Cardboard Gods

Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker Read Free Book Online

Book: Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker Read Free Book Online
Authors: Josh Wilker
    By then I had finished my first year in a new class invented by the hippie parents scattered through the area. There were no grades, in both senses of the word: Kids of all ages were together in one room, and hierarchical assessment of academic achievement had been abolished. The idea was that we were free to learn what we wanted to learn, however we wanted to learn it, that every little boy and girl would find a way to burst into bloom. I learned about Indian tribes and feelings and how to say words in Russian and I wrote stories and plays and even an imitation of a television show using a cardboard box with an opening in the front that displayed a paper scroll filled with my tale in bright crayon about a bionic flea. Sometimes as I was walking to school I broke into a run.
    There was a brief moment in time when it seemed the answer to everything was Yes. Anyone could burst into bloom. You didn’t have
to be among the few and chosen. Randy Jones—junk-ball-tossing Randy Jones, pale-skinned bozo-haired Randy Jones, thin-lipped dough-faced Randy Jones, Randy Jones in his Padres fast-food uniform, surrounded by feckless Padres teammates and empty seats and the blissfully indifferent blue of a Padres sky—was every bit as good as Jim Palmer.
    Our classroom was located in the East Randolph elementary school, and kids from the regular classes made fun of us. The general gist of the taunting was that we were retarded. One day as I was leaving the general store with a pack of cards a couple kids my age from a regular class fell in behind me. One of them, Muskrat, started making marching sounds in time to my steps.
    â€œHu- lef , hu- lef , hu- lef rah lef.”
    â€œHey, doofus,” the second one, Denny, said. “How many hours in a day?”
    â€œHey, yeah,” Muskrat said. “How many days in a week?”
    â€œHe doesn’t know. They don’t know shit.”
    â€œHey, how do you spell dog ? How do you spell cat ?”
    â€œWhy is your hair so curly and long?” Denny said. “You must be a woman.”
    â€œWhy are you a woman?” Muskrat said.
    Sometimes a pack of cards couldn’t do much for you. Sometimes it was full of nothing but guys you already had and checklists and highlights and league leaders. Sometimes when you got home and opened it you wished that you had picked a different pack from the box in the store. But what else was there to do? Dump the doubles onto the doubles pile, glare at the checklists, and try to learn something—you were always free to learn something—from the drab highlights and leaders.
    Later in 1976, the magic dissipated for Randy Jones. He didn’t get close to 30 wins and never finished another season with more wins than losses. Meanwhile, Jim Palmer, shown in the 1976 Victory Leaders card without headgear for no apparent reason other than to display that his flowing blow-dried hair is spectacularly superior to Jones’s cap-crushed rusted Brillo, continued tanly vying for Cy Young awards, breezing into the playoffs, and posing for lucrative
underwear ads. To this day, I find myself wishing what Randy Jones seems to be wishing—that he could somehow cross over from his photo to the golden realm of the AL Victory Leader and kick Jim Palmer in his Jockey-shorted nuts.

Topps 1976 #122 Mike Cosgrove

    In a 1975 card that I had gotten just a few months earlier than the 1976 card shown here, a much younger looking Mike Cosgrove had oozed easy confidence, his body communicating looseness and ease, the natural balanced grace of a lefty. He stared directly at the viewer, a trace of a small, confident smile on his unblemished face, his hair straight and blond like a sun-drenched surf bum’s. The back of the card contained the story of his quick rise through the minors, including the season he fanned 231 batters in 172 innings. After that he began splitting time between the minors and the

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