In my basement storage area, I have a trunk full of
investment grade mostly worthless baseball cards from the late 1980s. In retrospect, it’s good that I was barely squeezing out a living as a public interest lawyer in New York, because if I had any more money to spend at the time, it’s possible I would’ve sunk it into buying even more baseball cards.
I know I’m not alone in this. During the mid to late 80s, grown men of various means spent a lot of money accumulating huge collections of cardboard with pictures of baseball players. Some, like me, dreamed that their prized acquisitions eventually would skyrocket in value, like so many vintage baseball cards from earlier in the century.
In fact, I even joined something called the Baseball Card Society, run by a fellow in New York who sent us “members” monthly packets of easily obtained new and recent baseball cards at premium prices, accompanied by “investment” letters and booklets that made this all sound like a serious and profitable business.
I wonder if famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith would’ve written about baseball card “investors” like me had he ever updated his humorous little book, A Short History of Financial Euphoria (1990), in which he detailed, among other things, the maniacal Dutch speculation over tulips during the 1630s.
Baseball card valuation 101
To understand the roots of the baseball card craze, let’s talk valuation. The value of baseball cards typically boils down to several key factors:
(1) Condition, condition, condition — A perfectly centered, mint condition baseball card is the ideal collectible.
(2) Subject — For baseball cards, it usually means the player depicted. The card of a popular future Hall of Famer is more valuable than a reserve player.
(3) Rookie — The term “rookie card” refers to the first time a player is depicted on a baseball card. Rookie cards are coveted by collectors.
(4) Scarcity — Less is more from a value standpoint, either because few were printed, or — in the case of so many baseball cards produced during the 50s, 60s, and 70s — because mom tossed them out when junior grew up and left the house.
Please keep these in mind as I boast a bit about my baseball card collection.
Showing off my “portfolio”
I begin with one of my most brilliant and bold speculative moves: My small pile of mint condition 1988 rookie cards of
future Hall of Famer journeyman ballplayer Gregg Jeffries. I bought these beauties for a mere $5 each from…the Baseball Card Society! (Turns out they were a steal — from me!)
But aside from the occasional misses, there were the sure things. Like cards of superstars such as Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmiero, Roger Clemens, and more!!! Great players compiling epic statistics, all headed to the Hall of Fame, yes?!?!? Thank goodness I’ve got dozens of mint condition cards of each, including rookie cards. Forget the lottery; these babies are my ticket to the good life!!!
But…WHOOPS…these players and others ran into that performance-enhancing drug problem. Now their cards are worth as much as losing scratch tickets.
And there’s another big problem: The scarcity factor is a little, well, problematic. Even had these guys racked up their big numbers without the use of supplements, ever-expanding numbers of baseball card companies were pumping out millions upon gazillions of cards.
Consequently, there probably are enough Mark McGwire baseball cards out there to give a box of them to every person in the world. Even if every human being in India (plus their former lives) suddenly wanted to collect 1980s baseball cards, supply would still exceed demand.
It’s about time I took a look at these boxes and boxes of baseball cards. Some, mainly the older ones from my childhood, and a few other cards that I bought smartly, have value. But the rest — including most of those late 80s cards — are worth next to nothing. Sounds like a late spring project, but until then, if you’d like a great deal on some vintage collectibles, leave a comment here and I’ll get right back to you.
Last night I viewed a 1937 movie by Leo McCarey, Make Way for Tomorrow. It is a hidden classic, one of the most moving films I’ve ever watched. Here’s how the Criterion Collection describes it:
Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow is one of the great unsung Hollywood masterpieces, an enormously moving Depression-era depiction of the frustrations of family, aging, and the generation gap. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi headline a cast of incomparable character actors, starring as an elderly couple who must move in with their grown children after the bank takes their home, yet end up separated and subject to their offspring’s selfish whims. An inspiration for Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Make Way for Tomorrow is among American cinema’s purest tearjerkers, all the way to its unflinching ending, which McCarey refused to change despite studio pressure.
Lead actors Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play Barkley and Lucy Cooper, the elderly couple who lose their home during the Depression. None of their five children are willing or able to take in both of them, so they must live apart with different offspring, several hundred miles away from each other. Family tensions arise, as both are seen as something of an inconvenience. In the meantime, Barkley and Lucy miss each other dearly.
