on it now, I know that this hobby of ours is not a young man's pursuit. Sure, there were kids at the card show. There always are. But, what I heard, over and over on Sunday, was the sound of cranky old men.
It began with this cranky, old man setting out, filling up his gas tank and then realizing in mid-pump that he left his cash back home.
But I drove an hour without any further absentmindedness and made it to the show. The Syracuse card show takes place at the state fairgrounds and there are always other activities going on as I make my way to the building that houses the show. This time, I had to weave my way around people leading young cows to wherever people lead young cows. I parked in my usual area, way in the back, and gathered up my list, my "dollar-off" flyer and my entry fee cash. As I walked to the show building, the loud speakers at the fairgrounds were blaring "Lady" by the Little River Band.
"Lady" is an awful song, even I realize that as someone who was a fan of LRB when I was young (the first record album I ever bought was "First Under the Wire"). I was shocked to hear it, and my first thought was, "That song is so old!"
Clue No. 2.
After paying my fee, I looked at the familiar set-up and did what I usually do -- tour the entire hall to see who and what is available. People always ask me how many dealer tables there were and I always forget to count, but I'd say there were 55-60. That's maybe five or 10 tables less than what I remember as peak capacity (I've been to these shows for the last seven or eight years).
As I began my tour, a sign on one table caught my eye. "Every card 10¢". A dime box! This is the first one I had ever seen, and I definitely wanted to check it out, given all the good things I've heard about them. But there was some teenager dominating some football cards right in front of the sign, so I moved on.
As I tour, I'm looking for familiar tables, even if I don't plan to visit them. I saw one right away -- he's the guy who sold me a lot of my 1975 Topps when I was first trying to complete it 10 years ago. I spotted another familiar dealer who I always visit for modern base needs. Finally, I spotted the one vintage guy who gets two-thirds of my business. He doesn't have everything I want, but he always has something I want.
I didn't bring a lot of money for the show -- less than usual -- which is dangerous given my collecting interests. And, most dangerous of all, a binder of 1972 Topps was just about the first thing I saw on the vintage guy's table -- a binder of the second half of the '72 Topps set, a.k.a. "high numbers," a.k.a. "cards that I need that are not cheap."
But '72 Topps wants was the first thing I wrote on my want list the night before, so I succumbed to fate and started pulling '72 Topps highs.
"The Major" was the first card I pulled. He's card #533. Not too pricey, and I felt pretty good about it.
Next up was Ron Santo "In Action". Topps wants you to think this is a home run, but I'm thinking a foul ball that a fan dropped and everyone pointed and laughed. Santo is #556.
More "In Action" with wife-swapper Fritz Peterson. He's #574.
At this point I noticed two things. One, the dealers behind the tables were talking about hamburgers. One dealer asked the other dealer what he had. "A cheeseburger," he said. The other dealer said, "that sounds pretty good. I'm hungry. I think I'll get one in a little bit."
This always baffles me. Yes, I know they're dealers and they handle cards all the time. Crazy rare old ones and all of that, but for the love of god, you're surrounded by cards and you're talking about hamburgers???? Do you know how long I've waited to get here????
I think I was getting cranky because of the second thing: there was heat from a vent above blasting down on me. I could feel it right on the back of my neck, like the sun on the beach in early August. It was annoying. I wanted to mention how annoying it was, but I figured the dealer knew about it already since he had been standing there all day, so I suffered in silence.
But good gosh, it was so hot. Why do they have the blasted heat on here? Maybe I should see if someone can turn it down. This is really uncomfortable ...
Clue No. 3.
Next card is #579, Doyle Alexander. Alexander pitched for the Dodgers in 1971 but never appeared in a Dodger uniform on a Topps card. I'm wondering if he's wearing one right now though (with the brim painted Orioles orange).
Since I'm pretty far along in my collecting of the '72 set, whenever I'm looking through '72s, I start feeling guilty about not going to the very high numbers. I know I've got to shell out cash for those some day, and I don't want to do it all at once.
So I went straight to the back of the book.
#690 - Willie Montanez
#726 - Dick Selma
#738 - Jim Merritt
#743 - Cesar Gutierrez
#746 - The myth, the man, the legend, Lowell Palmer
#770 - Jim Wynn. Wanted this card for a long time.
#784 - Ken Aspromonte. Whoever owns the house in the background is extremely lucky to have their second-story window captured for all of time on a baseball card.
I knew this was eating away at my cash, so I cut myself off to find something else. I spotted a binder of Kellogg's cards, but most of the ones I wanted (mid-1970s) were very picked over. I thought I might look for some '70s Hostess cards, but didn't see a binder.
I asked the dealer if he had any, and given his reaction, I'm quite sure I was the first person to ever ask this guy -- who has old cards from every year, every brand and every sport, by the way -- if he had Hostess cards.
He told me if they were anywhere, they'd be in a binder of miscellaneous goodies -- there was everything in there, Play Ball cards, '60s Bazooka, etc. I spotted two Hostess cards. One was Pete Rose, but it was too pricey for me. I grabbed the other one:
Yeah, I can see myself trying to complete the '76 Hostess set.
At this point, a man plopped down next to me. I didn't see him right away, but I knew from the conversation between the two that he was a regular customer. When he sat in the chair, he kind of groaned and said to the dealer "it's hell to get old". Then he started talking about how it's difficult to find cards these days, how there are no stores you can just walk to anymore.
