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  • Writer's pictureWritten by Joshua Smith

Pick-a-Card (Long Time Coming)

Y'all, I've saved up all my loose change and birthday money for years now and I think I finally have enough money to buy a very special card that I've had my heart set on for a long time. I think you all know what card I'm talking about... He's a player that captured our imaginations (and dare I say - hearts) in 2014 and has left us obsessed ever since. I'm of course talking about the one-and-only Drew McClanahan.

I've searched all over the place for one of these cards. I've left no stone unturned and stopped at every Flea Market and roadside swap meet within a five state radius that sells sports cards and memorabilia in the off chance that maybe there will be an authentic Drew McClanahan wiffleball card. I've sacrificed a lot over the years in my quest for such a card. I cannot tell you how many disappointing phone calls I've made in the rain from a public phone booth informing that I'd be missing yet another birthday party or holiday. Sometimes a phone call would be a courtesy that I wish could be afforded. Often times I'd be relegated to having to send a postcard from whatever town I was in so that my family would know where I was while I searched for my esoteric treasure.

About two months ago, I was sitting in a diner in Tightwad, Missouri scribbling my brief billet doux to my wife back home who had long grown fatigued with my tireless pursuit for this card. I started to wonder if maybe she was right. Am I spending too much time searching for this card? How many miles must a man travel before yielding to the fact that I may never find prize? I looked down at my coffee stained atlas on the table and saw the many markings made on the frayed pages. Despite all the studying and searching, I had come up empty handed over these years. Rain streaked down the window of the booth beside that made it difficult to see outside in the dark but I saw a what I thought to be a familiar shape in the parking lot but couldn't quite make it out...

An older gentlemen sat in another booth across the restaurant, in the corner. His back was turned. He had his right arm draped over the back of the booth with a cigarette between his fore and middle finger. The smoke ascended toward the dim light overhead as the waitress brought him his toast and coffee. My attention went back to my correspondence I was attempting to compose to my family on the back of the post card. What could I say? Was I going to miss Easter? How many more futile miles would I roam in this fruitless search before finally tucking my tail between my legs and return home?

My tired eyes lifted from my memorandum to the mysterious man as he rose from his seat. He was only a few inches shy of seven foot tall and had a very slender frame. He had a well-worn navy suit on with his fine silver hair parted neatly, a dapper fellow to be sure in his day. But on this night, at half past one in the morning, he was not as dashing as he likely once was. As he walked across the grimy floor of this greasy spoon, the only thing that shined on him now were his jet black oxford dress shoes. He walked strangely, but not with a limp. It was almost in a way that made you think the shoes were too small for him. He appeared weary as well. It was very strange to see a man of his advanced age out at this time of night. Was he lost?

He arrived at the juke box, fumbled in his right jacket pocket a moment, and summoned a dime from it and inserted it into the slot of the machine. He carefully examined the song selections and hit the arrow buttons repeatedly before he stopped and appeared to freeze for longer than a minute before tapping the 'select' button and turning away. The machine came alive with the sound of the levers and gears moving within as the 45" chosen began to fall toward the turntable. The needle dropped and the creature began to walk my direction with the sound of "Blueberry HIll" by Fats Domino playing behind him.

The was no one else in the restaurant there with this enigma besides the cook, waitress and myself. He walked in time to the beat as I heard his heel tap the tile in sync with the snare. His necktie was loosened and the top two buttons of his Bavarian cream dress shirt undone, the sign of a man weathered by the events of his day. He arrived at my table and the toothpick at the corner of his mouth fluttered as he spoke, "This yer first time drivin' in misery, pal?" I did not take his meaning and my perplexed look must have been apparent to him as he took a seat across from me in the booth and continued, "Is this yer first time drivin' is Missouri? Or as I like to call it... misery."

Were it not such a late hour I would have had a greater appreciation for the clever wordplay. There was also the matter of his strange accent and the tone of his voice. It was as if a mudslide could speak. He sensed my lack of appreciation for his ice breaker. The light just above the booth gave me a much better look at him now and I could see a look of embarrassment creep across his face. He appeared pale from a distance but absolutely ashen up front. What the man was lacking in exposure to sunlight, he was trying to supplement with small talk. I decided to stop being an asshole and oblige in response, "I've been here a few times." He seemed delighted by this and said, "I figured that was the case. I couldn't help but notice yer outta state tags."

I was a little concerned that this stranger had noticed this detail and asking me about my business. But he was harmless, right? The smoke cleared from the table and I could see the dark circles under his evergreen eyes. I didn't see the harm in humoring the man and told him that I'd been traveling on and off for the past few years searching for an exceptional card that had evaded my grasp. Just then his brows raised slightly and he said, "Oh, so yer a card collector?" I confirmed with a nod. He stretched out his cadaverous, lily white hand and gruffly said, "Bud Fisher. Collector, buyer and seller of trinkets, memorabilia, whatnots, knick-knacks and... cards."

What are the odds?

He put out his cigarette against the table top and pointed out the window and grunted, "That's my rig out there." I wiped the condensation from the window on my side of the booth and gazed through and in the distance I could see that on the edge of the lot next to Highway 7 was the familiar shape I saw earlier. I couldn't believe it. It was an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. The familiar shape I saw! I was in disbelief as "Blueberry Hill" faded to silence and only the dishwashers could be heard and I directed my attention back to Bud. "I have one, ye know." I didn't understand.

