I bought my first pack of baseball cards when I was eight-years-old. It was 1979. I sorted through the small stack of cardboard looking for anyone I recognized, then I chewed the crappy, stiff piece of gum. I would love to say there was a Jim Rice or a Steve Garvey in that first pack, but there wasn’t. I don’t know why I kept buying them after that, but I did.
In fact, I became obsessed.
Within a year or two I had thousands of cards. I had Jim Rices. I had Steve Garveys. I had long checklists of players, and my collection was organized by team and card number. I no longer bothered to chew the gum.
At that time you could buy books with values listed for all the cards by the top three companies, Topps, Fleer and Donruss. I poured over those books obsessively until other kids, similarly afflicted, would come to me to appraise their best cards. I would make guesses, then consult the book, until I discovered I was correct all the time. I had memorized the book.
Soon I was investing real money, buying old Mantles and Aarons and Mays at the local coin shop, trading with my less informed friends, trading up, trading sideways, enhancing my collection, pursuing weird collecting tangents tied into baseball history and rearranging my cards to tell a story. Here are all the 1958 White Sox. I collected them because I liked Luis Aparicio, a diminutive short stop I’d never actually seen play the game.
Now I am one of those American men who keeps a cardboard box full of old cards up in his attic. Most of the gems I sold off in college, just for spending money. It pains me to think of it (although I still own a very good condition original of the card above).
Baseball cards gave way to vinyl records. I have carted those around my entire adult life, and they’re all shelved in the basement, next to the turntable that’s not plugged in.
After records, I bought guitars. Black Les Paul Std., vintage reissue SG Junior, Gibson ES150 hollow body electric, Travis Bean aluminum neck- through-the-body, Fender Telecaster, and on and on. Bought, sold, traded. For a while I was flipping vintage drum sets too. A white oyster Gretsch jazz kit. A Slingerland blue sparkle kit. Stacks of Marshall stacks and small Fender tube combos.
Just researching the color names for that last paragraph took me to the Gretsch drum site, and I had my credit card halfway out of my wallet when I came to my senses. These objects, they speak to me in a way I can’t all the way explain.
Of course, this story ends, for now, with the bike. Most of the time when I think of bicycles, I think of cycling, of pumping up steep hills at the end of my breath, of swooping down descents with the rims humming and of rolling along with my friends. The bike is a tool for cycling.
But that doesn’t come close to explaining what’s going on in my garage, every hook full, or my parts bin and its enclosed esoterica. It doesn’t explain the time I spend on eBay combing through listings for frames, memorizing the values, noting the idiosyncracies of each one.
Most of the time when I romanticize cycling, I reach for those first ride memories from childhood, the feeling of freedom and independence, but there is another side to it that harkens back to my time as an obsessive little boy, buried in the couch poring over books and delighting in arcane minutia, the sort of background that would lead a grown man to spend his entire day and large portions of his night reading, talking and even writing about bicycles.
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