Sunday, March 02, 2008

Fear and Loathing in Reading.

We were somewhere around King of Prussia, on the edge of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, when the pack busting jones began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive..." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like former late-night sports collectible TV hosts, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about seventy-five miles an hour to Reading. And a voice was screaming: "GEM! MINT! TEN!"

Then it was quiet again. "What the hell are you yelling about?" my attorney muttered, staring up at the sun. "Never mind," I said. "It's your turn to drive." I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Black Tank toward the shoulder of the PA Turnpike. No point in mentioning the voices of Don West and Kenny Goldin, I thought. The poor bastard will hear them soon enough.

It was almost Noon, and we still had thirty miles to go. They would be tough miles. Very soon, I knew, we would both be twisted. But there was no going back, and no time to rest. We would have to ride it out. The fabulous Philadelphia Sports Card & Memorabilia Show was already underway, and we had to get there by four. And I was, after all, a semi-professional fake-gonzo baseball card journalist; so I had an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill.

I had $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely worthless baseball cards. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile Shop at Home studio. We had two factory sets of '90 Donruss, 75 waxpacks of 1989 Topps, five waxboxes of 1991 Classic Draft Picks, a 800-count box half-full of Casey Candaele rookie cards, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored '90 Topps, '91 Fleer, '88 Score, '94 Stadium Club... and also a set of '81 Donruss, a vending box of '88 Topps, a case of '87 Sportflix, a rack box of '89 Score and two dozen '01 Donruss singles.

Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious junkwax collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

The only thing that really worried me was the '89 Score. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an '89 Score pack busting binge. And I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. Probably at the next Turnpike rest area. We had sampled almost everything else, and now -- yes, it was time for an '89 Score rack pack.

"Man this is the way to travel," said my attorney. He leaned over to turn the volume up on the radio, humming along and moaning the words: "K-Y-W! News-Ray-Dee-Oh! Ten-Sixty!"

You poor fool! Wait till you hear Ken Goldin's voice!

We drove around to the Greater Reading Expo Center and parked near the front door. "This is the place," I said. "Where's the '88 Fleer?" said my attorney. "The '93 Topps ain't working." I gave him the key to the trunk while I ripped into some '92 Leaf. He came back with two '88 Fleer cellos, opened them, then emptied the cards into an 660-count box. This is the main advantage of late-80s junkwax: it makes you behave like the village drunkard in some early-Irish novel. Which is interesting, because the brain continues to function more or less normally ... you can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can't control it.

You approach the entrance leading into the Greater Reading Expo Center and you know that when you get there, you have to give the lady six dollars or she won't let you inside ... but when you get there, everything goes wrong: you misjudge the distance to the front door and slam against it, bounce off and grab hold of the old lady handing out complementary EPSCC gift bags and you think: What's going on here? What's going on? Ah, devil '88 Fleer.

The ground floor of the Greater Reading Expo Center is full of dealer tables, like all the other card shows ... but even bigger. I came in wanting to buy wax; specifically the brand new 2008 Topps Heritage. I step up to the first table with '08 TH: going price $69. "As your attorney, I advise you to pay no more than $65 for the new Topps Heritage."

Eventually found what I was looking for: a box of '08 TH for only $62. This particular dealer also had a box of 1997 Pinnacle and I was tempted to pick it up. At only $15 it seemed like a bargain, and the perfect addition to our burgeoning junkwax collection.

"As your attorney I advise you not to buy the '97 Pinnacle box. Instead you should search for the $4 boxes of 1986 Donruss All-Stars that Scott wrote about on A Pack A Day."

Ah yes, the '86 Donruss All-Stars. Me and my attorney searched far-and-near for these boxes, but our collective efforts went for naught.

Sometime around two-thirty my attorney wanted something to eat. We were standing in front of former Phillies pitcher (and the show's autograph guest) Shane Rawley when my attorney began yelling at the people in line.

"Hey there? You folks wanna buy some junkwax?"

No reply. No sign of recognition. They'd been warned of this kind of crap: Just ignore it ... "Goddamnit, I'm serious! I wanna sell you some pure fuckin' junkwax!" But still nobody answered. I glanced over, very briefly, and saw four Pennsylvanian faces frozen with shock, staring straight ahead.

It was sometime around three when we entered the Greater Reading Expo Center's snack bar. There was something about the atmosphere of the snack bar to put me on guard. The cashier was passively hostile, but I was accustomed to that. All I wanted from her, was a Budweiser Select and a $5 basket of chicken fingers. No hassels, no talk -- just a place to rest and regroup. I wasn't even hungry.

My attorney had no cards, or anything else to compel his attention. So he focused, out of boredom, on the cashier. She was taking our orders like a robot when he punched through her crust with a demand for "Two cans of Bud -- and a plastic cup!"

My attorney poured the two cans into the cup and drank them in one long gulp, then asked for another can of Bud. I noticed that the cashier seemed tense.

Fuck it, I thought. I was reading the insertion odds on the back of my 2008 Heritage box.

What the fuck was I still doing here? I wondered. It made no sense at all. Since I was already here, I though I might as well buy a box of last year's Heritage, and found one for $60. After purchasing the box, we turned away and reeled off in the general direction of the exit.

"God's mercy on you swine!" I shouted at two dealers coming out of the men's room.

They looked at me, but said nothing. By this time I was laughing crazily. But it made no difference. I was just another cardboard degenerate. Shit, they love me on A Pack A Day. I felt like a monster reincarnation of Jefferson Burdick ... A Collector on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.

Total Spent on Cards: $122
Admission: $6
Tolls: $7
Basket of Chicken Fingers and three cans of Bud Select: $17
Grand Total: $152


SJ said...

Within a half hour of me buying the '86 All Stars, they were gone.

Bay Rat North West said...

You go to shows and scare dealers. I go to shows and have dealers follow me to make more sales. Teach me O' Wizard of the Table Enclosed Walkway.

There is a new writer on Reds Cards that you might want to check out over the next few days.

dayf said...

All those pathetically eager wax freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit.....

Ha ha! I already have my box of 86 Donruss All-Stars, and I use it to get other unsuspecting souls hooked on the junkwax.

One of the hardest things I had to do this weekend was decide whether to buy a Marcus Giles Sweet Spot auto for $7.50 or a box of 88 Score for $7. I went with the auto, but I'll always wonder now about that box of Score. Was there a Glavine Rookie in there? Which color border got the short shrift on the collation? Could I have finally completed my mini trivia card set? It shall haunt me...