The First and Last Days Of A Baseball Card Mystic
By Caligula Dodge
Peel back the cultivated addictions, bids for drama, half-pornographic false arts, loving false starts, metaphysical pretensions, lies to women, lies to the empty air, true boasts about unnecessary ugliness and sad cetera. There, half in the background, half in the foreground is our strange protagonist.
He is young--at the beginning of life. What sort of life? Life like an ass. He was in the smooth, lightly haired part, buffeted by winds that went by unfelt by those farther into the ass. Everyone regularly told him, and he had every reason to believe that this life would narrow to reeking nothing eventually. But more importantly, to everyone and by extension to him, was what happened before it did narrow to nearly nothing.
As a person grew nearer the final pinch, life became an unbelievably long series of days characterized mostly by pressure and stink. Needs and prejudices grew sterner, the light of day always appeared behind a person. And duty grew sternest of all. And your duty? To pass the shit to the next guy and hope it wasn't on your hands too long and to hope that it touched only your hands.
That was not his description as a child. It was the unanimous evidence of every adult with a thing to say to him.
In the premasturbatory twilight of childhood, he collects baseball cards. Over time, he becomes a baseball card mystic.
The first flashes of initiation came while scrutinizing a card produced by a pet food company and picturing a singles-hitting third baseman whose sexual habits once drew the disapproval of the local media and made a third rate celebrity of his fourth rate mistress for a few weeks.
The player is not important, neither is the sad pet food company. The card was not pretty. It might have been designed by a bored designer of dogfood bags. White border, red and yellow company logo, player name in red block letters against a yellow background, too glossy, incomplete statistics on the back.
He was scrutinizing the card in a chain sit-down restaurant. His mother was with him. It was cold and the parking lot covered with old snow. He was bored in the quiet way kids usually are. Adolescence (latin: burning) had not yet taught him to be enraged by the boredom. Waiting for his meat-cheese-bread combination, he looked at the card.
The player had a thin face, a mustache, he was wearing a helmet and had a bat resting on his shoulder like he'd only shown up at the ballpark for photos that day.
The thin face meant alot to our hero at the young age. A thin face meant, among other things: distribution over time (a singles hitter), the meek and obedient consistency that does not change anything, the repetition of days, the reliance on torpid habit, and the boredom that was just beginning to chafe. It also seemed sneaky, frightened, lascivious and acquisitive.
The picture was as much hieroglyph as photograph if you stared at it as ling as our protagonist.
But as he continued to stare at the card, the face changed.
Rather, the way the lines of the helmet, hair, eyes, nose and mustache interacted with each other changed.
Now, the player had an almost roundish, horizontally inclined face. The meaning inferred from the image vanished. New meanings began to cluster around the face, and vaguely around the player.
Our protagonist felt like he was at the edge of a cliff looking clearly through the wind, truly seeing the baseball card.
Further still, he felt that he was steering the precipice and that he had more input into the ballplayer's face than anything he'd ever looked at before.
The face became thin again and round again. He did not even have to squint. He did it until the picture on the card seemed to breathe. Interpreting the lines of the face into one picture, then the next, then the next, then again.
With each change, the embedded meanings came out, contradicting the each until the meanings merged into a single meaning that stared out of the card shockingly. The discovery of the constantly changing unmoving image and the explosion of strange ramifications swept his young mind.
The discovery was more startling and awesome than his first ejaculation would be. That fact would painfully differentiate him from other people the rest of his many rainy days.
Like most experiences of that type, our protagonist felt fear and reverence of it. He let it alone and looked not too long on any one card for awhile as he pored through the many piles, piling teams and sets and duplicates then piling them again according to other formulae.
He'd had another similar experience once when he was very little. He was waiting in the waiting room of a travel agency for his mother to get off work. Time, which he had heard began at some far-off point in the past and ran toward some far-off point in the future, broke down into a burst of pure simultaneity with the non present appendages flapping comically around it. Not something adults have much patience for hearing about from a four year old.
He sits on the couch and sorts through the boxes, picking out one here, three there. The tv is running and there's a can of his parents' diet soda on the table. The cards are worth money now. Each month, a company publishes the price of every card of note. They go up or down in price based on a player's play or notoriety.
The good cards go in pages in a three ring binder. Nine cards to a page, arranged by worth, year, position, team or a less obvious method. He eats snacks and looks with slightly kinder than usual dissatisfaction at the cards in their plastic pages.
He is home from school, it was a lousy day. The house is empty except for the tv. His quiet hobby gives him something besides eating to do while the tv runs. Euphemistically, our protagonist is "Husky." His mother had to sew a panel into the side of his little league shirt. The slightly discolored panel is prominent in the photo paper baseball cards a local photographer makes for little league parents.
He thinks about the narrowing ass-valley of life and his whole mind contorts into a sneer. The emptiness of the house and his intense scrutiny of the baseball cards effectively mute the tv.
More than anything he wants his parents to come home. He is lonely. More than anything he wants his parents never to come home again. The cards go through his hands quickly, expertly and numb both feelings. They are a grey paste of information and emotions he has exhausted a thousand times over.
copyright (c)2001 Caligula Dodge