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Past LIFEs.

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In another sign that the Great Spirit wants me to stare at a screen all day until I vanish, I was reminded today that Google Books keeps a free, open online archive of issues of the original LIFE magazine.

The archive starts at the end (December 29, 1972: Year In Pictures/Goodbye) … which is unfortunate for you, the reader, ’cause here comes a big pile of words on top of your head.

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See, my maternal grandfather — not the Hope Street grandpa; the other grandpa — was something of a pack rat when it came to printed material. He saved decades of Popular Mechanics magazines, and decades of Reader’s Digest, and even decades of football-related sports sections from the Stamford Advocate.

(I can’t remember whether he saved the Saturday sections, which would have had the high school football results; the Sunday sections, for the college results; or the Monday sections, for the NFL/AFL results. I don’t think it was all three; I think it was one of the three. Out of this copious stash covering decades, I never saw him take one out to read.)

His personal archive also included nine or ten issues from the final three-plus months of LIFE, beginning with September 15 (Olympic Tragedy) and ending with the December 29 final issue.

Seeing those covers grouped together in the online archive reminded me that I always loved going through his stash of old books, papers, and magazines when I was a kid. And when I went to his house in Connecticut, I would often seek out and re-read this small stash of LIFE.

I’m not sure why in retrospect. Although the magazines were no more than a dozen years old when I found them, they seemed much older. Compared to the vibrant current magazines we got at home — Time, Sports Illustrated — they looked faded and distant.

They seemed to come from a period of pain and ugliness, too — a time of goodbyes and murdered athletes and familiar institutions gone bad and defiant, worn-down POWs and disabled victims of assassination attempts. (As a kid, I did not grasp the full pathos of a formerly high-rolling national politician trying to prove his physical strength — and thus cling to his electoral hopes — by posing in a jacket and tie lobbing tennis balls from a wheelchair.)

I learned about the bizarre, botched bank robbery that later became Dog Day Afternoon from the September 22 issue. Even the nation’s biggest winner of the season looked like a man with something malignant growing in his stomach.

(I was reading the latter issue once when my dad happened by. He took a closer look at the photo, then at the date of the magazine, and then said something like: “He’d just won a landslide victory and that was the picture they chose to run.” It was my introduction to media criticism. Thanks, Dad.)

Yeah, there was no logical reason to go back to the news of fall and winter 1972. None of the people in my family who’d actually lived through the period ever opened these magazines.

But I did, time and again. I guess when you feel disconnected or out-of-place in the present, you have to choose between the past and the future … and the past, at least, can be made to lay flat.

The weird thing about it is, I always assumed that LIFE must have announced its pending demise in September, and my grandpa started saving some (though not all) of the issues from then on, figuring they were special in some way.

But in the 21st century, with a Newspapers dot com subscription, I’ve discovered that the magazine’s closing was announced to its staff in a memo on Friday, December 8, 1972. The announcement began showing up in papers (presumably afternoon papers) that very day, from Biddeford, Maine, to San Rafael, California. So I have no idea why my grandpa would have started saving issues of LIFE magazine in the middle of September.

For whatever reason, he left a portal open for me. And although the sun on the other side was not shining and the trees were barren, I enjoyed walking through it.

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The (re)discovery of this online archive allows me to walk through it again. And, in deference to the Mighty King Fives-and-Zeroes, I had a thought:

What if I read each issue of the final few months of LIFE, 50 years to the day/week after it came out, and blogged about it?

Not just the issues my grandpa kept — though those would have special resonance — but, like, starting right now, in early August.

My original plan was to begin with the August 4, 1972, issue, and post it today (y’know, on August 4.) It’s already late enough in the day that that’s not gonna happen. But maybe I’ll get to it in the next day or two, and try to get into rhythm with the August 11 issue.

I don’t get any print magazines at home now, and 2022 seems just about as barren and bitter as 1972 used to. So, who knows what I’ll think when I pass through the portal again?

Brave hearts and burnt-out bulbs.

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Another summer night, another new-to-me ballpark.

My wife is out and about all weekend meeting a community of online friends and seeing a couple of Red Sox games. So I went to Worcester last night to watch the Worcester Bravehearts of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in action.

The FCBL is one of a couple of summer leagues for college-age players doing business in New England. The Cape Cod Baseball League is the region’s prestige institution in that niche — they get the top young talent — but there’s room for others. (The Nashua Silver Knights, who I had a good time seeing about a month ago, are also in the FCBL.)

The Bravehearts have been in existence for a while now. In recent years the Boston Red Sox have moved their Triple-A affiliate into Worcester, providing powerful competition for the dollar. But the Bravehearts are still plugging away, being a touch cheaper, a touch more accessible, a touch more grass-roots than the minor-league affiliate.

For instance, the bases and the pitcher’s rubber at Bravehearts games are an iridescent lime green. (Home plate stays white.) It’s the kind of liberty an affiliated minor-league team probably wouldn’t be allowed to take — and it’s supported by a partnership with a paint company, so it brings a few bucks into the Bravehearts’ till.

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The evening’s adventure brought me onto the campus of a New England institution, about 40 minutes from my home, that I hadn’t previously visited. The Bravehearts play at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field, the on-campus ballpark of the College of the Holy Cross.

It’s a pleasant enough park with a single-level uncovered grandstand seating 3,000. There’s also abundant free parking courtesy of an adjoining multi-level garage, which by itself sets the Bravehearts experience head and shoulders above the Triple-A team in town. (The pic below was taken from the top level of the garage on my way out. Note the charming sliver of moon hanging off in the distance. Hello, moon.)

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The park has a couple of quirks that add color to the experience, although none of them had a direct impact on the action when I visited.

Right field is oddly bobtailed, and it’s pretty clearly a short poke straight down the foul line. This is because Holy Cross’s football stadium, also called Fitton Field, directly adjoins the ballpark — close enough that right field has to be cut short to make room for it.

The back of the football scoreboard looms over the right-field fence; I wondered if a ball hit off it would be an automatic home run, or considered to be in play. I’m sure there’s a ground rule, but no one tested it. (The football scoreboard is visible in the photo below; of course they’ve hung an advertisement on the back of it.)

I couldn’t tell for sure, but I imagine a truly mammoth and perfectly placed home run — the kind that college kids generally aren’t muscular enough to hit — could probably reach the end zone.

