(Ed. Note: Here’s part two of the thing that was too long for the Internet.Here’s part I in case you missed it. Thanks for indulging me with the thing that took 30 years to get to write. — Doc.)
Why don’t we have a table? I asked Dad once when I was 20 or so.
You’re in college and you’ve got stuff to do, he said. I can’t do it by myself. The pricing, the packing, the inventory and stuff. Plus, you need two guys watching a table so that you can make sure no one is stealing your stuff. At that point, Dad was right. I was busy.
I also think he figured our partnership had ended. The cards were getting less valuable, I was making fewer shows and he was doing more of this on his own.
What he didn’t know is that the time we’d spent collecting cards had not only been fun, but had made so many other things in life possible.
One year, a kid at my old student newspaper asked the question I’ve been asked about 1,000 times: When the paper went into that six-figure hole and you had about $40 in the checking account, how the hell did you ever dream you’d fix the finances?
The answer I gave was one that never seemed to make the final cut of the articles or the books or anything else.
I got the sense no one really believed it.
Here how you fix the unfixable:
During one of the very first shows I attended with Dad, I wanted a Roberto Clemente card. Who knows what draws a young fan to a favorite player, especially one that had been dead for so long. I think I’d seen a special on him on TV.
Dad found a dealer with a whole bunch of 1973 Topps Clementes.
“How much?” Dad asked the guy.
The dealer propped a price guide on top of his protruding gut and paged through it with purpose. He found the right page and told Dad, “The books says $25.”
“I’ll give you $10,” Dad replied.
“Here, look at the book,” the guy said, pushing it toward him.
“I’ll give you $10,” Dad said again.
The guy looked at my father and realized something about the situation. He knew my father wasn’t going to part with any more than $10. He also realized that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.
The guy sighed and said, “OK, pick one. $10 it is.”
I was stunned.
“I don’t get it,” I said to Dad while I delicately fingered my new-found treasure on the ride home. “The book said $25. Why would he give it to you for $10?”
“Something’s not worth whatever someone says it is,” Dad explained. “It’s worth what someone’s willing to give you for it. He’d rather have the $10 than sit there knowing he might never get $25.”
When the paper went under, I built a list of all the people we owed money to. I asked each person on that list if they’d just forgive the money and take it as a write off. Those who didn’t, well… That’s where the bargaining started. I’d explained that we still owed the government money and that if we went under and declared we were done, they’d never see a dime. The government would take everything we had and that they’d be left with nothing. OR, they could take some now, write the rest off and we could keep moving forward.
That’s how you pay off $137,700 with a little more than half of that amount and still have money left over.
You approach each debt like it’s a baseball card.
You do it by understanding that something isn’t worth what someone says it is. It’s worth what someone is willing to give you for it.
I still have that Clemente card.
And that school still has its newspaper.
Howie turns to me and says, “Hey, Andy, I gotta take a leak. Can you watch the table for me?”
My name’s not Andy.
“The mind’s the second thing to go on a man, Howie,” I say.
He heads off. No one stops to buy anything while he’s gone. He’s back in two minutes.
“That was fast,” I tell him. “Did you pee in the parking lot or something?”
He laughs and goes back to work moving things around on his table.
I take a look at his table and notice that among the $50 and $60 cards prominently displayed, he’s got a 1985 Bucky Scribner card for 10 cents. The sign on his table says all cards are half off of the marked price.
“Jesus, Howie. We’ve got no table space over here and you’re trying to make table by selling a 5-cent Bucky Fuckin’ Scribner card? Who the hell even owns one of those things?”
Now Dad’s in on the mix.
“Wasn’t he the best left-footed punter the Packers had in the ‘80s?”
“Fuck both of you,” Howie laughs. “Buy or don’t buy, but don’t mock the product.”
When I was about 25, I was officially out of Mom and Dad’s house. Only two things kept my room from becoming a sports card Mecca: The room had a water bed in it, which Dad feared would rupture, and the cards were getting too heavy to be on the second floor of the house.
Dad had more cards than we knew how to count. We had cases and boxes and bins and more. He’d buy large cabinets at rummage sales and fill them with cards. When the city’s library was disposing of the card catalog drawers, Dad bought them.
He took over the back bedroom of the house and put his card files in there. Somebody he knew once came over to look at the house and noted that there was no way the house shouldn’t have collapsed in on itself based on the weight of the cards and their distribution in the room. The guy went into the basement and found out that he would have been right had the card catalogs not been sitting on the main support I-Beam for the house.