Through the first two-thirds of the movie, I wasn’t sure I would end up agreeing with its “tearjerker” label. But during the last three scenes, which take place in New York City, I understood fully why Orson Welles said that Make Way for Tomorrow “could make a stone cry.”
Moore and Bondi didn’t win any awards for Make Way for Tomorrow. Of the popular movie performers of the era, they were well-regarded actors but were not considered stars. (Bondi is better known for playing Ma Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.) However, make no mistake about them: Their performances were masterful, and Bondi, especially, was heartbreakingly brilliant in this role.
A film for our times
Make Way for Tomorrow is much more than a classic old movie. It is wholly relevant to the challenging times in which we live.
The Great Recession and other setbacks have caused so many families to take in other family members. Our aging population has created hard caregiving decisions about where an elderly parent or relative might live. The movie reminds us that these questions, and the family dilemmas that come with them, are hardly new.
Make Way for Tomorrow is powerfully effective at getting us to look at life through the eyes of Barkley and Lucy. For those of us who have not reached senior status, it puts us in their shoes — and teaches us some important lessons in the process.
Beulah Bondi, it turns out, graduated in 1916 from Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater! According to Dr. Richard Baepler’s history of the University, Flame of Faith, Lamp of Learning (2001), Bondi was “a leader in campus performance activities” and “participated in the lively theatre program.” Also, schoolmate Lowell Thomas, who would achieve considerable fame as a journalist and chronicler of the life of Lawrence of Arabia, “recalled that [Bondi’s] residence was a center of campus social activity.”
I watched the Criterion edition of the film. Criterion films are pricier than normal DVD movies, but they are beautifully produced and packaged with extras that enhance a viewer’s enjoyment and understanding of the movie. They typically include a booklet of essays about the featured film. I confess that Criterion editions are one of my consumer weaknesses, and periodically I hunt down the best prices I can find for them or wait for a sale at my local Barnes & Noble.
If you’re a classic Gen Joneser, certain kinds of convenience food and snacks were part of your upbringing. Yes, the late 60s and 70s were a Golden Age for the emerging processed food and snack industry. Take a look at this list and add your own if you’re inclined!
1. SPACE FOOD STICKS — Processed, artificially flavored sticks of whatever…chocolate, vanilla, and so on…like a grainy Tootsie roll without the chewiness.
2. JIFFY POP — Popcorn packed in a foil container, put it on the stove and wait for the kernels to start popping and the foil to bloom. Puncture the foil and enjoy.
3. TAB — Addictive diet soda made with cyclamates, an artificial sweetener later yanked off the market for health reasons.
4. CHEF BOYARDEE CANNED “PASTA” — Spaghetti & meatballs, “lasagna,” Beefaroni, and other authentic Italian specialties, just like they prepare ’em in Boston’s North End. NOT. If you didn’t like Chinese food but enjoyed ingesting MSG, these products would meet your needs. Still on the market.
5. PRINGLES — They were such a novelty when they first came out. Imagine, a perfectly stackable alternative to the traditional potato chip! We were more easily impressed back in the day. I still think they’re pretty lousy tasting.
6. BUITONI’S INSTANT PIZZA — Self-enclosed “pizzas” that you’d pop in the toaster until hot. The instructions were silent on how to clean your toaster when the product broke or started leaking.
7. HOSTESS TWINKIES, CUPCAKES, ETC. — Rumor has it that the crème filling is not organic.
8. SARA LEE FROZEN CHOCOLATE CAKE AND POUND CAKE — For those moving beyond Hostess. Remember how they came in tins? But once defrosted, oh my, they were delicious. The chocolate cake, with the rich creamy frosting, remains among the best I’ve ever had.
9. KOOL AID — Believe it or not, back then it was a special treat. Nothing like drinking 73 parts sugar + 1 part artificial flavoring.
10. JOHN’S FROZEN PIZZA — More on the pizza theme. Even though things cost a lot less back then, we still should’ve realized that a 12 inch pizza for around 79 cents wasn’t exactly the real deal.
11. BUGLES — Salty, crunchy corn snacks shaped like, natch, bugles.
Super nutritious, too.