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Left field, meanwhile, has two great and colorful features of its own.

First is the elevated and busy highway — Interstate 290, Google Maps says — that runs closely behind the left-field fence. Cars, trucks, and buses rushed past all night. (Pull off, dudes! There’s a ballgame. And plenty of good seats.)

I’m sure a professional slugger could put some windshields at risk … though, again, a 20-year-old college kid with a wooden bat probably isn’t likely to hit one that far and that high. You can’t tell me that at least some of the Bravehearts haven’t spent their summer fantasizing about really getting hold of one and having a great story to tell.

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And on the other side of the highway is a big retail building with multiple signs advertising Rotman’s Furniture and Carpets.

I found it a wonderful throwback to old major-league ballparks, like Crosley Field in Cincinnati and the original Yankee Stadium, where outside-the-park commercial signage was part of the in-park experience. (I guess the CITGO sign outside Fenway Park fits this description as well, as did the BUCK PRINTING sign that used to hold a highly visible position outside Fenway.)

To make the Rotman’s signs even more delicious, they (a) are partially made up of lower-case lettering, for a nice ’80s touch; and (b) only kindasorta work when lit up, for that downtown-retail funk. I haven’t been inside Rotman’s but I’m gonna guess it’s not the kind of store that has an espresso cafe and an amusement park built in for the kiddies.

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I couldn’t help feeling like that space will probably be occupied in 15 years by a shiny expensive new building with a name like The Gina Luxury Apartments. I hope it isn’t. Not everything has to be shiny, after all … and when I go to a ballpark and look around, it’s not the shiny buildings nearby that I remember years later.

What about the game? Oh, yeah, the game. Worcester fell behind 3-0 early on, then scored six unanswered runs to beat the Pittsfield Suns 6-3.

My biggest on-field memory is that the Pittsfield catcher had a noticeable touch of Steve Sax Disease — even his routine throws back to the pitcher weren’t always routine — and Worcester eventually capitalized on this by having many of its baserunners steal. None of the catcher’s throws to bases were quite on the money, and I believe their errancy contributed to at least two Worcester runs. It was unfortunate, but that’s how the game works; you take advantage of that kind of thing if it becomes apparent.

I enjoyed the trip, and also discovered a new-to-me ballpark refreshment I will have to track down outside the realm of the Bravehearts.

Harvard, Massachusetts, where this nectar gets made, is (like Worcester) about 45 minutes from my house. I’ve been there to pick apples in the fall, as it’s in a band of towns outside Route 495 where orchards still flourish beyond the clutches of developers. Maybe in the fall, when things mellow, I will seek out Carlson Orchards in person.

Can’t get everywhere in one weekend, after all.

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Heading backwards.

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Some random conversational thread the other day made me think of Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water.”

It’s a song I hear very, very rarely these days — and that’s by design, because it seems like one of those encrusted cultural relics that hasn’t worn well at all. A plodding four-note riff and a story about a band burned out of its recording studio … what was it people thought was cool about this?

I was prepared to dispatch the entire album it came from, Machine Head, with the same used-to-love-it, outgrew-it attitude. But when I went back and listened to it, Machine Head — which celebrated a big five-oh earlier this year — had a little bit more to say for itself than I thought it might. In the good moments, there’s still a spark there.

Since I took the time to listen to them all, here’s a ranking of the seven songs on Machine Head from worst to best, along with a slight tip of the cap for not being total cheese after all these years. Sixteen-year-old me wasn’t entirely wasting his time.

7. “Space Truckin’.” Lyrics were never the reason to listen to Deep Purple, but the stoned fantasia about a rock band flying around the solar system is especially absurd. The music doesn’t redeem it, either.

As a teenager I liked the descending riff behind the “chorus” — if you can call “C’mon! C’mon! C’mon! Let’s go space truckin’!” a chorus — but it doesn’t do much for me now, and that’s the only really memorable part of the song.

This would have been in the top half of the album rankings if I’d written this post in 1988. I am endlessly glad that I didn’t have a mechanism to publicly record and distribute my thoughts in 1988.

6. “Smoke On The Water.” If you persist in thinking of rock n’ roll bands as strike forces of heroic long-haired coolness, you will thrill to this story of their travail. If you think of them as working-class twits with income tax problems (I may be mangling National Lampoon‘s long-ago phrase slightly), this song will underwhelm you. Certainly there is nothing in the music — big dumb riff, big big dumb riff, big dumb riff, big-dumb-riff — to keep you occupied.

(OK, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore gets off a pretty good solo. Wiki also notes that lead singer Ian Gillan “performed a jazz-influenced version in early solo concerts;” I’m gonna have to hit YouTube to find out more on that. I bet it swang.)

5. “Never Before.” Apparently this was the album’s single — or the album’s intended single; “Smoke On The Water,” which went Top Ten, was released as a single in 1973 as something of an afterthought. This one hit No. 35 in Blighty, Wiki says, and didn’t trouble Casey Kasem in the States.

IMHO this is a competent but unremarkable album track, leaning perhaps a bit too heavily on the foundational hard-rock trope of the cold-hearted mistreatin’ woman (it’s never the guy’s fault, is it?)

It uses the same structure — hard-driving verse and chorus, interrupted by soft-focus drifty-fadey midsection — that would later recur to more brilliant effect in “Woman From Tokyo.”

4. “Highway Star.” No, nobody’s gonna take your car. It’s a mythical challenge, a strawman enemy, like the War on Christmas. Oooh, it’s a killer machine. I dunno, I remembered this tune being a little faster and a little more propulsive; instead, it sounds like the band is chopping its way through resistance, like a boat facing stiff waves.

Organist Jon Lord and Blackmore each get a chance to roll out their classical-inspired arpeggios, and Blackmore’s fancy picking at the end of the solo section makes the boat steam ahead a little faster … but then it just ends, and we’re chugging along in the verse again.

When a song called “Highway Star” makes you think of Robert Fulton, something’s missing the mark. No matter. It works better onstage, I’m sure. (Maybe I should revisit Made In Japan next. A real golden gasser, that one was.)

3. “Maybe I’m A Leo.” Literally the only thing that sets this song apart, and the only reason anyone remembers it, is the fact that the riff starts a heartbeat after beat one. And yet, that simple shifting of a moment’s time is enough to raise “Maybe I’m A Leo” above the trudging ranks of, say, “Smoke On The Water.” Au pays des aveugles, les borgnes sont rois.