He continued, "I been chasin' cards since I wussa boy when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. I believe I have what yer lookin' fur." He arose from his seat and asked, "Whale, are ye comin'?" At this point I'd been to countless estate sales, specialty shops and other godless bazaars. So why not see what this old man has got in his collection at the approaching witching hour? I got up, left my tip on the table and hit the door two steps behind the man with ghastly features.

I trailed Bud into the deepening darkness of the parking lot, I was guided at first only by the sound of his footsteps as the heels of his dress shoes struck the asphalt. But when he sensed I was having difficulty following him, he began to whistle the melody of "Blueberry Hill" to guide me through the abyss like a pied piper across the expanse of the lot. I heard the jingle of his keys emerging from his pants pocket - we'd arrived. "I keep my cards in the back of my wiener," he said. What had I gotten myself into?

It had dawned on me the irony of my possible happening upon a Drew McClanahan card from a man driving an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. Drew will tell anyone who will listen about how our friendship was never the same due to me not stopping the car to take a photo with one while we were on the way to the 2014 NWLA tournament. Perhaps he's searching as hard for this wienermobile as I was for one of his cards. I thought about texting him at that moment to let him know I'd found one but since we weren't #friends, I figured it was best to not wake him. I'd have to keep this a secret. I'd sacrificed so much to get one of these cards, what's one more friendship?

Bud hit a button on the fob and the trunk (or tip?...foreskin?) of the wiener opened. When we walked to the back and I gawked into the back of the vehicle he said, "feast yer eyes." There were thousands (perhaps millions) of cards inside loosely about like schools of fish in the sea. He said, "I got everything. Mantle, DiMaggio, Robinson all the way to the new fellows. What are you looking for?" I told him that I'm not really looking for a baseball card and explained that I was looking for a Drew McClanahan wiffleball card. "Oh, a man of culture? This way." He motioned toward the side of the wiener on wheels toward the door inside. He disappeared into the vehicle and returned with a suitcase a short time later and plopped it down on the picnic table nearby and turned on his flashlight. He had white gloves on and had another pair in his other hand. "Wear these," he said. "These cards is mint condition and I intend to keep 'em that way. People's hands are disgusting and greasy and they ruin everything! Cards are too pure for this world and all I ask is ye respect the cards and keep ye bare mitts off 'em. Ya hear?" Bud was not playing around.

The harsh glare of his eyes and flashlight moved from me back to his suitcase where it opened to reveal only one card inside: an autographed Drew McClanhan rookie card. To say that it was in mint condition would be an understatement. It was pristine! I was aghast. All I could say was, "how?" He began, "I met him once." This doesn't make any sense! Had I crawled into the bed of the roach motel across the street already and not realized it? Is this a dream? Without letting Bud continue with his story, I expressed with delight how Drew was quite possibly the greatest wiffleball player to ever come out of West Virginia and Bud scoffed, "Son - don't kid yourself. I'll be right back." And he disappeared once more into his wiener.

I wondered what was up with Bud. Sure, he was an odd guy but very pleasant otherwise. I put it out of my mind because I was hopefully just minutes away from walking away from here with a treasure and then off to make amends with my loved ones for my long absence. But while he was back in the vehicle I couldn't help but wonder what it would feel like to hold the bare rookie card in my hand. Bud was gone. How could he know? It'll soon be mine anyway. I removed the card from the protective case and held it in my bare hands and it felt like magic coarsing through my body. I heard Bud coming through the internal shaft of his vehicle my way and I quickly put the card back in the case. He handed me another card. It was a significantly older card of a man baring a striking resemblance to the man I saw gliding across the diner floor towards me earlier that night, but a much younger version of him.

"Whaddaya think of that?" he said. He looked at me expecting some sort of recognition or affirmation. But truth be told, I'd never heard of Bud Fisher before that night nor of the team he played for on the card, the Arlington Pussy Willows. He looked at the Drew McClanahan rookie card with horror and exclaimed, "filth!" I said "I beg your pardon?" He continued, "Ya put yer filthy mitts on that card!" I said, "It'll be mine soon enough, what do you care if I touch it?" He replied, "Have ye no respect for the cards? Or for me? Or for yeself? I think not!" I got rather angry at this time as I hadn't gotten a proper night's rest in weeks and now this old man is screaming at me but before I could think of a further rebuttal, Bud took the few strides necessary to close the gap between us. "The card isn't yours. And now it never will be." And he punched me in the face with such force that I could have never predicted. I was out cold.

I woke up a couple hours later with dried blood on my lip and the sobering amazement of a man old enough to remember the construction of the highway system had rolled me in the parking lot. I suppose I had it coming. What was I even doing with my life? I got up and dusted myself off the best I could. One of the bus boys kindly waved and smirked from out front while on his smoke break as I limped toward my car. Bud was nice enough to leave my keys but my wallet is missing. I get inside my car and sit down, relieved yet defeated. From the corner of my eye I see something peeking from the visor. I pull it down and it's a card. But it's a misprint/cartoon-ish version of a Drew McClanahan card where he was compared to a unicorn. A final f-you from Bud.

I put the key into the ignition and started the car. The oldies radio station I had it on last began to play "Blueberry Hill" by Fats Domino. I wanted to turn it off but I left it. I had spent too long searching for what I wanted. It was time to accept what I deserved. I set a course for home.


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