Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Defiling the Topps 2013 Heritage Series: One Man’s Quest for Order by Rev Norb

One of my last acts before moving out of my father's house was to bequeath my sports cards to my younger brother. My card collection wasn't much to speak of: The 1971 and '72 football cards I'd collected in first and second grade, my half of our mutually-accumulated 1976 Topps baseball set (probably 80% complete), and a year or two of basketball and hockey cards I bought in sixth grade, before rock & roll started chewing up my disposable income. About a quarter of a century later, my brother returned my cards to me. It wasn't that he'd lost interest in them, quite the contrary—my battered cards, showing all the ravages that an elementary schooler can inflict on the medium (my purple self-inking Road Runner stamp being a particular source of aggravation), were no longer in pristine enough condition to suit his needs; he'd purchased upgraded replacement copies and no longer needed the beat-up junk culture of my youth. Okay, so, cool: I got my cards back. And, as a bonus, my brother had, as is his nature, nicely organized them in binders – the teams were arranged alphabetically by name, and the players were arranged alphabetically by last name within their teams (except for my basketball and hockey cards. He thought those were stupid, so he just handed them back to me in big stacks). For a period of time, this arrangement was pleasing to me: AH, HERE ARE THE CARDS OF MY YOUTH. METICULOUSLY ORGANIZED. IN ORDER. But, as time went on, the “order” to which the cards had been dutifully been subject seemed increasingly suspect to me. Indians, Mets, Orioles, Padres. How does THAT make any sense, really? Pirates, Rangers, Reds. The football cards were even worse: Bears, Bengals, Bills, Broncos. The longer I looked at the cards in the binders this way, the more they seemed liked they'd been force-fed into some arbitrary organizational system that had no relevance to what they were. What the hell does the alphabet have to do with baseball cards, anyway? But how else could one do things? The cards could be organized by card number, of course, but that seemed likely to create an even more unpleasant hodgepodge than the existing system (I would later find that organizing cards by card number works well IF and ONLY IF the team cards do not have a single color scheme applied to all the cards in a team set, and unique to that set). I knew I was becoming increasingly unhappy with the way the cards were organized, but was at a bit of a loss as to what to do about it. Enter the 1955 Bowman football card set. I became obsessed with these cards—the last Bowman would produce before Topps took over the football card racket—and collected them vociferously, eventually winding up in possession of all 160. The ’55 Bowmans, however, have that extra quarter-inch of length to them that is standard for most sports cards from 1952-57: As a result, they don't fit well in standard binder pockets. I had to get the little hard plastic sleeve dealies for my ’55 Bowmans, and, since the small series size meant I could keep my whole collection in a cigar box, it was easy for me to take the cards out and play with them any way I wished. And, as there were only twelve teams in the league at this point, organization and reorganization was a relative breeze (PRO TIP: Don't put a partially-completed card set in a binder UNLESS YOU LEAVE SPACES FOR EACH AND EVERY CARD YOU MAY SOMEDAY OBTAIN. Unless, of course, you enjoy shifting 600 or so cards one pocket to the right because you finally got Frank Tanana). The order which these cards quickly took was pleasing and logical: I organized them by team (all cards of a team set had matching colored backgrounds), I organized the teams by conference (Eastern/Western), and I organized the teams within the conference according to the final standings of the 1955 NFL season. Thus: Browns-Washington-Giants-Cardinals-Eagles-Steelers, Rams-Bears-Packers-Colts-49ers-Lions. This order pleased me greatly. The cards were organized using various relevant factors (performance, geography, league politics), and to gaze upon them filled me with a great sense of ORDER, properly applied. Having filled in the gaps in my ’76 baseball card set in the interim, I gave that one much the same treatment, but this time I split the teams up four ways—AL East, AL West, NL East, NL West—organized the teams based on final standings, then organized the divisions according to postseason results: The Reds won the World Series that year, so the NL West went first. The Yankees were the AL pennant winners, so the AL East went second. I put the AL West third and the NL East last, just because I thought having