Every so often, you run into a kindred spirit, a guy you aren’t envious of, just proud to know. Todd Drew was like that, and so is Josh Wilker (pictured above on the left with his brother Ian). When I first read Josh’s work at Cardboard Gods, I was thrilled. He had a strong voice, wonderful sensitivity, an unassuming sense of humor, and the courage to dig deep, way below the surface. I’d want to belong to the kind of club that would have a misfit like that as a member. And I’m not alone. Josh’s long-awaited memoir, The Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards, has generated some great buzz and strong reviews. Josh hits the Big Apple tonight–he’ll be at the Nike Store in Soho from 7:30 to 9:30. He’s here through early next week and we’re happy to have him.
I got a chance to chat with Josh recently and here is our conversation. Enjoy.
Bronx Banter: Dude, first thing, what were your favorite kinds of packs to get when you were a kid? The single pack? Remember those triple packs that would be clear packaging with three little sets side-by-side?
Josh Wilker: I’m a single wax pack guy. The clear packaging ruined some essential part of the fun for me, since you could see the top and the bottom card in the stack. It was better that it was a total mystery.
BB: Bro, how deep does your nerdiness run? Do you carry a card around with you in your wallet?
JW: I don’t, but I usually have a card that I’m working up an essay on in the pocket of the nap sack that I lug to and from work. And a couple summers ago when I came to New York to–among other things–go to Shea Stadium for the last time, I made a point of carrying an Ed Kranepool in my pocket every day of the trip.
BB: Nice. Do you ever feel any attraction to modern baseball cards?
JW: I just wrote a piece for GQ.com, of all places, considering my unstudliness, on the 2010 Topps cards. I bought a couple packs for the piece, and got a charge out of it, and though the cards mostly left me cold for being too slick, I admired the high quality of them. The photos and the back of the card text is light years advanced beyond the rudimentary nature of the 1970s cards, which may be why the new cards leave me cold. There’s no homely humanity in them.
BB: Can you at all relate to the generation of kids who bought cards for what they might be worth one day, instead of being important for more personal reasons, or just cause they were the things to have, trade and flip?
JW: I can relate, I guess. I mean, when I was a kid, I fantasized that one day my Butch Hobson and Frank Tanana cards would be worth millions, so it’s not like the idea of the cards being “investments” was completely foreign to me. I was just too lazy to actually pursue that angle. I did feel like things were taking a wrong turn when I noticed, in the late 1980s, that the cards my younger cousin was collecting were going immediately into protective plastic. You have to be able to touch the cards, otherwise what’s the point?
BB: When you started the Cardboard Gods blog did you have it in your mind to write a book? Or did that develop later?
JW: My first intention was to play around and to keep writing and to maybe connect with some readers. I’d been working on a novel for several years previous to starting the blog, and I wasn’t able to sell it, and I was wary of signing on for another several years of solitary toil only to have the end product of the work end up at the bottom of a drawer. But I also thought it could be a book, too, from very early on. It was not unlike the first time I saw my future wife: a feeling like, “Hm, I think there might be something here.” I held off for quite awhile on trying to start shaping the material into a book, a tendency that has in the past had a way of crushing the life out things before they have a chance to grow. Instead I just tried to keep having fun and churning out material. After a while, I knew I had enough stuff for a book, if I could ever pull it all together into something coherent.