I have been on a buying binge lately for one of my favorite "oddballs," the 1976 Hostess set.
This set is often ignored by collectors who didn't grow up in the '70s. Its charms are lost on those who are accustomed to their cardboard being sharp, shiny, perfectly centered and without blemish.
The '76 Hostess set is none of the above. It is ragged, wrinkled, soft-cornered with wayward lines and absolutely none of the cards are the same size. In other words, the '76 Hostess set is "human."
If you were to look at your sets as human entities, you would realize that what we want from cards is an insult. We objectify cards, we want them to be perfect specimens, some of us even seal them so they can't get out, can't age or depreciate, "experience life," or mingle with their card friends.
We categorize cards, those that aren't the greatest and latest, that haven't been issued by a popular company are shunned as uncollectible. What human being would be happy with being called "an oddball" or being graded by their appearance -- "poor," "fair," "good," "very good," "excellent," and "mint." Imagine how crushing it would be to be described as, "well ... uh ... you're near mint."
The numbers that, hopefully, are no longer applied to women (or men) -- she's a 10 -- are now measuring sticks for grading companies. "That card grades as a 4." And now there is a current obsession amid this new card world with discarding anything that isn't a "gem-mint 10."
To me that's not very human. Or realistic. And terribly subjective. It's why I appreciate sets like '76 Hostess.
No two Hostess cards are alike. There are too many variables. Each Hostess card grows up with its own story, its own background. One Hostess card lived with a kid who couldn't cut a straight line. Another Hostess card lived with a kid who ripped the cards apart. Another Hostess card tells stories about the little psycho who cut it off the panel with a butcher knife.
Every Hostess card has its own body type. Picture them all lined up in swimsuits. Some are taller, some are wider.
It's impossible to line up Hostess cards straight on the scanner. They're too human for that. Some tilt to the left or the right. None of the edges are straight. Ever. But what human features straight lines? We're a collection of curves, angles and bumps and none of those curves, angles and bumps are the same.
We feature wrinkles and marks just like Hostess cards do.
A lot of Hostess cards -- I mean A LOT of them -- feature one of my least favorite card defects -- stains.
I hate stains on cards. They gross me out. But this is where the human element comes out in Hostess cards and also in me. I love Hostess cards so much that I'm willing to overlook those stains -- no, willing to accept those stains -- with open collecting arms because I love them.
That's a healthy, loving card-collector relationship right there.
I admit, I struggle with selecting Hostess cards when purchasing online. It's a good test of my love for cards -- how much am I willing to take on to have that card? How much Hostess baggage will I accept?
I need to study pictures of Hostess cards, I won't accept them sight unseen. It's really like starting a relationship.
I'm not going to go dumpster-diving for my Hostess cards, just like I wouldn't do that if I was searching for a significant other. I do have standards. Not those weird graded, impossible standards, but I admit I will only accept cards that don't have pieces missing, that have clearly defined borders. Does that make me a lesser lover of Hostess cards? I don't think so. I just want a card to look like a CARD. I guess that's my basic requirement.
But I will accept various imperfections in Hostess cards that I won't in other "more perfect" kinds of cards, basically for the same reason I will accept imperfections in the humans that are closest to me.
To me, those humans are perfect, blemishes and all, and so are those '70s Hostess cards, featuring the players that I rooted for and watched as a kid, the players that I love the most, who also had their own failings and weaknesses. Maybe Hostess featured them the most appropriately of any of the card companies, stained, ragged, but beautiful just the same.
Yeah, even you, Darrell Porter. (Funny how he has the potential for the straightest lines of all).
I'm going to continue on my '70s Hostess journey, looking for the best versions of their Hostess selves but knowing that they're all going to have some sort of failing. Multiple failings.
Just like we all do.
(Happy birthday, Manny!)