12. SWANSON’S AND BANQUET TV DINNERS — With foil trays and little compartments for each food item. I didn’t like it when the gravy would spill into the fruit compote. Descendants of those who invested in companies that made food preservatives are grateful and probably living off the interest.
[Note: As a law professor at Suffolk University Law School, I’ve been serving as the founding faculty advisor to a new student-edited law journal, Bearing Witness: A Journal on Law and Social Responsibility. BW just published its second issue, and I contributed a short column of advice to the students in response to a request from the editors. I thought I’d share it here.]
When the editors of Bearing Witness invited faculty to contribute short pieces of advice for the second issue, I wasn’t sure what to offer. But then I started thinking about life in general, and suddenly the words came easier. Do not assume that I’ve done all these things right; rather, some of these points represent lessons learned. Here goes:
1. Living a fulfilling life beats living a mindlessly happy one. Just my opinion.
2. Pick your battles carefully, but don’t use that maxim as an excuse for never getting involved. The world is littered with people who always find reasons not to take a principled stand.
3. When it comes to people you want to be around, political affiliations may be important, but overall character and a sense of humor count for even more.
4. The years ahead will be very challenging ones for this world. Concerns about the economy, jobs, and the environment, to name a few, aren’t going away. Strive to contribute solutions.
5. Personal setbacks and hard times are never good, but they can teach us about resilience, recovery, and renewal.
6. A dose of self-promotion is often helpful toward success, but rather than constantly trying to impress people, let your work and deeds do most of your speaking for you. Avoid becoming one of those highly credentialed individuals whose greatest talent is “wowing” people in an interview.
7. The Golden Rule is hard to live by sometimes, but it’s a key to a better world.
8. If someday you reach a point where you have a group of friends going back 20 years or more, consider yourself blessed. Make those friends now, and in 20 years you’ll know what I mean.
9. All that stuff about finding your own way, choosing your own path, etc., may sound trite, but give it some hard thought. Few things are worse than living an inauthentic life.
10. Be accountable to yourself. Own up to your miscues and mistakes. It’s easier said than done, I know, but you’ll feel better about yourself in the long run.
11. Keep learning and growing. If someone wrote in your high school yearbook, “Stay the way you are! Don’t ever change!,” don’t take it literally.
12. Whether you loved law school, hated law school, or fell somewhere in between, you can use this knowledge to make a positive difference. Good luck!
ViralNova.com has put together a visual feature, The Top 37 Things Dying People Say They Regret:
Everyone goes through life experiencing enough mistakes and resulting damage that, by the time they are old enough, they have regrets. They say hindsight is 20/20 and when you look back at your life you will know what moments you should have changed. However, we want to help you out. Forget hindsight. We’ve compiled a list of the 37 things you must not do or else you will definitely regret them at the end of your life. Just read through these and trust us. It’ll be worth it.
Here’s a sampling of the 37:
- “Not traveling when you had a chance”
- “Not quitting a terrible job”
- “Spending your youth being self-absorbed”
- “Not volunteering enough”
- “Neglecting your teeth”
- “Working too much”
- “Never taking a big risk (especially in love)”
- “Not spending enough time with loved ones”
There’s stuff on the list that may resonate with people of different age groups. It’s an easy but thoughtful feature. Take a look and ask how many of these items apply to you!
And by the way, there’s at least one item relating to music, so you might click on the video of Sinatra crooning “My Way.” We may have missed seeing him in concert, but thanks to YouTube, CDs, and MP3s, we can still enjoy his great performances.
I’m now into a slightly extended binge viewing of Season 1 of “The Americans,” an FX drama series featuring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as a Soviet couple operating as deep cover spies in Washington D.C. during the early 1980s, the decade leading to the end of the Cold War.
It’s a great series, and a vivid reminder of U.S.-Soviet tensions of the era. But irrespective of its dramatic quality, I was won over by the opening scene, a bar in which Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart” is playing in the background.
Yeah, it pushed my Eighties nostalgia buttons, and I was hooked.
If you’ve followed my posts here, you know that I get nostalgic even for historical eras I am too young to have experienced. But the Eighties are very much my time, and I regard the decade fondly.