the NL be first and fourth and the AL be second and third sort of balanced out, kinda like how double albums used to have sides 1 and 4 on one record and sides 2 and 3 on the other. ORDER! My 1971 football cards were next. As the first set of cards after the AFL-NFL merger, a heightened sense of conference identity seemed to be present: All the AFC cards had red backgrounds, while the NFC teams’ cards had blue backgrounds. Instead of organizing the teams by division, I used my brother's pre-existing alpha-by-team-name format, but alternated the cards by conference. Hence, blue card, red card, blue card, red card. Five blue cards and four red cards on the odd binder pages, five red cards and four blue cards on the even pages. ORDER! My 1959 baseball card set resisted attempts at organization by team (no unique team color scheme), and by shared background color (looked too silly). Eventually, I decided they looked the coolest organized by number, and not in a binder at all – I stored all 572 cards in twelve 50-count plastic boxes. They like it that way. ORDER! And, so it went – I went through my various sports card sets, and, often by trial and error, eventually discovered what I felt to be the best, most harmonious, and coolest way to organize them (it should be noted that I was unemployed for most of this time, go figure). Sometimes it was easy (certain years of football cards have all the teams grouped together numerically, so cards #1-14 are the Patriots, cards #15-29 are the Bills, etc.); sometimes it was hard. Which brings us to the stars of our show, the 2013 Topps Heritage baseball card set. The Topps Heritage sets pay homage to a card design of a bygone era; in this case, the cards revisit their 1964 design, a set which I had sought to collect at one point, but kicked to the curb about a hundred cards into the project, preferring to focus my efforts on its cooler siblings, the 1963 and 1965 sets. So, the set is kinda cool, but not super cool. Anyway, I had obtained a complete base set of the 2013 Topps Heritage cards for cheap, and had dutifully organized them into a binder, using my brother's now-discredited “alpha by team” method. I'm not into modern cards anyway, they leave me cold, but this set left me especially unmoved. There they sat, all sterile and fake-organized, with their perfect, laser-cut corners: Stepford wife rectangles trying to mooch the mojo of a prior generation. I grew to hate them. What did these unblemished totems know about the heart, the spirit, the suffering of the 1964 Topps cards? I began to loathe them like the dude in “The Tell-Tale Heart” loathes the old guy with the bum eye, and, one night, I came home from the bar, crept into their room, pulled them out of their comfortable binder pockets, stacked them up by team, wrapped each stack with a rubber band and threw them in a bag. HA! THAT'LL LEARN YA! I’d finally avenged myself, cleared away the indignities I'd suffered at their hands over the years. But yet... as I peered into the bag in which their stacks were chucked, it seemed like they were still mocking me, even in that state of compromise: While, yes – the top and bottom cards of each stack did exhibit a mild deformation courtesy of the rubber band, the sides of the cards – with their obscene, drywall whiteness -- defiantly trumpeted a certain insouciant impermeability to my best efforts at breaking their spirit. Dammit! My work was not yet done! Then, inspiration struck! In accordance with the 1964 cards, the 2013 Heritage series have a trivia question on the back, with an answer that only becomes visible when rubbed with the edge of a coin. Of course! That's it! No one would ever expect an odious, condition-crazy, modern card-collector to actually RUB A COIN ACROSS THE TRIVIA ANSWERS ON THE BACK! I’LL HAVE MY REVENGE, AND EAT IT TOO! I grabbed a penny, and got to scraping. I found that I am surprisingly bad at baseball trivia, although I do tend to know anything with weird numbers (i.e., that the longest game ever played went 26 innings, or that .301 was the lowest batting average to ever qualify for a batting crown). By the time I even made it through the A's cards, the trivia questions started repeating. Angels. Astros. More repetition of questions. By the time I got to the Blue Jays, I wasn't even reading the questions, just scraping mindlessly. THIS IS STUPID. THE CARDS HAVE BROKEN ME. I flip the card over, staring Melky Cabrera in the face. My god, they've intentionally superimposed a dot pattern over his face in some boneheaded attempt to simulate 1964 printing methods. The background, too. The fake dot pattern is everywhere. Further, the small block of color at the bottom of the card that houses the player name and position information is