I turned to look toward him because surely he had heard of the internet. What I saw was myself in about 25 years. He was a man in his '70s, short, thin, soft-spoken and in love with baseball cards. "My god, that's me," I thought.
Clue No. 4.
A man behind me asked if the dealer had any old Frank Gifford cards and I thought "Frank Gifford? Who collects Frank Gifford? He's so old!"
Clue No. 5.
I had spotted a binder of Post cards and considering I just wrote about Post cards on my blog, that seemed to be fate as well. I hadn't bothered to write out a list of Post needs, but how hard could spotting Post cards that I needed be? I didn't even bother looking up my wants on my phone, I was so confident.
Which is why I ended up with this:
OK, I needed this one, but, idiot, don't you know your memory isn't full-proof anymore? Check the lists!!!
Clue No. 6.
From there, I paid what I owed and was on my way. But I planned to return there if I still had some cash.
I wanted to fill up on some current needs, so I headed straight to the dealer with the current cards, found a couple Heritage inserts from last year, and then spotted the 2015 Heritage binder.
That takes care of the majority of the Dodgers Heritage needs. Still a couple SPs and a couple base cards to go, but it's very nice to load up on team set needs when I'm not collecting the set.
As I was pulling cards, a collector starting asking the dealer basic questions about the state of collecting (whenever someone does this, I look to see if the collector is carrying a recorder because these are questions a reporter would ask). The dealer informed him that Topps held an MLB license and was the only game in town with respect to baseball and that Donruss and Fleer disappeared awhile ago.
The collector asked him whether he liked that or not, and this is what the dealer said:
"No I don't like it. They (Topps) have no competition, so they have no incentive, so they keep putting out crap."
I stood there nodding my head, which was ...
Clue No. 7.
Although I'm not as vociferous in stating this argument as some collectors, I do agree with the sentiment. I was dying to ask him which sets he thought were crap, and dammit, I really should have, but I didn't feel that great at the moment. I think it was the heat.
I paid up and then started to re-tour the tables to make sure I didn't miss anything. I arrived back to where I saw the dime box and there was nobody there. I peered into the box and pulled out a stack of cards. It was all 2010 Topps. Every single one. I looked through some more. More 2010 Topps.
"Yup," I said to myself.
I don't think I'll ever find a real dime box around here.
By then, I had a headache and the crowd noise was starting to bother me. I stopped at the table where they sell UltraPro pages (yes, I checked for some UltraPro mini-card pages, but I didn't see any). I bought a few eight-pocket pages for mid-50s cards and I thought I how pleasant it seemed at the table: no crowds, no people shouting about "authentication" -- heard that a few times -- just two older looking people enjoying their coffee.
Clue No. 8.
But I decided I owed it to myself to return to the vintage dealer's table and see if I could snag just a few more cards. As I ventured to his table, I heard a couple of people saying, "You want 'low calorie'. Don't get the 'light'. 'Light means 'light-tasting.'"
I ventured a few more tables and there was an elderly female collector (I saw a handful of female collectors) discussing Moose Skowron cards with a dealer ("Moose Skowron? He's so old.")
It struck me how these were the conversations of people of advanced age.
I got back to the vintage dealer's table and asked for the 1956 Topps binder. I had just a few dollars left, and I started staring at a Ted Kluszewski card. I stared at it for what seemed like a long time. The dealer gave up on me and told the helper guy he was with he was going to get a hamburger, and I kept staring.
The heat was blowing on my neck again, and my head was pounding, and -- this was very weird -- I just didn't want that Kluszewski card. All I wanted was the heat to stop, and ow, my head, and can they turn that blasted heat off????
I closed the binder and I walked away.
I still had 20 dollars in my pocket. That never happens.
I lingered at the table that features flyers of upcoming shows. I pocketed a flyer for the next show, lingered a little longer because I felt I should be at the show for longer than the time it took me to drive there.
And then I left, to get out in the fresh air.
Clue No. 9.
As I was walking back to my car, four guys ahead of me had just left the show. The one guy was talking about how one time he ate a whole bunch of popcorn and then he went home and ate even more popcorn and he ended up in the hospital that night. The doctor told him he had an abnormal blockage.
It was then that I realized:
This is what it's going to be like in the nursing home.
People are going to talk about the foods they eat and whether they're good for them or not. They're going to talk about the old days and how you can't do what you used to or how everything has disappeared and it's not like it once was, they're going to be forgetful and cranky.
My god, we're old and I was just basically buying cards in a nursing home.
All the clues added up.
OK, sure, there were a number of young people there. Kids scurrying everywhere and those guys with the forearm tattoos. But this is old night owl here and I don't usually hang out at the tables with the young collectors.
As I got closer to the car, I heard the music from the loudspeakers again. It was "Tell Me Something Good," by Rufus and Chaka Khan, another old song, but a great one.
I was feeling like I didn't do so well at the show, but that song was my cue to reassess and come up with "something good."
So, here's something:
That's my '72 Topps want list that I wrote out on Saturday. The crossed out numbers are the ones I knocked off yesterday. I'm pretty proud of that.
Yes, that is a very old-school way of keeping a list.
But what can I say?
I like vintage. I watch what I eat. I decry the state of baseball cards today.
I am what I am.
I collect baseball cards. I'm old.