I’ll give an extra couple points to any lyric that mentions a sign of the zodiac, too. Now that’s a piece of the Seventies that somehow hasn’t worn thin for me.

(Wiki informs us that singer Gillan, born August 19, is in fact a Leo. Shame he wasn’t born a month earlier; it would have been a hoot to see what he did with “Maybe I’m A Cancer.”)

2. “Pictures of Home.” A band stranded in Switzerland produces a song about being stranded alone in the mountains. Write what you know, I guess.

What could be a feast of self-pity is, instead, a driving and reasonably catchy rocker. Purple even pull off the challenge of giving each member a brief instrumental feature without seeming self-indulgent; drummer Ian Paice (Purple’s secret weapon) and bassist Roger Glover acquit themselves well.

The echoing false ending works pretty nicely too. These guys weren’t such bashers that they couldn’t make a little bit of studio technique work for them.

1. “Lazy.” I remember enough about Made In Japan to recall that this ‘un was one of those vehicles for titanic onstage bloatation — one of those songs where the lead instrumentalists take long unaccompanied solos. Lord thrills a roomful of Osakans with a crashing distorted Hammond solo that interpolates “Louie Louie.” When it’s his turn, Blackmore (with help from Paice’s bass drum and hi-hat) breaks into a jiggy little ditty that sounds like a folk song, or the theme to some cozy BBC children’s puppet show …

… and then Blackmore honks up his volume knob and slices in with the riff — the biting phrase, capped with a single bass-and-drum hit like a punch to the gut — that makes “Lazy” work.

The lyrics are nothing special (“bed” rhymes with “bread,” “straw” with “more”), and the chord structure is more or less standard blues, but it moves.

Lord’s recorded introduction stays on the right side of bloat, and the moment at about 0:42 where he kicks a pedal and his sound instantly goes from distorted to clean is a genius touch. Blackmore, a quickly recognizable stylist whose skills ranged from Bach to blues, is in fine form. Gillan on harmonica is inoffensive.

The pleasures sound modest in print, perhaps, but they are there in sufficient quantity to make “Lazy” the pick of Machine Head.

Ducking in and out again.

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The finest of Chicago albums, Chicago V, marked its 50th anniversary on July 10. I came up with the better part of a blog post on it in my head while mowing the lawn … then completely lost interest before I could sit down and write.

I figured that, at some point over the years, I’d probably already said everything I was thinking of saying. And there seemed little point. Either you know the album and like it, or you don’t.

I also noticed just now that this blog marked its 10th anniversary in February. Pretty sure I didn’t notice or mention it at the time. Hmmm.

I continue to work my way through the big pile of CDs I bought a month or two back at the big library booksale. Haven’t found any real new favorites, though some of it is solid. I am starting to retreat from my commitment to get through them all — I’ve started putting on Roxy’s Manifesto, which I like, rather than the ones I haven’t heard yet. Will have to rededicate myself.

I keep finding sounds on the Internet Archive that shouldn’t be there, which distracts me. Also pulled out an external hard drive from my desk drawer that I thought might possibly be empty … and sure enough it’s filled with audio. We’ll get to that at some point.

I am more or less feeding my head with books, having just skim-read a biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (jurisprudence is less interesting than I thought it might be), the 1930s WPA writers’ guide to New Hampshire; Elton John’s autobiography (quite entertaining); and one or two other things. Maybe a trip to the library is in the offing this weekend.

I also found out recently where the expression “the offing” came from: It’s apparently an old term meaning “that portion of the sea that can be seen from the shore.” A ship that was in the offing would be in port in a day or two … but not in 10 minutes.

Also this weekend I will dedicate myself to the task of reinforcing the wire underneath my shed, which has abdicated its function of keeping critters out.

Many years ago I bought a replica South Dakota Congressional Medal of Honor license plate. It lives in the shed with my other license plates; and as a replica plate, it’s not worth anything; and I didn’t have anything else immediately to hand to block a particularly large hole … so now one of the main access points under the shed is blocked by a replica South Dakota Congressional Medal of Honor license plate.

(And you thought I was making it up.)

Les bons temps roulez.

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Amid the general sense of broad-ranging idiocy and social and economic ruination, it is probably wrong to talk about how good life is.

But in the past few days life has been exceptionally kind to me … so I take pen in hand (or whatever) to acknowledge it. When things go well it is good to be thankful, and perhaps also to get the feeling down on paper (or whatever) to buck you up later on when things go poorly.

So here goes:

I took Thursday and Friday off, and on Thursday my wife and I took a day trip to Cape Cod. We hung out on the beach and saw seals, and had a good lunch, and did some hiking, and the weather was exceptionally fine for all endeavours under heaven.

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Fast-forward through a couple of uneventful days to Sunday, when I went to another new-to-me ballpark. I was surprised to learn that Nashua, New Hampshire, is only about 65 minutes from my house, so I went up to check out the city’s historic Holman Stadium.

Holman Stadium is best-remembered for hosting Brooklyn Dodgers farm teams in the Forties where Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe broke into professional baseball, and Walter Alston managed. The city had another four-year flirtation with affiliated minor-league ball in the ’80s, when California Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates farm teams did business there. Nowadays a team in a development league for college-age players operates there in the summer.

This is precisely the same setup I used to love in the Finger Lakes: old minor-league ballpark, young players who hustle, relatively small crowds (there couldn’t have been more than 200 people there), low-key charm, free parking. Also, a city that’s small enough for me to easily eyeball my way back to the main drag after I find out I can’t drive out the way I drove in.

Quirky events, too. Like the T-shirt toss, in which Nashua players took the field between innings to throw balled-up shirts into the grandstands. Protective netting encircles the field from first base to third, and one of the players managed to get his tossed shirt stuck tight in the top of the netting behind home plate. A few of them shook the net but nothing happened. Then the very final batter of the game, with one strike already on him, stung a foul ball back into the net that shook loose the T-shirt. The stadium, or all 200 people in it, burst out in cheers.

Oh, and cold beer. Better beer than I’m used to finding in such places. And more fabulous weather – the kind of summer afternoon that’s hot but not oppressive, and each breeze feels like a warm bath.