That revelation didn’t stop Dad from buying more cards.
Dad often ended up picking up other people’s abandoned collections through rummage sales and flea markets. Dad’s main problem came down to this approach:
Dad would look over a 5,000-count box and ask, “How much are your cards?”
The guy would say, “A nickel each.”
“How much if I took them all?”
“Ten bucks a box for each box.”
The guy would then produce three other giant 5,000-count boxes and Dad was one of those guys who wouldn’t go back on a deal. He would get a hernia carrying the crap back to the car, but he wouldn’t go back on a deal.
The show begins to pick up around 10:15. Dad has sold several packs of cards and I’ve had a few sniffs for some 1950s cards we’ve got on display. Other dealers were seeing some bites as well.
The only person who wasn’t making any headway was the cosmetics lady across the aisle from us. Condensation was forming on the plastic cover over her cake.
A lady from the model car show stops by and takes a look at our four bobbleheads. They’re labeled at $10 each.
“I want Schilling and Johnson,” she said. “Can you do any better?”
Dad looks over, “Two for $15?”
“Yeah, yeah. Here’s another bag.”
A little while later, a guy comes by and asks about the other two.
“Can you do better if I take them both?”
“How about two for $15?” I suggest.
The guy hands over a $20.
“Hey!” Dad interjects mockingly. “Did you ask the boss before you did that?”
“Just give me the change, Dad.”
We’ve just made table with about two hours to spare.
Thank God this guy didn’t want a bag.
Dad liked the phone about as much as he liked the idea of getting herpes. He was from the older generation: the phone was a tool to convey information. That’s about it. If the phone rang at Mom and Dad’s house before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m., it better be because someone died.
That made life a lot more difficult when I moved to Missouri.
When you live eight hours away, visits aren’t easy, so the phone is pretty much what you’ve got. When I needed to get Dad past the “So, how’s the weather?” phase of the phone call, I always asked, “Any shows this weekend?”
Usually, there was or there had been. Dad would tell me about what he bought in the auction or whom he had seen. I got frequent updates on Leroy, the guy who used to run the kids auction and one of the shows. He often asked how I was doing.
Dad and his brother had taken to heading out to various autograph sessions. During the summer, they’d go to the Lombardi Golf Open and meet with all the old football and baseball players who were golfing for charity.
“If you could ever get back into town for that, we’d all had a blast,” he would say wistfully.
I’d change the subject, knowi
ng that was unlikely to ever occur.
“You ever talk to Leroy about getting a table?” I’d ask.
A flurry of deals that have us on the plus side of our table fee. All those loaves of Gardner Bread didn’t go to waste, as Dad sold a set of the cards for $6. Dad also sold a couple sets of Post Cereal cards from the 1990s for $2 each. This was another deal with the Devil that Dad made once.
He knew a dealer who was going out of business and Dad went in there to look for a Kevin Mitchell to finish his set of cereal cards.
The guy didn’t have any singles, but offered Dad a case of the cards. The guy apparently knew someone from the factory, because a case had between 1,000 and 1,500 three-card packages that somehow didn’t end up in the cereal boxes.
The price? $10 for the case.
Dad ended up buying the last two cases of them the guy had and we ended up opening the packages one Sunday afternoon while watching a game on TV. It was like shelling peanuts. Between those cases and Dad’s doubles, we must have made at least 300 sets.
We must have had about that many that were missing just one card.
The same card.
When I was about 30, I stopped asking Dad if he was ever going to get a table.
I felt a lot like Billy Bob Thornton in “Armageddon.”
I wanted to be one of those guys with a mission patch on my sleeve.
I wanted to run a table with Dad, but that wasn’t going to happen.
By this point, he’d had more stuff than most collectors. The most of the basement was turned into a shrine of Packer and Brewer memorabilia. He had autographs from more than half of the Packers’ 1997 Super Bowl team.
His favorite story was the one he got from Desmond Howard, the electrifying kick returner and Super Bowl MVP. Howard had won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan before entering the NFL so Dad asked, “Could you sign it ‘Heisman Trophy Winner?'”
Howard looked at him and said, “That’s a lot of writing, sir.”
Dad, who had coughed up $25 to this one-time NFL bust, wasn’t about to be deterred.
“Would you mind just writing ‘Heisman’ then?” he persisted.
