Ancient Squares of Cardboard, and All That Valueless Postage

My younger brother briefly showed an interest in baseball, and as a result, his grandchildren will likely snort off-world caviar from the bellybutton of alien slaves. I had my brief affair with the game, but it was rather fleeting, manifesting in a couple of those long-triangle felt banners that young boys used to tape to their walls twenty-five years ago, each a different color, each emblazoned with a sports logo. I wasn’t exactly sure where I’d acquired them, and never a real fan of baseball, I didn’t know what the logos were or where these mysterious Cardinals made their nests. My brother got to the game first, and when he started collecting little foil packs of baseball cards, my father strolled in to his room one day and handed him a small worn shoe box thick with cash.

Inside were ancient squares of cardboard, each printed with sport-ball players that were already dead, or, enjoying the twilight of retirement. He’d explained that they were given to him by some neighbor lady back in ancient times, a punishment for her son that equated a windfall for my father. After drawing mustaches on a few of them, he squared them away until he had a ten year old son of his own interested in such things. If my brother doesn’t sell them, I imagine his own son will inherit the cards. I am not a man of considerable means, so if my future children show any strong taste for weepy acoustic records or dinner plates with little farms painted on them, then they’re in for something really special.

As soon as my brother acquired the baseball cards, I knew that I had to start working on my future wealth. At this rate, I figured, I was making about a dollar every other week by taking out the trash and getting chased by angry ducks—and it wasn’t going to afford me the surgery required to affix adamantium Wolverine claws to my bones. One afternoon I’d pawed through a few post cards on my mother’s desk, and noticed one of the stamps there looked “old fashiony,” and remembered hearing about that stamp of the upside down airplane being worth demonstrable amounts of money. I think Richard Pryor used it to mail something, but there were others, and I was going to use them to finance my future of crime fighting / arcade on the moon.

The whole thing didn’t pan out like I’d hoped. It turns out that you can find an unbelievable amount of old-and-expensive looking stamps relatively easy. My first bunch came from one of the high-school foreheads on the school bus who made sure the preteens wore tight belts. Just hold on, it was wedgies—he liked to beat us up, and give us wedgies. He didn’t diddle anyone that I know of, but if there’s any justice in the world, he’s getting “wedgies” of his own in a violent Swedish prison carved out of a mountain somewhere. Anyway, he’d overheard that I was hunting for stamps, and mentioned he had a stack he’d be willing to let go for around fifteen American dollar bills. A check from my mom and a bruised forearm later, I was sifting through the stamps and carefully slipping them in the books I’d purchased for just such a task. The stuff looked old, crazy old, like my great-great-great grandfather might have traded one for farmland and an underaged bride. According to the pricing guide I’d acquired, my full collection was making about as much money as my doddering uncle was by collecting soda cans in the highway ditches.

I’d flirted with comic book geekery too, and along with the occasional edition I’d have to steam a careless price-tag from, I got into the super-hero trading cards as well. While super-hero comics were fun to read, the trading cards didn’t do for me what I’d imagined a stack of baseball ones would for other kids, that is, they’d be lucky to escape the garbage. I got a lot of shit from classmates who liked to actually trade those baseball cards—as they were indented—and something about me quietly enjoying my holographic square with the Incredible Hulk causing untold property damage on it, something about all that just didn’t sit well in the bully department.

“That’s stupid, Wolverine isn’t real,” they’d jab. “So? Why does it matter?” was all I could come up with. I was usually friends with the bad-kids, those little ones who started shaving in the fifth grade and had unusual pituitary function, so when things got too heated they’d come circling to prevent too much escalation. They were a solid bunch, there to defend their own, but dangerous when followed too far into trouble. But I digress, as the arguments over my hero cards didn’t go anywhere, they just left the angry bullies with a lot of confusion they’d likely take out on some poor prostitute twenty years later.

The hero cards started around 1990 so says the internet, so I was around twelve or so when I actually started picking them up, not quite sure what the point might be. This was before Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, so the cards weren’t used in any table-top gaming environment. They were meant to be purchased, looked at, then serve as part of a collection the randomly sold “rare cards” would ensure was never complete. I think they’re still laying around in one of my parent’s dusty archives, big boxes of evidence to the weird things their spawn used to find engaging. I’ve got the stamps too, here in my house and collecting dust on a shelf. In my early twenties I dug them out and decided to get the stuff appraised, hoping there might be a car payment or two hidden in the lot. It turns out that getting stamps appraised, much like kicking your own height, is easier said than done.

After about a dozen phone calls, I found a website that, on reflection, was shiftier than desired. A couple-hundred bucks and a big box later, the stamps were off and in the hands of a so-called expert, some guy with a golden mullet, likely taking advantage that I hadn’t properly catalogued my stuff. The tome came back a few weeks later with a one-page letter, two sentences on it, telling me the guy thought the collection is probably worth about two-to-four hundred bucks all said and done, full stop, thanks for your check. I imagine this is the value after he’s picked out whatever he thought might fit better in his own collection, but this is probably what I deserve for my lackluster cataloging effort. A quick Google search for his name all these years later reveals a questionable report regarding tax fraud and counterfeit stamp miscellany, so… that’s great. In my defense, I was twenty-three when I shipped them off. Back then I was too busy worrying about getting an honest answer on my slowly encroaching hair loss and how that related to sharing a bed with a woman.

I suppose I’m just not much of a collector. In adult life I don’t really collect much of anything aside from an ever expanding medicine cabinet and an increasing love for butterscotch. I pulled out the old stamp collection when writing this, pawing through pages of something a tiny version of me spent countless hours cataloging and researching. Perhaps it’ll be of use to someone someday. Maybe my nephew and I will review it in his baseball card funded mansion, his servants flipping through the book on command, tiny goblets filled with edible future-diamonds. I’ll tell him about all the time I’d spent gathering them, but he’ll probably be having trouble hearing me over the sound of his jet pack.



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