It was … call it what you will. A high, a groove, a pocket of bliss. A reminder of why I go to watch baseball. The only problem was it didn’t last longer — the Nashua Silver Knights and Norwich (CT) Sea Unicorns wrapped up a 3-1 Nashua win in just two hours and six minutes. I didn’t know people could still play nine innings that fast. The big leagues could learn something.

I don’t expect perfection every time but I plan to go back.

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Between innings at one point, the Nashua players came out and did a loosely choreographed line dance. I would usually find something like that kinda dopey, but I have to say I enjoyed it.

And here we are on Monday, the Fourth of July. I ran my first 5K since last December. I have a general fondness for holiday 5Ks, and an on-and-off relationship with Fourth of July 5Ks going back at least to 2001.

Wasn’t sure how today’s race was going to go, given the long layoff since the last one and a general sense that I’ve been less than disciplined lately. The weather was once again beautiful, clear, and not humid.

I came in with my usual goal of running the race in half my age or less — we’ll say that’s about 24:30. I felt good but not phenomenal during the race, so I was surprised to cross the line in a time of roughly 23:05. I was further gobsmacked to get an email telling me my official time of 22:38.

The way it works, for the uninitiated, is that there’s usually a big backlog of runners at the starting line. If you start back in the pack, there’s a gap between the time the gun goes off and the time you reach the starting line and begin the race in earnest.

Chip timing systems are designed to eliminate that gap. They record the time when your chip crosses the starting line, and the time it crosses the finish line, so you get a time that doesn’t include your slow plod up to the starting line.

I would have guessed my gap today was about five seconds … not closer to 30.

But, I guess I’ll trust them in the end.

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Finally, as most of you know, I have an annoying affectation — er, deeply established habit — of listening to Charles Ives every Fourth of July. Preferably on the turntable if I’m at home, or if not, on the phone if I’m away. (Nowadays I’m generally home.)

My son and a friend were in the basement when I got home from my race, but while I was showering and stretching, they cleared out. So I got close to an hour of my personal favorite Great American Composer in, while a fresh breeze blew through the open window above the computer.

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Tomorrow I go back to work, at which point the quality of life will take a turn back toward the norm, and perhaps even below the norm.

No complaints about the past few days, though.

Heroes and trips.

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Went running tonight past a house that had a number of books and magazines piled up at the curb for trash day.

One was a small red book with a large title rendered in all lowercase letters: “heroes for my son.

It seemed sort of forlorn and sad, regardless of whether it was the dad throwing it out (a baby-shoes-never-worn situation?) … or the son (“no thanks, Dad, I’ll pick my own heroes”) … or maybe even the daughter. (“Dad wanted a boy and he bought this book and I was a girl and he gave it to me anyway,” little Braydenita says, rolling her eyes.)

I also wondered whether the book came pre-filled with heroes — and whether they leaned toward the General George Patton side of the spectrum, or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. side of the spectrum — or if it was a book of blank pages for the dad to fill with his own inspirations.

I did not stop to seek any of the answers; I just kept on running.

When I run, am I running away from death, or toward it?

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The Internet tells me the book was published in 2010 and was a best-seller. It comes filled with heroes of the socioliberal variety. Of course there is a follow-up for daughters — no author of a successful book ever leaves a sequel on the table.

I had two sons age 10 or under in 2010 and yet I was never aware of this book, nor did anyone ever see fit to give me a copy. On one level it’s just as well; it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. On a different level, it’s another of a lengthening list of examples of mass American popular culture motoring off in other directions while I sit in one place.

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(art for art’s sake)

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A little while ago an old friend of mine posted his yearbook page to Twitter. He went to one of those small private schools (graduating class: 43) where all the seniors get an individual page to fill with their own coded twaddle, and he shared his page. It was — and I think he would acknowledge this — filled with coded twaddle.

(There were 300 or so kids in my graduating class, so we each got a portrait and a senior quote limited to a certain number of characters. Longtime readers will recall that Neil Peart and Jesus Christ accounted for the largest percentage of these senior quotes. Each copy of the yearbook also came with a stapled packet of senior wills — half a page per student — which is where we put our ration of coded twaddle. Hopefully at least a few of the copies have fallen out and gotten lost over the decades.)

Anyway, after glancing over my friend’s page, I noticed that the photo included a small portion of the next page. I could tell that my friend’s classmate, anonymous to me, had included a timeless classic-rock lyrical reference:

“What a long strange trip it’s been — Dead”

I was struck by the thought that tens of thousands of American kids — maybe even hundreds of thousands — have slipped that line into their final yearbook entries since “Truckin'” was released in November 1970.

Which makes it a shared delusion of titanic proportions. No 18-year-old has any idea what a “long strange trip” is. It doesn’t matter whether you’re headed to college and work, or the military and work, or just work. Over the next 60 years, it’s gonna get a whole lot longer and a whole lot stranger. An 18-year-old hasn’t even left the starting blocks yet.

And the more affluent their community and surroundings, the more absurd the reference becomes.

What, you got loaded and drove around town? Got chased by the cops out of a house party? Smoked a joint and then went to work at KFC and collapsed giggling in the walk-in cooler? Had your boyfriend’s younger sibling unexpectedly come home while you were stealing an intimate moment? That’s only strange if you’re blinkered enough to be unfamiliar with the millions of other people who have also done it, or done something similar.

(This is not to suggest that the hotel room-backstage-onstage-taxi-plane-hotel room-backstage-onstage-taxi routine of a touring rock band is all that strange either. Indeed, its mundanity has frequently been commented on. And the Dead’s trip would get considerably longer and stranger after they celebrated it on vinyl. As of November 1970, they hadn’t yet gone on hiatus and come back again, dropped the “Phil and Ned” bleepblorp madness on stadium crowds, played at the Egyptian pyramids, temporarily lost their lead guitarist to a diabetic coma, or had a Top Ten hit. The Dead still have a better claim to the phrase than any suburban teenager, though.)

I give even more points to those insouciant youth who credit this snippet of unearned wisdom to “GD,” “Dead” or some other shorthand.

As an anal-retentive reader of liner notes as well as a Deadhead, I would credit it to either the Dead’s lyricist, Robert Hunter, or to the four credited co-writers, Hunter, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, who allegedly worked out the song while sitting together beside a hotel pool on the road. Lyrics were firmly Hunter’s domain, generally speaking, and I don’t think the latter three contributed on the lyric side, but … well, well, well, you can never tell.

