Sunday, December 23, 2007

Topps

My brother lives in San Diego and I live in Ohio, so I maybe see him twice a year. It's been that way since he left home for the Navy the day after Thanksgiving eighteen years ago. I was sixteen then. I finished my last two years of high school, went on to college and law school, got married, had kids, and settled down in the Midwest. He spent six years on an Aegis cruiser, a couple more at Coronado, and took his discharge in 1997. Since then he has worked as a club DJ, dipped a toe in and then back out of the goth scene, spent time with a number of shady women before meeting a nice one, played Kato Kaelin to the lead singer of a notable synth-pop band, and most recently has performed, um, product preparation and distribution services for a large Irvine, California-based concern. Yeah, that's him in the picture, taken when we crashed the club level restaurant at Petco Park last summer.

In terms of distance, Curt and I haven't lived within 500 miles of one another since he left home. By all other measures we haven't been in the same solar system since then. Sure, we get along, but if we weren't brothers our adult paths would never cross. We live in wildly different worlds, speak wildly different languages, and pass the time doing wildly different things. I love him unconditionally, but we tend to get on each others' nerves anymore, and neither of us understands where in the hell the other is coming from most of the time.

But it wasn't always that way. We were close as kids, with a lot of common interests, the most notable among them being baseball. We were both huge Tigers' fans (his favorite player was Lou Whitaker; mine was Alan Trammell). We played on little league teams together for a while (he being the talented but uninterested one, I the exact opposite). But more than watching or playing the game itself, it was our love of baseball cards that brought us together as kids.

It started with the cutouts on the back of Hostess boxes in 1976 or 1977, and moved on to the Kellogg's 3-D superstars a year or two later. Dad worked at the weather bureau in those days with a guy who split his time as a card dealer, and once he saw how crazy we were about the things, cards just started showing up around the house. Lloyd needed my Dad to cover a shift for him? No problem, but it was going to cost him a box of 1978 commons for the boys. You two knuckleheads want to get Jack Morris' autograph at the card show without standing on line first? You're shoveling Lloyd's driveway. Between that kind of thing and the traditional spend-every-penny-we-ever-saw-on-wax-packs approach, by the mid-80s we had tens of thousands of cards spilling out of boxes in every spare corner of the house.

As is the case with just about every kid, however, our interest in cards waned as our interest in girls waxed. Even if it hadn't, the hyper-commercialization of baseball cards in the late 80s would have done it anyway (we hoarded, sorted, traded, and oggled cards like mad, but I can't recall a single instance in which we ever sold one). By the time Curt shipped out, they had been placed in plastic sheets or monster boxes in the basement and, while not forgotten, certainly not thought about all that much. Over the years, as my parents' addresses became increasingly erratic and mine more permanent, the cards migrated to my basement where they currently sit and are rarely disturbed. In the past couple of years Curt has asked me to ship him certain cards from our communal stash as he began dabbling in hockey cards and was in need of trade bait, but other than that, I've had no cause to go through them. Hell, the last inventory of them was typed up using the Speedscript word processor on my Commodore 64.

Last week, Curt flew in from San Diego for a couple of days for his annual Christmas visit. The night before he flew back home, we exchanged Christmas gifts. We tend to be a family who doesn't go over the top with these things, so I was understandably dumbfounded when I opened my gift from him: the entire 1973 Topps set (my birth year) in plastic sheets in a notebook. With a couple of very tiny exceptions, the whole thing is in mint or near mint condition.

He didn't just go out and buy it in one shot, though, as a guy working at In-n-Out Burger tends not to have that kind of money laying around. Rather, he began picking up stuff here and there months ago (our childhood collection had almost no 1973s), trading some import records for some of this, trading vintage clothing for some of that, and only biting the bullet and straight-up buying stuff in only a handful of cases. It was truly a labor of love on his part which, given how much flak I've given him for so many things over the years -- including, ironically enough, his habit for hording, selling, and trading records and vintage clothes when he could be out doing something more productive -- was every bit as undeserved as it was unexpected.

As I sit here this evening poring over the notebook full of '73s -- highlights of which, at the risk of invading Josh Wilker's turf, I plan to blog in the next couple of days -- I'm wondering why someone from whom I've grown so far apart over the years would make such a thoughtful and touching gesture, especially given how hard I've been on him. But I suppose that's Christmas. I suppose that's family. I suppose, most of all, that's Curt.

Thanks, bro.

11 comments:

O Pechanga said...

Congratulations on a great present from your brother.

John Hilton? Wonder if he carried that card around with him...?

Bob Timmermann said...

I remember buying a pack with that card in it. So I guess I'm a wee bit older than the author.

Sooze said...

Great post! That warmed my heart up. :)

Shyster said...

O pechanga: I've always wondered about Hilton. I can't think of anyone so out of place and a "rookie stars" card than that dude.

Bob: Alas, I think you're right. I'm a 1973 model. First memory I have of actually buying a pack myself was '78s.

Sooze: Thanks! Someone switched on my sentimental gene last night. I'd better watch It's a Wonderful Life before I turn cynical again.

JG said...

Unfortunately for Cey and Schmidt, the rookie card-mustache barrier wouldn't be broken for another two years.

Voros said...

My card collecting days were the early 80s and I wound up with a complete set one year, they very very hard way.

Lee May was the card everybody in the neighborhood was looking for and one week they all started showing up in pack after pack.

I have a series of rookie cards in a plastic sheet (Ripken, Clemens, Boggs, Gwynn) that I haven't a clue what I'm ever going to do with. I suppose if I framed the best ones and hung them up it would make a nice piece of decor.

Voros said...

BR lists Danny Ainge as one of Hilton's most similar. I wonder what kind of basketball player Hilton was.

Lucas said...

Awesome! Now, that's a Christmas present...

Too bad my birth year is 1975 with those gawd-awful full and mini cards...YIKES!

Shyster, I told you we were a lot alike...up until the strike in 94, I had tens of thousands of baseball cards, always pegged as my "college fund", not that I would've ever sold them...

Still have them, they're still sitting in my old closet at my mom's house...I'd love to have them back someday...

Dayn Perry said...

Best X-mas Day blog post I've read anywhere.

Shyster said...

Thanks Dayn!

Anonymous said...

Speedscript? The Commodore 64? Oh, gosh, I have similar lists/catalogs typed up and wasting away on 5 1/4" floppies somewhere. Maybe a few dot-matrix print outs. I don't know why the computer evoked more memories than the cards -- maybe since I didn't get my first packs till '77.