Dad said Howard looked at him the way a kid looks at a teacher when he doesn’t know the answer to the question he’s just been asked. After signing his name, Howard then printed the letter “H” for “Heisman” and then squiggled a line after it.
It then dawned on Dad what the problem was.
Howard, the winner of the most prestigious award in college football, apparently didn’t know how to SPELL Heisman.
During a lull in the show, I bummed a quarter from Dad and told him, “Watch this.”
I walked over to Howie’s table and picked up the Bucky Scribner card. I studied it from ever angle, examining the quality of the corners and squinting at it to look for creases.
“Just take the goddamned thing,” Howie pleaded. “I don’t even care.”
“Nope. A deal is a deal. You got change for a $20?”
I handed him a quarter instead. He handed back two dimes.
Dad and I hatched a plot on the way home to resell the card next month to a guy we know as part of a scam on Howie. We’ll mark the card at $150 and call it a “rare error card.” The guy we know will then come up and haggle with us over the price until we agree on about $100, which the guy will gladly hand over, proclaiming to us and Howie how rare this particular error card is and how he saw it on eBay for five times that price.
We will then watch in silent glee while Howie shits himself.
We moved back to Wisconsin a few years back. Mom was thrilled but she had a simple request as well.
“Get your father to get a table,” she pleaded. “He’s got all of this shit. Besides, he needs to be out and interacting with people.”
Mom didn’t get it.
My father comes from a long line of stubborn Bohemian-Czechs. The more you lean on him to do something, the more he’s going to resist it.
Finally, I was close. Finally, he had enough stuff. Finally, finally, finally… Still, no interest. If I pushed, he was never going to do it.
Suddenly, about five months ago, he called me up out of the clear blue.
“I’m thinking about getting a table,” he said. “Not with Leroy. They’re sold out, but P.J.’s got some space.”
“I dunno. I just don’t want to waste a Sunday.”
“I’m just thinking about it.”
“You catch the Packer game?”
“Yeah, Dad, I still hate Aaron Rogers.”
The auction is about to start. Dealers put stuff together to have the folks bid on. Sometimes, that’s a good way to get rid of a lot of stuff. Other times, the stuff comes back to the dealers. It always depends on the crowd.
A group of autographs goes unclaimed. A couple folks make minimum on some simple stuff like post cards of players and such.
Someone has put up a couple 3,000-count boxes of assorted baseball and football cards.
A quick run through the boxes reveals nothing special. A lot of dealers do this as a way to get rid of a lot of their old common cards, but it’s still fun to go through this stuff.
The opening bid is $5. The highest bid gets to pick one of the two boxes. I’m interested, so I sneak up a bit closer.
The first bid comes from a guy about my age. $5. No one else is interested.
I’m about to bid $6 when I just stop for some reason. I don’t know why.
The item ends with a single bid on it.
“Go ahead,” the guy says while turning to his right. “Pick one.”
A boy about 8 years old emerges from behind the man. He shyly points at one box and then retreats. The man, obviously his father, lifts the box up.
“Wonder what we got,” he says to the boy. “Guess we’ll find out when we get home!”
The boy grabs his father’s hand and they leave the auction area, both of them sporting broad smiles.
I’m so caught up in the moment, I miss auction for the second box.
Dad called me about three months ago.
“I got a table.”
I’m stunned. It’s finally happening.
“You want some help?” I asked.
“I dunno. It’s a long shot. Let’s see how the first one goes.”
For the next two weeks, he went back and forth from being excited to being pessimistic. I waited for him to call me and ask me to come with him.
He never did.
On the day of the show, Mom called.
“Why aren’t you going with him?”
“He didn’t ask for help.”
“He wants you there!”
“Tell him to ask.”
“The both of you…”
Howie’s got a set of gold-sealed special Packer glasses he tried to push off on my uncle, who stopped by. The price was $25. My uncle wasn’t biting.
Howie’s not close to making table. At the last show, a guy showed up, piled up about $100 worth of cards and bought them all. Howie had table in about 20 minutes.
“It’s weird,” he explains. “I’ve sold a ton of stuff over the years, but never a Spahn. Last show, I almost didn’t bring one and some guy bought the one I brought. You never know.”
The same kind of thing happened to us. We toted those bobbleheads and figures to three shows before we sold them. Howie’s glasses look like they’re going home at least one more time.
Suddenly, a dealer comes over, sees the gold-seal glasses and buys all four. Two minutes go by and then, bam, another guy buys a couple tumblers, some other guy buys his beer glasses and someone buys one of his Vince Lombardi Pizza Hut glasses.