The casual credit to “Dead” bespeaks a certain unfamiliarity with the details — nay, an active disinterest. That’s the kind of credit given by a person to whom “Truckin'” is just another song on classic-rock radio, wedged in between “Barracuda” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Teach Your Children” and “Turn The Page” and “Never Been Any Reason.”

That’s the kind of credit given by somebody who’s mentally rifled through the bag of Party-Hearty Rock Songs, the bag of Mysterious Rock Songs, the bag of Potentially Transgressive Rock Songs, and the bag of Mildly Profound Rock Songs, and opted for the last.

No matter. America’s legion of Long Strange Trippers has lived and learned. They are part of the broader population every day, teaching algebra and writing parking tickets and selling insurance and coaching Little League. They are older and wiser. More so than I, perhaps.

Maybe they know whether they are running away from death, or towards it.

Rockin’ the hospital.

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The past and present and future collided in new and interesting ways this afternoon, after I’d run ten miles and bought the week’s groceries.

I think I’ve mentioned here in the past that I sometimes go walking in an old mental hospital in the next town over. It closed maybe 20 years ago, and now the town owns the grounds and buildings, which are available to the public as a giant park. People bring dogs to run around, and it abuts trails and open land and the Charles River.

This situation, however clement, can’t stay as it is forever. The buildings are getting older and the land is valuable. Plans are in place to turn two of the old buildings (one of them a chapel) into an arts center and convert most of the rest of the buildings into housing.

I’ll miss the freedom to stroll the grounds once the complex goes residential. (I assume much of it will be closed once that happens, or at least it won’t be as freewheeling-open as it is now.) But, again, it can’t stay as it is forever. I’ve been fortunate to have access to it as it is now.

Anyway, the people behind the arts center are having a series of free concerts on the lawn this summer while they restore the interior of their two buildings. The second in the series was today, featuring seven or eight performers, and I went over for a while to listen.

They opened the old chapel building to the public, and for the first time, I went into a building on campus (the others are locked and boarded.) It appeared to be in decent shape, with a stage on one end and an old wooden floor.

A couple had brought their young kids into the darkened interior of the chapel — probably to keep them cool, as it will approach 90 degrees in the area today — and they ran circles around the floor, with the young girls swooping in and out and through the squares of light from the overhead windows. It was a cool effect; you shoulda been there.

IMG_3766Inside the chapel. (My flash kicked in; it looks brighter than it was.)

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The first band I saw was called Salem Wolves. They’ve been at it since 2015, apparently. Their bio says they once shared a stage with Diarrhea Planet, which sounds like it merits some kind of award for valor.

They had a guitarist and bassist who mostly stood there, and a drummer who worked and sang and occasionally yelled, and a guitarist-singer who mach schau‘ed to the extent the little stage would allow.

They were loud, no-frills, a little punkish, and I liked them fine — enough, even, to come out of the (mostly full) shade and stand on the (mostly empty) lawn for much of their set. If the band was gonna give it up in the sunshine, the crowd oughta do the same, I figured.

They also, in flashes, gave me that nagging feeling that with two or three like-minded compatriots I could probably get up at a venue like that and do something similar. I’ll find something to lay down on until the feeling goes away.

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The next two bands … well, things got a little weirder.

The first was a guitarist-singer named Gatch. (He was subtly explicit in his stage remarks that he was Gatch, not that they or we were Gatch. I assume the distinction means something.)

I saw a trombonist getting ready and I feared the worst — please, Christ, let this not be ska. It wasn’t. It was yacht rock! In addition to the ‘bonist, Gatch’s band included a keyboardist using a nice warm Seventies Fender Rhodes patch, as well as a percussionist with congas and shakers, working out on mildly funky love-grooves that reminded me of Boz Scaggs.

The set bogged down, IMHO, in some mid-tempo meandering in the middle; I was not particularly left wanting more, although they were good musicians.

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After that came a four-piece from Worcester called the Blue Light Bandits … and damned if they didn’t strike me as yacht-rocky too. Gently funky muso music, well-drilled and flawlessly professional, with mildly extended chords and clean three-part harmonies and the guitarist playing nimble, glassy-toned Fender Strat solos.

I imagine if you had gone to see one of those one-hit wonder bands from American Top 40 countdowns from the late ’70s — like Player or Ace or Toby Beau — they probably would have sounded like the Blue Light Bandits.

I’m trying not to read too much into two bands on one stage on one afternoon … but as I left I wondered if “Baby Come Back” was the spiritual parent of the music people go out to venues to hear in the year 2022.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t that.

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The return of the Dime Brigade.

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Another order from the dime-a-card website showed up the other day, six months after I ordered it.

I believe the website to be a husband-and-wife spare-time operation, so I did not pepper them with constant inquiries or demand instant service — just an occasional discreet inquiry. And, in time, my box showed up.

I know, I know. You don’t care about the weird dregs I harvest from the dusty corners of somebody’s card-filled basement.

But since we’re together, we might as well stay. So let me make you some introductions …

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Andy Tracy was one of the better players the Lehigh Valley IronPigs fielded in their first few years, when they were chronically lousy. He was a big first baseman whose walkup music was “Frankenstein,” and from time to time he’d belt one into the beer garden beyond the right-field wall. This card dates to 2000, the year Tracy played 83 of his career 149 big-league games and hit 11 of his 13 career big-league homers.

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Jonathan Pettibone’s days as a major-league prospect, and as a Lehigh Valley IronPig, are, sadly, well behind him. Injuries derailed his career after parts of two major-league seasons (2013-14) in which he played 20 games.

He lives on in my kitchen, though, thanks to several pint glasses with his name and likeness that were handed out at an IronPigs home game almost a decade ago now. Those glasses — plus a similar set featuring fellow prospect Domonic Brown — were the best ballpark giveaway I’ve ever gotten; they’ve served my family well.

I’ve got some stout I’m trying to drink off. There’s a decent chance that after I run tomorrow night, I will fill a Jonathan Pettibone glass with the ruby-dark goodness and take my time enjoying it … rolling it around on my tongue while I contemplate the silhouetted outline of a promising young man, arm cocked, winding up for delivery.

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On July 3, 2009 — coming up on 13 years ago — I road-tripped to Batavia, New York, to see a Class A New York-Penn League game between the Batavia Muckdogs and the Jamestown Jammers.