Okay, so it may not have been the best years for America. This was the decade of trickle-down economics, “greed is good” (a philosophy popularized by financier Ivan Boesky, who landed in prison for overdoing what he preached), the emergence of the Middle East as a dominant hot spot, and a lot of political corruption. Many of the challenges we face today have their roots in those years.
Personally, however, I think of the Eighties as a comparatively innocent, wide-eyed time of my life. It covered the heart of my 20s, starting with my last year of college at Valparaiso University, then through law school at NYU, and finally post-law school life and work in New York City. Though I was barely masquerading as an adult during that time, I experienced a lot of growth and memorable times during the decade.
Moving to New York was a big deal, for I was a pretty sheltered Midwesterner. (To clarify, not all Midwesterners are sheltered, but I sure was.) I fell for New York completely, and during those years it was possible to explore the city on a tight budget. To be young and broke in New York wasn’t a terrible thing back then; there was a sort of gritty romance about making it on a shoestring.
Anyway, back to the “The Americans”: Season 1 opens in 1981, right after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. A few episodes into the series, we see American and Soviet intelligence operatives scrambling madly to respond to the March assassination attempt on the President. Although the would-be assassin, John Hinckley, turned out to be a mentally ill man whose actions had nothing to do with Cold War politics, neither side knew that in the immediate aftermath of the shootings.
I recall that time well. We all lived under the nuclear threat. It was part of our existence.
Yesterday it was about the Cold War, the nukes, and the Soviets. Today it’s about terrorism, airport security, and Al-Qaeda. And the economy and jobs, always. The beat goes on.
I subscribe to a lot of magazines, but if there are three that exemplify where my everyday, pop culture base of gravity sets, The Week, Sports Illustrated, and Entertainment Weekly fit the bill.
The Week offers a handy roundup of national and international news, short reviews of movies, TV shows, and books, financial advice, and the like — a little bit of everything, drawn from a wide variety of news sources. On matters of political, public policy, and social significance, it attempts to present a span of viewpoints and perspectives.
Sports Illustrated is exactly that, a weekly combination of sports features and photography. Even with the deluge of online sports fan sites, SI — one of the pioneers in sports journalism — still informs and entertains.
Entertainment Weekly also holds its own against competing online coverage of movies, television, books, and music. More than any other source, it tips me off on the best stuff to watch on the small screen.
I could list all of my subscriptions in an attempt to sound more intellectual, politically engaged, and worldly, but if I’m being honest with myself, I must acknowledge that I am very much a middlebrow kinda guy. Maybe high middlebrow or low middlebrow at times, but definitely hovering around the center.
What is middlebrow? Freedictionary.com calls it “(o)ne who is somewhat cultured, with conventional tastes and interests; one who is neither highbrow nor lowbrow.”
By and large, that’s me.
Perhaps I’m simply a product of my times and upbringing. I grew up with the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Columbia Record and Tape Club. The emerging geek side of me read the World Book Encyclopedia. I listened to AM pop music stations before going over to the exotic world of FM. As a kid, going out for dinner usually meant pizza or a burger. Ordering in meant carryout from the local Chinese place. A birthday might mean a trip to the amusement park.
Moving to New York for law school and living there for 12 years definitely lifted my cultural horizons. Broadway shows, the music of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Sinatra, that kind of thing. My appetite became more eclectic, especially with different Asian cuisines. But even these explorations, now very much a part of my personal culture, were more of a Manhattan brand of middlebrow than a jump into high society.
As for today, I’ll opt for a good PBS mystery series, reruns of the “Dick Van Dyke Show,” or a good World War II movie over the latest hot foreign film. For leisure reading, I’ll usually choose a good suspense novel or history book over classic literature. And during recent years, many of my summer vacations have been spent going on storm chase tours in search of bad weather.
Good with it
I’m not averse to trying new things and expanding my worldview. But when it comes to my personal culture — the stuff that brings me enjoyment and entertainment — my default point lands near the middle.
That said, don’t let my culture define yours. The process of sorting out and embracing that personal culture is, I believe, a key to living a satisfying life. On this point, to each your own. Whether it’s watching World Wide Wrestling or going to an art gallery opening, enjoy.