We began our Sunday in Toms River, at The Backstop of course, ripping boxes of the new Topps Heritage. And when the call came, I was ready.
"HEYYYYY, IT'S THE DOC-TAH!"
"OK, I put him on."
"HEYYYYY CHRIS, THIS GUY ON DA LINE WANTS TA SPEAK TA YA."
Dr. Wax approached the table cautiously, and when he handed me the telephone I said nothing, merely listened. "That was headquarters," I said. "They want me to go to Valley Forge at once."
My attorney said nothing for a moment, then he suddenly came alive in his chair. "God hell!" he exclaimed. "I think I see the pattern. This one sounds like real trouble! You're going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over," he said. "As your attorney I advise you to gas up the car. And then you need the junk wax. Some of those Rated Rookie T-Shirts, music for the road, and get the hell out of New Jersey for the afternoon." He shook his head sadly. "This blows my Sunday, because naturally I'll have to go with you -- and we'll have to arm ourselves, to the teeth."
"Why not?" I said. "If a thing like this is worth doing at all, it's worth doing right."
"What kind of card show is this?" he asked.
"The Philly Show," I said. "It's the oldest, most continuously operated sports memorabilia show in the country... at least that's what the press release says."
"Well," he said, "as your attorney I advise you to buy a case of 1991 Donruss. How else can you cover a thing like this righteously?"
"No way," I said. "Where can we get a hold of an entire case of 1991 Donruss?"
Getting hold of the Rated Rookie T-Shirts was no problem. But an entire case of 1991 Donruss Baseball was not an easy thing to round up on a Sunday morning in South Jersey. We went to a bar, where my attorney made seventeen calls before locating a card shop with an unopened case of '91 Donruss.
"Hang on to it," I heard him say into the phone. "We'll be over in thirty minutes." Then after a pause, he began shouting: "What? Of course the gentleman has a major credit card! Do you realize who the fuck you're talking to?"
"Don't take any guff from these swine," I said as he slammed the phone down.
We spent the rest of the morning rounding up the junk wax and packing the car. Then we ripped a jumbo box of '92 Fleer, pulling a Frank Thomas Rookie Sensation. Sometime around Noon we had lunch at a diner, then drove very carefully across Toms River and plunged onto the pine-covered New Jersey State Route 70, heading West.
This assignment was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in The Hobby. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of this great Hobby -- but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.
But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Jefferson Burdick gone mad on junk wax in the Philadelphia suburbs. Do it now: fake Gonzo journalism!
We finally arrived early in the afternoon. We were forced to stand in line with all the others -- which proved to be very difficult under the circumstances. There was a gun show happening simultaneously at the Convention Center, and the atmosphere was very tense. And that's where the trouble started.
A boney, middle-aged hoodlum wearing an Orioles jersey yelled: "God damn! What day is this -- Saturday?"
"More like Sunday," somebody replied.
"Hah! That's a bitch, ain't it?" the hoodlum in the Brian Roberts O's jersey shouted to nobody in particular. "Last night I was out home in Ball-Tee-More and somebody said they were having the Philly Show today, so I says to my old lady, `Man, I'm goin'." He laughed. "So she gives me a lot of crap about it, you know... so I started slappin' her around and the next thing I knew two guys I never even seen before got me out on the sidewalk workin' me over. Jesus! They beat me stupid."
He laughed again, talking to the crowd and not seeming to care who listened. "Hell yes!" he continued. "Then one of 'em says, `Where you going?' And I says, `Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to the baseball card show.' So they gave me twenty bucks and drove me down to the bus station..." He paused. "At least I think it was them..."
"Well, anyway, here I am. And I tell you that was one hell of a long night, man! Seven hours on those goddamn buses and trains! But when I woke up it was dawn here and I was outside the Valley Forge Convention Center and for a minute I didn't know what the hell I was doin' here. All I could think was, `O Jesus, here we go again: Who's divorced me this time?'"
He accepted a pack of '91 Upper Deck from from somebody in the crowd, still grinning as he tore it open. "But then I remembered, by God! I was here for the Philly Show... and man, that's all I needed to know. I tell you it's wonderful to be here, man, I don't give a damn what you collect. It's just wonderful to be here with you people...."
Nobody argued with him, we all understood. This, after all, was the 101st edition of the World's Greatest Card Show; the Philly Show -- now under new management and a new venue: The Valley Forge Convention Center. No more driving to that shit town Reading! This card show attracts a very special breed, and our man in the Orioles shirt was clearly one of them.
