Every so often on my morning commute through Washington Heights I see a small family consisting of a mother and a father and their two sons get on the train. The boys must be six and seven respectively. They both have round faces that seem even chubbier by their round glasses. They wear navy blue overcoats, and the required Catholic School attire: gray pants, white shirt, and a tie. The mother and father, who look to be in their early forties, are always well dressed and, if not formal, at least neat and proper. The father, who seems like a strict disciplinarian, will lovingly lean down and comb one of his son’s hair to the side. When the boys leave the train with their mother at 86th street, the father waves goodbye to them, and continues to smile and look for them after the train has begun to pull out of the station.
I’ve made eye contact with the father on several occasions, nodding to him and smiling as he dotes on his boys. On one occasion I told him how nice it was to see a father being so affectionate with his children. Anyhow, I saw the family this morning, while I was reading the rags. I didn’t make any contact with them, I observed them from 181rst street down to 86th. At 110th street, the younger son pulled out a small stack of playing cards that were held together by an old rubber band. He removed the band and looked at the top card. Then he open the stack to the middle and proceeded to flip through them using his left hand to slide the cards from left to right. The gesture really brought me back. I wonder who teaches kids to sort through cards that way, I thought. Duh. His older brother, of course.
I started to remember how important baseball cards were to me when I was seven, eight years old. Never mind that this boy was looking at Pokemon cards. I’m sure that baseball cards don’t dominate the card market for kids any longer. But that doesn’t matter so much in the long run. The cards are still held together by an old rubber band, and carried in close to the vest. The fact that the cards are graphic and contain crucial information makes them vital to a young boy.
I wonder how kids trade Pokemon cards. Do they flip them or what? I used to collect baseball cards–Topps cards–but never cared for them particularly well. (I’ve saved them, and have the good ones in a plastic sleeve, but the cards are all bent and busted around the edges.) I flipped them all sorts of ways–I used to love flicking them against a wall–and enjoyed buying packs and getting doubles and triples of lousy players in the search for a Reggie Jackson or Pete Rose All-Star card. (Loved that awful gum too and the smell it gave to the entire pack.) Some kids would buy an entire set, which they would keep in mint condition, but that never appealed to me. I liked to play with my cards. I treasured the statistics on the back of the cards and the dopey facts they’d revealed about a player.
What about you? Were baseball cards an important part of your childhood? Do you still see kids flipping and trading them? I started collecting cards in earnest during the 1979 season, but have a bunch from 1977 and 1978 too. I was actively involved with them through the 1984-85 seasons, when comic books took over. Anyone got a favorite year? I especially loved the 1978 cards and there were a couple of years in the early-mid seventies that were great-looking too.
And Another Thing…
I’m not usually a person who necessarily thinks that things were always better in the past. But since the tendency to romanticize the past is a time-honored baseball tradition, let me just say that I really miss slapping five with people. Not high-fiving, but your standard, good old, slap me five. I still do it, and though it takes people a second to catch on to what I’m asking of them, I think slapping five with a person is far more satisfying that any of the cockamamie finger snap dabs that is standard these days. When you slap somebody five it isn’t always great, but there is the opportunity to get a great feeling exchange, where the pocket of each person’s palm is cupped just right and the sound is bass-heavy and the feeling is light, like when you hit a ball on the sweet part of the bat. I actually like the fact that it isn’t always great. I’ve got one friend who’ll repeat the exercise with me until we get a really good one. But then, it’s like when you are on the playground and say you are going to leave as soon as you make one last shot: you get greedy, and try to repeat the magic. I don’t hate finger snaps, but call me a product of my childhood, cause for my money, nothing beats slapping five.