In a span of about 15 minutes, Howie’s sold almost all his glassware and made table with room to spare.
“Weird,” he says. “You just never know.
Howie was right. You never know. About a month ago, I got a call from Dad.
He’d been in poor health. He was a mailman who retired and had gained some weight. He was also known for smoking those long, thin black cigarettes outside of the card shows he ran. His family ran the concession stand at the show and his wife made some of the best Sloppy Joe you’d ever tasted. His kids had grown up in the business.
When I was
a kid, we’d stop by a store Leroy had on Lincoln Avenue. He’d sell cards and sports stuff along with sodas and candy.
After I went to college, Dad would often stop by the store for a chat on a listless weekday night.
The neighborhood steadily got worse and he closed the store. He kept the shows going and the hobby running. The kids’ auction eventually petered out, but the shows were popular. After 30 years of spending weekends with Leroy, pondering becoming a dealer, talking sports and more, Dad finally got in and Leroy was suddenly and sadly out.
You just never know.
It’s closing in on noon. Thanks to the turd Green Bay laid the week before in the playoffs, our card show won’t be competing with a Packers game. Someone has brought a TV to catch the Vikings/Cowboys game, but no one else seems to care.
Howie looks around and decides he’s had enough of the show.
“I think I’m heading out,” he notes.
“Hey, careful, Howie,” I tell him. “You’ll get a reputation for premature evacuation.”
Dad’s laughing so hard, he can’t answer a question that someone asked him about one of his baseball bats.
This is the time of the day where you start pondering diminishing returns. If you pack up too early, you might miss an important sale. You pack up too late, you’re standing around, as my father would say, with your thumb up your ass.
Howie’s had a good enough run. He’s happy and he’s heading out. The remaining glassware gets carefully rewrapped in the old newspaper it came in. The cards go into one of his bins.
Dad reminds him about the Favre poster.
“Oh, yeah,” Howie says with a “watch this” wink toward me. “It’s $15 right?”
“Yeah,” Dad says as he pulls down the poster.
Howie reaches into his pocket and hands over a ten and then counts out several singles.
“Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen…” He’s out of money.
“Oh, wait, I think I have an extra dollar in the other pocket,” he says, pulling out the buck he won from Dad earlier in the day. “Wonder where I got it from?”
“Hey, you think you can come out this weekend? We’ve got a show.”
I went into shock. I also went home. That first show was like a blink. I was more worried about if anyone was going to steal anything or if I’d accidentally break the giant Green Bay Packers brandy decanter Dad brought.
The next time, I told myself, I was going to sit back and take it all in. I was going to enjoy it.
Sure enough, Dad called a few weeks later.
“Hey, there’s another show. You in?”
Thus, I found myself sitting in Dad’s truck, which was in a line of vans, trucks and SUVs crawling slowly into the parking lot of a local exhibit hall early on a Sunday morning.
With Howie gone and the show starting to wane, Dad decides to call in an expert.
“Hey, Tim, how long you planning to be around?”
“Ah… Probably a little longer.”
Dad surveys the area and looks at his watch. It’s close to 1. We haven’t eaten yet, gone to the bathroom or anything. The day just flew by.
“Let’s go home,” Dad says.
As we start packing up, people trickle by looking at what was left on the tables. A guy picks up a stack of cards, give them a glance and put them down. Too bad. That would have been a good sale.
“You up for lunch?” Dad asks. “We can swing by Sentry and get some chicken.”
Tim waves goodbye as we stack our tubs on the dolly. He then turns back to the slice of pineapple upside-down cake he is eating.
Looks like everybody managed at least one sale today.
Dad called last week.
“You think you can make the February show?”
“Yeah. Not a problem. Hey don’t forget the bags or else Howie will never get off our case.”
“I know, I know… I got a ton of bags sitting on top of our stuff. Every time I move the stuff around downstairs, I make sure I put them back. We owe him five bags. We’ll give him ten… Hey, remember when Marv stopped by the table? He was looking at the Johnson Cookie cards?”
I couldn’t identify Marv if he shot me in the chest with a rifle.
“Yeah, he was interested in the cookie cards, but he said $25 each was too much.”
“Oh good grief… Didn’t he see the ‘All Cards On This Table Half-Off’ sign?”
“No. When I told him, he said, ‘Oh…'”
“Maybe he’ll be there at the next show. That’d make for a hell of a good day.”
“You never know.”