slightly, intentionally, misregistered. I can't really complain about that, I've used that trick, too—but, jeepers creepers, the intentional misalignment is exactly the same for every single card. Even their nonuniformity is maddeningly, intolerably uniform!!! I stop scraping. What's the point? I’m probably just buying into their whole retro scam. They KNEW I would do this. They saw me coming. Villains! Dissemble no more!!! What can I do, though? Get a clothespin and put these cards, one by one, into the spokes of my 1969 Schwinn Hornet? Write my name on them left-handed with a ballpoint pen? They probably expect this too, and have devised insidious countermeasures to repel my attacks! And then, it occurs to me: About fifteen years ago, I was having a conversation with Jello Biafra that somehow, inexplicably, drifted over to baseball cards (roll THAT one around in your head for a while). Jello confided in me that he'd had baseball cards as a kid (!), and grew nostalgic for them (!!), so, one day, he went out and got some baseball cards (!!!). He then noted that the baseball cards really weren't working any sort of magic on him, so he drew penises on them, and then he was happier. Now, being cut of a slightly different cloth than Jello, I can honestly say that I have never had much of an urge to draw penises on my baseball cards. I've barely ever even had the urge to draw penises on my basketball cards. However, his genital, er, general idea was a good one: Modern problems require modern solutions. Desperate times require desperate measures! These cards must be defiled in a NEW and UNPLANNED-FOR fashion! For ORDER! I band up Melky and the rest of the Blue Jays, and throw them back in the bag that's sitting on the porch. The 2013 Topps Heritage Blue Jays are dead to me! I need to think of something NEW, something FANTASTIC, something COMPLETELY FRICKING RIDICULOUS to do to these cards, to force them into reality, to march them at gunpoint into my dimension, where cards are scuffy and fluffy and have fuzz coming out the corners and get creased and stamped by self-inking purple Road Runner rubber stamps and such. But what? I adjust my sunglasses. SUNGLASSES! THAT'S IT! IT'S AN OMEN! I SHALL BECOME... A SUNGLASS! I step inside, off the porch, google “new wave punk retro sunglasses,” download a few jpegs of cliché pointy new wave sunglasses, and hit “print.” I take the sheet back outside with a scissors and a jar of rubber cement, and fish a random team's cards out of my tote bag. It's the Cubs—oddly, exactly whom I hoped it would be. I snip out a very dashing pair of red and black new wave shades, coat the back with rubber cement, and, after eyeing up a few other potential candidates, SHMOOSH! I apply the waver specs to outfielder David DeJesus. DeJesus with the first hit of the game! I cut out a blue pair, and adhere them to Matt Garza (whom I saw pitch in single A this year, I’ll have you know). The 2013 Topps Heritage series don't know what hit them. I step back inside the house, grabbing an advertising circular, a free music magazine for which my girlfriend writes reviews, and a Free Comic Book Day version of Archie Comics (I don’t usually endorse defacing comic books under any circumstances, but it's just that weird-looking“New Riverdale” stuff so it's okay). I start chopping out any set of eyes that looks like it might fit on a baseball player's face. The results are almost always immediately hilarious, but, five minutes later, the faces look almost normal with their new eyes, so I realize I have to get even weirder with my collage elements, or the cards will fight back. Rafael Dolis gets one huge eye in the middle of his face. Darwin Barney gets an oversized pair of Archie eyes so far apart that it makes him look like a Dick Tracy villain. And Dale Sveum, Cyclops-like, gets his eyes entirely replaced by a visor made by a ShopKo model's toothy smile. I complete the last of the Cubs, and take in my work with a satisfied grin—then, with all due unceremoniousness, I rubber band them back together, chuck them back in the bag, and fish out my randomly-chosen next victims, the Texas Rangers. The lifeless rectangles have become real cards again. You’re welcome, Topps, De nada. And, best of all, no penises were drawn in the making of this picture.

Rev. Nørb never played Little League, liked the 1975 Green Bay Blue Ribbons, the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, and then somehow lost his way and started liking the Brewers. He was in some bands (like Boris the Sprinkler), wrote a book (about being in Boris the Sprinkler), and owns the complete 1959 and 1976 Topps baseball card sets. His favorite baseball name is Whammy Douglas.

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