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The object of desire
by Billy Jacobs

Kids collecting playing cards
Click for bigger picture
Kids collecting playing cards
It was the fall of 1956 and I had just celebrated my eighth birthday. The Brooklyn Dodgers were the rage in my East Flatbush neighborhood especially after beating the Yankees in the '55 World Series. All anyone ever spoke about was Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo and Pee Wee Reese. The whole neighborhood was bathed in the fall-out of a baseball explosion. Not a day went by without the cliched comparison between Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider and Willie Mays. Supporting the Dodgers became a veritable religious experience. One did not question whether the Duke was the best player, one just assumed it. And so, with all this support for the Dodgers, with all the preoccupation with those "Bums of Ebbets Field," one thing became crystal clear to me: no one could know that I had secretly become a Yankee fan.

Brooklyn was enjoying the last gasps of an Indian Summer and a possible repeat "subway series." During the Jewish holidays, young boys would carefully conceal transistor radios so as to listen to their beloved Dodgers. They would mill around in front of the synagogue lauding their team and wishing aloud they could get their hands on a Yankee fan. Oh what they would do to a Yankee supporter who had the audacity to utter one disparaging word about their sacred Dodgers.

To put it simply, I was a closet Yankee fan. I hid all my Yankee souvenirs in my closet. In retrospect, I think I enjoyed rooting for the winning team. The Yankees were consistently playing for the pennant and I think I needed a winner those days.

As did every other boy in the 50's, I would save my pennies until I had a nickel. Then, I would march down to my local candy store and purchase a packet of Topps baseball cards. As I unfolded the wrapper, the sweet smell of bubble gum filled my senses with anticipation. I would immediately fold the pink baseball sized gum in half. If it would snap, the gum was old and I disgarded it. If it would bend and was pliable, I placed it in my mouth and immediately began chewing. Then, I would go through my newly acquired cards. Anxiously, I would search for the Yankee cards needed to complete my collection.

I kept all my baseball cards in two Florsheim shoe boxes under my bed. One was filled with my collection, other filled with my "doubles." I would trade, play "leaners" or "flip" only from my doubles.

The 1956 baseball card edition had come out and many cavities later I could still not seem to get a Yankee team card. And as much as my Dodger fan friends despised the Bronx Bombers, it was a rare card that year and no one was trading, No matter how many cards I offered in exchange I could not get my hands on that Yankee team. However, one day fate played a cruel trick on me and I succumbed to its temptation.

After finishing our Thursday night dinner of Mrs. Paul's fish sticks and lumpy mashed potatoes, I went to call on my friend Marty. Marty's mother, a tall trusting woman, was in the kitchen preparing their dinner. She invited me into the apartment and suggested I go to her son's room to see if he was there. Nonchalantly, I walked down the short corridor to the room that Marty shared with his older brother. Upon opening the door, it was obvious that Marty was out, but as I turned to leave, I spied my obsession on Marty's dresser. There, sitting atop a pile of baseball cards was the 1956 Yankee team.

The sight of the team picture, the only card I needed to complete my Yankee collection filled my young heart with excitement. Many times I had suggested a trade to Marty but he had turned down all my proposals. It was all too tempting for my eight year old mind. Casting right and wrong aside, I picked up the card, placed it under my tee-shirt and with my heart pounding and left the apartment. But not before reminding Marty's mother to tell him that I called for him.

As I walked down the street to my apartment, I felt everyone I passed stared at me suspiciously. My pace increased as I waited to get my precious pilfered prize home. Once indoors, I immediately placed the Yankee team atop my individual player cards. The collection was complete.

After a short while the phone rang and it was my friend Marty. There was an urgency in his voice and I questioned him about it. Only then did he explain that his Yankee team card was missing. It was the emotion to his voice that prompted me to add insult to injury, I offered to go to his house to help in his search.

My walk back to Marty's house was slow. The September heat and guilt weighted upon me heavily. I knocked on his door and as it opened, my eyes met the frantic look on Marty's face. Without a word, we both marched straight to his bedroom.

"Where did you see the card last?" I asked while carefully avoiding eye contact with him. Marty did not answer. He was too busy looking behind his dresser and then under his bed.

It was on top of the dresser with my other cards, "he blurted as he strained to move his book case adorned desk."

I spent the good part of half an hour crawling on Marty's bedroom floor looking for his lost baseball card. It was pretty close to eight o'clock so I told him that I had to leave to get ready for bed.

Marty thanked me without looking up, his head inside his closet as he kneeled in its doorway. I left his home and quickly ran down his stoop two steps at a time, Walking back down the street, I questioned my need to have the card. The guilt I felt could be eased if I returned the card but I could not deal with the embarrassment. That night I lay in bed thinking of Marty's frantic but futile search. Soon I drifted to sleep.

My obsessive need for a baseball card had led to my loss of innocence and Marty's trust had kept him from suspecting me. I can't go back, but better late than never, "I'm sorry Marty."

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