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by Christopher Mudiappahpillai

I wish I had three hands. Or maybe four. Yes, four would be nice.

Recently, I received gift certificates for, of all places, 7-Eleven. So a little while back, one Monday morning after my first class of the day, I headed over to the 7-Eleven at the corner of College and Spadina to get a drink. I got a French Vanilla Cappuccino for the fabulous price of free. On my way out, I succumbed to a whim of nostalgia and purchased a pack of hockey cards. Yes, I admit that it was a frivolous expenditure, but considering how often I make such purchases – never – my conscience did not burn. As I was paying, I hurriedly glanced over the various sets for sale; I was amazed to see how much collectible cards have changed since I last bought a pack. These are not your father’s cards. In fact, these are not even the cards you collected as a kid.

The first collectible cards were not really even cards. They were pictures printed on the sides of matchboxes. We’ve come a long way. Now it seems cards are made of everything imaginable: the traditional cardboard, foil, plastic. It’s not uncommon to find holograms, three dimensional pop ups, or as I found in my pack of O-Pee-Chees, a piece of Alexei Yashin’s jersey. I kid you not.

One consistency among the cards of today is their shiny foil wrapping. I hate it. When I was collecting they were a novelty – most brands packaged their wares in plastic. Baseball cards, however, usually came in wax paper wrappers. Yes, I collected those as well. But where baseball cards were concerned, it was for the sake of collecting – I never liked the sport. Hockey was my first love.

The act of opening any pack of cards – but especially baseballs cards – was almost sacred. If you had unclipped nails, you would slide one under a glued-down flap. Then, carefully, you’d lift the flap, making sure the paper didn’t tear. After repeating the process on the bottom flap, you’d separate the two flaps of paper, and the first thing to greet your eyes and nose would be a stick of pink bubble gum.

The stick of gum was never soft, hardened after its long haul from the factory, and always broke to pieces as you placed it in your mouth. By the time the pack was opened, the fragrance of bubble gum would have fused itself into the cards and lingered around as you chewed the gum and quickly shuffled through the pack.

After your first cursory glance, the cards would be flipped over, revealing the players’ stats. I was never one for stats; for me the most important piece of information on the back of the card was its number. And so began a second run through of the cards, which when it was finished, would leave the ten or so cards sorted.

As a child, on my back to school after eating lunch at home, my mother would often give me a loonie to buy a snack. I would usually walk over to the Becker’s at the corner. (Becker’s was where you went to buy cards. The other store, on the opposite corner, was where you went to buy candy.) There I’d buy a pack of whatever cards I felt a fancy for and begin the opening ritual.

Unfortunately, you can’t buy a pack of cards for a loonie anymore. The cards of today are very expensive; four to seven dollars worth of expensive. When I was collecting the most expensive cards I ever bought were Skybox’s Marvel Masterpieces. Ten cards for four dollars; worth every single cent. But that was highly unusual – a treat. It makes me wonder what the kids are buying with their dollar these days.

As I left the store I couldn’t resist the urge to open the pack. But I had a pack of hockey cards in one hand and a hot beverage in the other; I needed both hands to ensure the cards came out of the accursed foil wrapper with their corners unbent. And I couldn’t possibly stop and sit down on a bench to look at the cards; there are limits to how low my pride will allow me to stoop. Of course, this problem could easily have been resolved if I had four hands.

Take care. Thanks for reading. Sorry, no song today.