I took a photo of the lineups that day, vowing to check years later to find out how many of the players made the majors. I regret to report that Jamestown’s left fielder, Sequoyah Stonecipher, never got past Class A ball.

Xavier Scruggs, a big-bopper first-baseman type with Batavia, did make it for 50 games spread over the 2014-2016 seasons with the Cardinals and Marlins. Scruggs’ name might not seem quite as memorable as Sequoyah Stonecipher’s, but it’s always stuck in my head — I might have overheard people talking about him as a prospect.

I took a flyer on searching the card website for his name; and wouldn’t you know it, there he was, on a card from 2015. Nice seeing you again, Xavier.

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And here’s a minor-league favorite from an earlier stage of my life. Bob Bonner played extensively with the 1980s Rochester Red Wings teams I remember from boyhood. For those not from Rochester, he is known for appearing alongside Cal Ripken Jr. on Cal’s highly coveted 1982 Topps rookie card, which, suffice it to say, goes for more than a dime a card. I once wrote a SABR Games story about the last game of Bonner’s career; after retiring he gave his life over to Jesus and became a missionary.

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A couple other names from Rochester minor-league days. Randy Cunneyworth’s 40-year career as a player, scout, and coach included parts of seven seasons with the Rochester Americans — five at the start, two at the end. He coached the Amerks, too, and is in the team’s Hall of Fame.

Torrie Robertson I remember as a visiting player with Hershey and Adirondack, though he apparently played a single game in Rochester in 1990. (His brother Geordie did seven seasons with the Amerks and was a teammate of Cunneyworth’s for a while. Geordie was probably the Robertson I was really looking for when I found this card.)

According to Wikipedia, Torrie Robertson is (and will now always remain) the Hartford Whalers’ all-time penalty leader with 1,368 minutes. The back of this card from 1990 puts it nicely: “Torrie isn’t one to fill the net with pucks … He’s never led the NHL in penalty minutes, but not for lack of trying.”

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Darren O’Day, apparently, used this card to pay tribute to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” video by sporting the world’s most artificial-looking mustache. (A quick search of the Trading Card Database suggests, remarkably, that it must have been real, as at least one other card shows him sporting it. Nowadays he wears a full beard like everyone else.)

Hey, remember the time I wrote a post about various vivid pop culture memories I retain from the fall of 1982? Darren O’Day wasn’t even alive for most of them: He was born on October 22, 1982. We’ll say no more on the subject.

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No American sports league would ever dream of making a former player a commissioner. The commissioner represents the owners’ interests, and an ex-player might, you know, make a decision that favored the serfs in some way.

Meet Randy Ambrosie. After nine seasons as a guard in the Canadian Football League, he now serves as CFL commissioner. (Apparently he is not the first ex-player to lead the CFL.)

Not only is he a former player, but he also served as secretary of the players’ union! In American sports leagues, the owners would collude to plant a bomb in his trunk or a whore in his bed to keep him from rising to power. But in Canada they do things differently.

Alas, social media leads me to believe that the CFL is struggling, and faces multiple challenges that Ambrosie has thus far been unable to resolve. I root for him all the same.

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While we’re on the subject of rancid, self-serving management practices: This card (from 2014, if memory serves) mentions that Colin Kaepernick grew up studying Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, and followed in Cunningham’s footsteps as the leader of a new generation of footloose quarterbacks who can hurt you with the run.

Remarkable, how such a promising young man from such a proud football tradition could go so long without a job offer. Hell of a thing, as the guy who plays Richard Nixon so uncannily on Twitter would put it.

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While Rochester was a hockey town at heart (and probably still is), my firsthand interest in hockey was most strongly kindled when I went off to Boston for college.

In the spring of my freshman year, the Sabres tabbed young Tom Draper as their starting goalie for a first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins. (Their starter was hurt.) Draper played the entire series and did quite well, even posting a shutout, but the Sabres lost in the deciding Game 7.

I watched most if not all the games in the room of a good friend who had a TV, fascinated by the matchup of my native region and my future adopted home. Watching that series increased my knowledge and appreciation of hockey, and it continues to hold an outsized place in my imagination.

Draper played only 19 more NHL games after that series, none of them in the playoffs.

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Time to break away from the four major sports for a bit. Three of these cards were issued in Canada for the 1992 Winter Olympics (it says something that I no longer remember where that even took place … was that Albertville, maybe?). The fourth, of American freestyle skier Emily Cook, is considerably more recent.

Why’d I spring for these? I dunno. A dime isn’t that much, and the Winter Olympics are so much more interesting than the Summer Olympics, and I’ve never heard of any of these people. (A Google search suggests that none of them medaled, though a few of them went to more than one Games.)

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I’m really not that much of a fan of cards that show musicians. It feels wrong. But from time to time I go for them anyway, when the cheese factor or the weirdness factor outweighs the wrongness.

A trading card of Clarence “Frogman” Henry is just a wonderful idea on its face. Same with a card of Teddy Pendergrass. Cliff Williams, AC/DC’s longtime bassist, deserves a card in the same way that a guy who’s been a bullpen coach for 30 years deserves a card. And a card of Rick Wakeman with an outrageously bad mullet? What could be wrong with that?

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I wonder if the rappers pictured on the official Yo! MTV Raps card set (issued in 1991) made anything from it. I certainly hope so.

Stetsasonic I picked up mainly because I remembered the name from someplace; I couldn’t hum (or rap) any of the tunes.

Public Enemy, on the other hand, was a favorite of my older brother’s, and I still remember snatches of a number of their songs. They had an aura of legitimacy and authority that nobody else could quite touch, it seemed. They were smart, and they weren’t afraid of much, and they were done putting up with BS, and their songs slammed.

Anyhow, as any teenager with half a clue in 1991 could have told you: Chuck D and Flavor Flav were the rappers in Public Enemy, and Terminator X was the DJ. Or, in the timeless title of one of their songs: “Terminator X Speaks with his Hands.”

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Justin Bieber speaks with his hands.

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Back to sports. The XFL was an allegedly “extreme” pro football league, a joint venture between the World Wrestling Federation and NBC, that was supposed to mix the drama, color and backstory of pro wrestling with the straight on-the-field action of pro football. It crashed after a single season.

Thankfully, it left cardboard evidence like this card behind … so that Americans need never forget that behind the “extreme” label often lurks hot air and delusion.

