"I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore... It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay." -- John Waters
Saturday Afternoon: Day Four (continued)
Later that afternoon, I finally met up with Chris Thomas and we made our way back to the FCB booth. I introduced Chris to Sooz and Marie of A Cardboard Problem and we jointly asked them if they wished to join us later that evening for drinks in Fells Point. They politely declined our offer, and to be honest with you, I can't say that I blame them. In retrospect, "Chris & Chris invite the ACP girls for drinks" sounded almost like a double-date offer; totally unprofessional and more than inappropriate for the situation. Then again, maybe they were on to something. Maybe they already knew about Darf.
Darf is the biggest piece of shit I've ever had the misfortune to meet. A total asshole. He's the kind of guy who'll drink your beer, eat your food, make fun of your ethnic heritage, grope your date's rear-end and proposition her to perform acts that are still illegal in The Bible Belt, then challenge half the bar to a fistfight. By the end of the evening Darf usually winds up with a broken nose and passed out in a pool of various bodily fluids and excrement -- not all of which is his own. When Darf arrives anywhere, the police are usually not all that far behind to take him away.
We all know someone like Darf, and I know him a bit too well. Unfortunately, we both happen to share the same body. Darf only comes out when Chris (me, not Chris Thomas) has too much to drink -- but not always. But when the booze start flowing, a humble, mild-mannered, riddled-with-a-touch-of-Asperger's, graduate student/gonzo journalist magically becomes infected with the personality of Darf.
I don't often go out to watering holes anymore, lest he make an appearance. But I had already committed myself. So we (myself, Chris Thomas and his two friends from Ohio) made our way into Fells Point. We settled on a place rated the best pub in Maryland, Max's Taphouse.
Indeed. Any establishment with 140 different beers on tap, five on cask, and 1200 different bottles, is a world class drinking establishment. You won't find shit like Budweiser on-tap in a joint like this, but you will find is stuff like "St. Peter's English Ale." Perfect. A English style bitter for a bitter card collector in a city full of bitter people. The four of us all ordered our rounds and made smalltalk about The Show.
I few minutes later, I finish my first pint and look up-and-down the beer menu. My eyes stopped at "Flying Dog Double Dog (Nitro) ... 11.0% ABV." 11% alcohol by volume? I think I could handle that easily. Why not?
I don't remember much about the taste, but I do remember that I was surprised that such a beer with a high ABV went down smooth and easy and I finished it rather quickly. So much so, that just 15 minutes after I had received my first Double Dog, Chris Thomas had bought me another pint and I drank that quickly as well. And then you-know-who made his appearance.
No. Stay calm... Fight that son-of-a-bitch. GO AWAY YOU EVIL ASSHOLE! NOT TONIGHT! I've just met these people. Back! Back!
I got up from the table. "That's it. I have to leave," I said.
"Leave? Where are you going?" said Chris Thomas.
"I have to leave the country. Nice knowing you all."
Clearly, they did not understand the terror I was in. I could feel Darf's presence. But I was able to successfully fight that rotten bastard off. After about 20 minutes, eventually, Chris Thomas and his friends got me to calm down. We took a walk around the block, ate a couple of slices of pizza, then headed back into the city. I then crashed in my car for a few hours to sober up, and around 2:30am drove back to The Republic.
Sunday: Day Five
Memories of this day are extremely hazy. All I have, for guide-pegs, is a pocket full of cocktail napkins all covered in scribbled notes. Here is one: "Case full of balls autographed by `Bonds' and `Mays' ... $50 each ... genuine? ... Get on the phone, lean on the fuckers ... heavy yelling."
Another says: "Jesse Jane on floor of Convo Hall ... Who knew porn stars collected? ... Here to promote appearance at Hustler Club, left empty handed. Guess not? ... Too many collagen injections, mouth looks like it could float small boat ... Still a Katie Morgan man."
Sunday was designated "Family Day" at The National. Not that you'd know that from the crowds. Instead of Family Day, maybe they should have called it "Pack your bags early and get the fuck out of Baltimore by sundown, but we'll still charge you dumb schmucks who didn't come early in the week full-price for a ticket anyway, day."
There is nothing more depressing than the final day of a mega show like The National, and Sunday was no exception. By 3:30, 90 minutes before the official closing, and the place was already a ghost town.
Although a ghost town, you can get a deal on just about anything. Most of the big waxjobbers (i.e. D&A, Atlanta, Blowout) marked down most of their boxes by $5-$10 -- except 2010 Bowman Baseball, of course. I picked up a box of 2003 Fleer Platinum from Dave & Adam's for $48 (marked down from $55) just for the hell of it. Pulled a "Rodriguez" game jersey serial-numbered to 400, but I couldn't figure out if it was Alex or Ivan. (And you wonder why this company went out of business?)
Towards the front of the hall, as I was making my way to the exit, I saw the damnedest thing I've ever seen at a card show. An entire eight-foot table covered about a foot-and-a-half high with miscellaneous ephemera. It was literally, the perfect metaphor for the state of The Hobby in 2010: A pile of junk.
Late-80s/early-90s Donruss Jumbo Diamond Kings. Post cards of obscure Eastern European soccer stadiums. Mid-80s-era McDonald's football cards -- complete with unscratched "tabs." 1990 Topps Heads-Up singles. Promos from decade's old Nationals, issued by long forgotten card companies. A team photo of the '96 Baltimore Ravens. Anything on the table, just a buck.
"It's not all junk, although it's tempting to call it that," said a collector, seated at the head of the table, picking through this pile of unwanted cardboard debris. "That's what the kids call it these days."
I responded, "Are there kids left in The Hobby?" and casually tossed back into the pile a 1978 Sportcaster of bowler Earl Anthony.
It had been ninety-seven-and-one-half-hours since that fateful Wednesday afternoon, and it seemed like everyone, myself included, had been "Nationaled Out." Maybe those dealers who left just after lunchtime were onto something. It was time to flee, back to The Republic. So, I headed back to the Light Rail stop and got on the train back to Glen Burnie. Then I got in my car, put in a Tobacco CD and headed South.
There is one main road back from this part of Maryland to The Republic of Fairfax: The Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a straight, flat-out high-speed burn through Jessup and Laurel and College Park. And then onto the Capital Beltway, across the American Legion Bridge, and straight into frantic oblivion: safety, obscurity, just another burnt-out card collector on his way home from The National.