We entered the basement of the Valley Forge Convention Center and started -- as we always do at these gatherings -- roaming the aisles. Ah yes. This is what it's all about. Total control now. Tooling along the center aisle on a Sunday afternoon at the Philly Show, two card collectors ... stoned, ripped, twisted ... Good People.
We walked over to a table that had about a dozen Hobby boxes of the new Topps Heritage for $70 each. "I don't know about you," I told my attorney, "but in my line of business it's important to be Hep."
"Mine too," he said. "But as your attorney I advise you to pick up a box of Upper Deck Spectrum. There's a couple of boxes over there for $73."
"Why?" I asked.
"Why should I pay out my hard-earned dollars to rip shitty wax?"
"Look," he said. "Why are we out here? To entertain ourselves, or to do the job?"
"The job, of course," I replied. We were walking around in circles, weaving through the table-enclosed walkways.
My attorney was scanning the hall, looking for hints of action. "How about `2008 Topps Moments & Milestones, $50?'" he said. "`ADDDED VALUE IN EVERY PACK: DO IT NOW!' that sounds heavy... Twenty-nine cent packs of '91 Fleer..."
Why were we here? What did it all mean? All these cards. All these collectors. All these tables. Why?
I could have bought that box of '09 Heritage, or I could have spent it all picking out singles out of a 50%-off box. All throughout, I kept saying to myself: "What would Jefferson Burdick do?"
I snuck into the gun show and picked up a spray can of Bear Mace for $44.98 and suddenly, in the midst of that last thought, I was struck by the hideous possibilities of using it, here in the hall. Macing Joe Collectors left-and-right as they sit at the snack bar ripping their over-priced Triple Threads waxboxes, then slipping away and firing a huge load of Mace into the JSA and BGS booths. Or Macing those in line for Jennie Finch and Jim Rice at the autograph tables, for their own good of course.
"Oh, I'm sorry Ms. Finch. I apologize for that deranged man who just sprayed you in the face with Bear Mace. I promise you, it will never, ever, happen again."
As I think these terrible thoughts, one thing kept coming up in my mind: What would Jefferson Burdick think of all this? I'm sure if Ol' Jeff were here to see this awful spectacle, and to see how his once-great Hobby had degenerated into this, he'd do what I'd do. Bear Mace every pathetic soul in Valley Forge.
In the end, my attorney and I picked up a retail box of '09 Heritage for only $55. "As your attorney, I advise you not to pay an extra $15 for cards you don't want. Go with the retail box," my attorney said. My attorney is a wise man. He's not some dingbat I picked up on The Strip. I also picked up the entire set of 25 Hobby Store cards from last year's Topps Trading Card History set for only $10. "Why not? It's a good deal, and it's Hobby only," I said. I spent $11 on a handful of inserts from last year's Goudey and Allen & Ginter, and $6 on six packs of top-loaders.
Just as we were about to exit, we were spotted. I guess the "Rated Rookie" t-shirts gave it away, but we were caught and apprehended by some cardgeek on the way out the door.
"Hey, you're that guy!" he said.
I pretended to ignore the remark, but my attorney nudged me. "He's speaking to you."
"Your that guy from the website, aren't you? Stinky Gum, or something like that? SHIT! Jimmy, GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE! It's him!"
I politely extended my right hand to the poor bugger. And then I noticed the awful smell. In his haste to extend his hand, my attorney accidentally discharged the Bear Mace onto his shirt. Panic ensues. Collectors, still clutching their afternoon's purchases, bum rush the exits. Me and my attorney barely made it out the door before security clamped down, slipping the noose once again.
Black Chevy blowing through traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway. The fake journalist is driving, ignoring his passenger who is now nearly naked after taking off most of his clothing, which he holds out the window, trying to wind-wash the Mace out of it. His eyes are bright red and his face and chest are soaked with beer he’s been using to rinse the awful chemical off his flesh. The front of his woolen trousers is soaked with vomit; his body is racked with fits of coughing and wild chocking sobs. The fake journalist rams the car through traffic and into a spot in front of the train station, then he reaches over to open the door on the passenger’s side and shoves his attorney, snarling: "Bug off, you worthless faggot! You twisted pigfucker! If I weren’t sick I’d kick your ass all the way back to Toms River -– you scum sucking geek. Mace is too good for you! We can do without your kind in Philadelphia!"
Total Spent on Cards: $82
Can of Bear Mace: $44.98
GRAND TOTAL: $136.98