“Touchdown Tommy” Maddox, at least, had enough talent to crawl out of the wreckage and play in the NFL; as per Wiki, he is one of four players who won championships in both the XFL and NFL.

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In 1990-91, former NHL player and future NHL coach Ted Nolan was employed in his first coaching position, coaching young players with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. I’ve left his card at large size so you can appreciate all that’s going on:

  • The two men to the right of the card look like one has just told the other a bitter truth — such as, perhaps, that their jointly owned trucking business is bankrupt. You decide which of them has just delivered the hard truth, and which of them is digesting it.
  • The kid at lower left in the baseball cap appears to have a long white tube raised to his lips; I would think he was shooting spitballs at the players, if he weren’t close enough to the bench for them to come pound the tar out of him.
  • The young woman at left with the bangs is, by 1990-1991 standards, not difficult to look at. (It is possible on further examination that the long white tube-thing is actually in her hands, and the kid in the baseball cap only appears to be holding it to his mouth. I guess I wasn’t really looking at her hands before. We’ll move on.)

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These are only some of the Montreal Expos I bought. While there are still Expos to buy, I will buy Expos.

I’m pretty sure the team card at center is a 2004, which would make it their last; they moved to Washington, D.C. the following season. Also, while I usually prefer real stadium backgrounds on my cards, there’s something understated about the all-gray Jose Vidro card that works really nicely, though it might or might not come through in this picture.

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The 1993 Leaf card set featured distinctive backs in which the players were overlaid on photos of their home teams’ cities. Most players got some sort of skyline, with Florida Marlin Walt Weiss shown here as a representative example. The back of California Angel John Orton’s card … well, I’ve not been to Orange County, but I’m not sure this does it justice.

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Henricus Nicolas van den Hurk collected eight major-league wins between 2007 and 2012, ranking him third all-time among pitchers born in the Netherlands. He is 11 wins behind Rynie Wolters, and 279 behind Bert Blyleven.

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I have a mini-shrine to Carl Yastrzemski in my basement, so I’d been wanting to pick up a card of his grandson, Mike, currently playing with San Francisco.

As I write this, Mike is second all-time among major-league Yastrzemskis in hits (3,109 behind Carl), homers (390 behind Carl) and games played (just 2,955 to go, lad!)

Mike does boast a few achievements of his own. In the bobtailed 2020 season, he led the National League in triples with four, a feat his distinguished grandpa never managed. And he is the first person to wear the name Yastrzemski on a major-league uniform, as the Red Sox never wore names on their backs, home or away, during Carl’s 23 seasons.

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Fun with coaches! From top to bottom: NFL, Major Indoor Soccer League, and NHL. Rick Dudley’s pseudo-Jeff Lynne look takes the honors here. Richard Williamson’s Buccaneers were dismal, to the point where the Pro Set logo does player No. 17 an honor by blocking his face and identity.

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Old ballplayers playing out the string with unfamiliar teams. Rick Cerone was an Expo?

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It was a big deal when I was in sixth grade for everyone to write a “country report.” You picked a country, ravaged the encylopedia and other sources for everything you could find out about it, and wrote what seemed in sixth grade like a long and comprehensive description. Nowadays, of course, you could do the whole thing — much more thoroughly — in an hour on the Internet; if this assignment still exists in my elementary school, it has presumably been adjusted to account for changing times.

Anyway, I picked Monaco for my country report; much of my color on the generally obscure little nation came from an article in National Geographic that predated my birth. I might have liked to have this card at the time, as it shows Elderson, a defender for AS Monaco Football Club.

(Of course I have no idea whether Elderson or AS Monaco actually exist. Wiki assures me they do. Good enough for my report.)

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Still awake out there?

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This card from 1992 assures us that “baseball players like to have fun at the ballpark,” with a photo of New York Mets David Cone, Jeff Innis, and John Franco imitating football players on special-team duty.

(David Cone was a five-time All-Star and a Cy Young Award winner who led the National League in strikeouts in 1991 and 1992. I imagine his manager just about soiled himself when he saw a picture of the superstar pitcher putting his arm and shoulder at risk in such a daft bit of pregame byplay.)

The wording on the back of the card – which is all caps, FWIW — concludes: ‘EVEN THOUGH WORK IS SERIOUS, THIS SHOWS YOU CAN HAVE FUN AT YOUR JOB.’

Oh, yeah, work. That’s coming up tomorrow, isn’t it?

I guess I’ll stop now.

A toast to the ghosts.

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My younger son graduated high school in Massachusetts this past Thursday, and his ghost graduates in Pennsylvania tomorrow night. (That’s Monday, June 6, though who knows when people will read this.)

As regular readers know, I uprooted the family and moved from PA to Mass. three years ago after my younger son’s freshman year in high school. His older brother was out and in college already.

I wasn’t thrilled about putting the younger kid through that change, but I had faith that he was outgoing enough to make friends in a new town. Evidence suggests this came to pass.

His former classmates in PA spent a few more days in harness this year than he did in Massachusetts, but they are finally preparing to close the book on their educational association tomorrow night.

Amid all the best-years-of-our-lives nostalgia, I wonder if any of them have thought of him. I’d bet at least a few have. He was part of their story for quite a while — kindergarten through ninth grade, and as far back as day care for a few kids — even if he didn’t hang around for the end.

This got me to thinking about the kids who showed up for part of my K-12 journey and then skipped out.

I can still bring a bunch of their names, a few of their faces, and a handful of their destinations to mind, well over 30 years since I was last in the same building with them. (I count eight or nine of them in the class photo shown here, which is included mostly as art for art’s sake and was selected chiefly because I already had it in the blog’s media library.)

There were military brats (even in a not especially military town); and kids who ditched public schooling 2525875123_2937c63de8_c(1)in favor of private; and kids whose dads got transferred out of state; and kids whose folks got divorced and split town.

Presumably, there were also at least a few kids whose parents had the same kind of bone-deep negative reaction to Rochester that I ultimately had to Pennsylvania and made the same kind of mid-career jailbreak.

(For the purposes of this contemplation I am excluding foreign exchange students, because they’re really not a core part of the story of a graduating class. Although none of my classmates died while I was in public school, I would exclude those unfortunate cases from this line of thought as well. Tragedy should have its moment of silence, but right now I’m focused more on the mundane … those kids who took their juice boxes and lunchbox pies to Albany or Harrisburg or even just across town, and continued to exist there and struggle with spelling there and be really good at shooting free throws there.)

One of my ghost-classmates (he moved partway through high school, maybe to Chicago?) made a dramatic reappearance in the class narrative at our 20th reunion. I wasn’t there, but I’m told he showed up out of the blue, publicly apologized to a girl he’d treated poorly back in the day, kissed her hand suavely, and asked for forgiveness.

That might end up being the final reunion my class ever has, so if any of the others who moved ever aspired to reconnect and settle any scores, they may have missed their chance. Any ghost-classmates who want to apologize to me for kicking my ass in elementary school knock-hockey can contact me care of my agent.

Another kid who switched to the local Jesuit high school after eighth grade made a less successful, but equally memorable, appearance at my high school in our senior year. He had money from some combo of family wealth and investments, and he turned up in our high-school parking lot one day after school in a sports car, apparently intent on impressing his old classmates. He was nonplussed to find that those people he encountered weren’t all that excited to see him again.

Anyway: It won’t happen, but I think every graduating class’s yearbook ought to include a “ghost page” with the names and/or old school portraits of kids who moved out between K and 12. After all, the story of a graduating class does not belong only to those who walk across the stage.

(This principle is much broader than high school graduating classes. Will the story of the Beach Boys belong to the final group of people who ever take a stage as the Beach Boys? Is the story of the Montreal Expos the exclusive property of the ragged bunch of ballplayers who last took a major-league field in Expos uniforms? Is the story of a house that’s slated for demolition simply the history of the last family who lived there, during their years of occupancy? Heavens, no.)

The Ghost Page would be extra work, and no doubt there would be some misspelled names and mis-attributed photos here or there.

But it would cement those kids’ cameo roles in the shared history of the class, and settle a whole bunch of later arguments after the Class of Two-Thousand-Whatever starts to lose its collective memory: “That kid … the one who moved to Seattle in sixth grade. What was his name?”

It might also help resolve the misconceptions that will arise after some ill-informed, starry-eyed member of the Class of Two-Thousand-Whatever starts incorrectly insisting that the kid who sat in the corner in fifth grade staring at his shoes is now the leader of a multiplatinum pop-punk band. (You know how that stuff gets started; wouldn’t it be great to have a tool to end it?)

And while my son probably couldn’t care less about being included on a Ghost Page, some of those kids who (got) moved might kinda like the idea.

Who knows? Just another intriguing theoretical that won’t become reality.

Tomorrow night, when the graduates in Pennsylvania walk across the stage at Lehigh University’s basketball arena, my younger son will probably be in his room or on his video game system, unwinding from a summer shift of work.

Perhaps he will think of them.

Five for the Record: 2022 Topps Heritage.

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One of the more popular things I’ve written in recent years, at least by the modest standards of Neck Pickup, was a Five for the Record entry that first criticized Topps’ famously sloppy 1973 baseball cards, then identified five good ones from the set.

I mentioned a while ago that I’d bought a nine-pack box of Topps’ 2022 Heritage set, which reuses the 1973 design on cards of current players. This set has its own issues with photography, but by and large I like the cards I got. So I decided to do a follow-up Five for the Record with five 2022 Heritage cards that make me happy.

1. Hans Crouse. Ever since I moved out of the Lehigh Valley I’ve been a lot less familiar with Phillies prospects than I used to be. I’m sure Hans Crouse, a young starting pitcher from California, would not have been a complete stranger to me if I’d pulled him from a pack in Pennsylvania.

His card makes my love-list because you just don’t see too many players named Hans in baseball these days (there are several Latino guys named Hansel, but not many Hanses.) I would like to think his teammates call him Honus, or even Dutch, though probably nah.

There’s also something jaunty about his arm-swinging, foot-flipping follow-through that reminds me of Killer Joe Piro, cheerfully lindying his way through partner after partner at some long-ago New York City ballroom.

Finally, I covet cards of people who only made brief appearances in the bigs, and Crouse’s major-league career thus far consists of seven innings across two games.

Crouse is only 23, so he quite likely has more starts ahead of him, and I wouldn’t want to jinx his future career. At the same time, if those two starts are the only ones he ever gets, I won’t like his card any less because of it.

(As a side note: The position silhouettes used on the bottom right corners of 2022 Heritage fronts are the same, or mostly the same, as those used in 1973. I think the pitcher avatar’s throwing arm looks unnaturally long, then and now. Look for yourself.)

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2. Ronald Acuna Jr. A significant number of 2022 Heritage cards seem to consist of posed shots taken in front of green screens and later laid atop generic baseball backgrounds — a shortcoming I’ve grumbled about before.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, to see that a significant portion of 2022 Heritage does consist of action shots. I couldn’t give you a percentage breakdown, but the set is not the complete green-screen festival I feared it might be.

As a good representative of the more successful action shots, here’s the Atlanta Braves’ gifted outfielder (and 2018 NL Rookie of the Year) Ronald Acuna Jr., rumbling around the basepaths, no doubt on his way to powering yet another freaking win for the freaking Braves (who I’ve been tired of since about 1998.) He appears to be a young man in a hurry.

This one also provides a nice contrast to 1973 cards because it allows you to see just how much the trim and fittings of a major-league uniform have changed — from Acuna’s earflap helmet, to his hand and forearm wear, to his starry socks, all the way down to his orange shoes.

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3. Soler’s Home Run Leaves the Building (World Series Game 6.) Topps sets from the 1960s and 1970s often included single cards dedicated to each game of the previous year’s World Series. They made for interesting variety: While player cards are devoted to a full season’s work, a World Series game card is dedicated to one solitary moment, or at least one solitary two-hour slice of time.

Alas, they phased that out not long before I started collecting. So, as I started to learn more about baseball cards, these World Series game cards seemed like a cool vestige of times past, like the cards they used to issue of the league presidents back in the Fifties.

(The 1972 World Series was one of the greats — a full seven games, and six of them decided by only one run — and the ’73 Topps set dedicates a card to each game and a wrap-up World Champions card. Some of them are cool, like this one, and this one. Of course there’s an error, too.)

Anyway, while I’m sick of the Braves’ success year after year, and while home runs are just about the most boring play in the sport in the year 2022, and while I paid no attention whatsoever to this game at the time it was being played, I was still pretty happy to pull a World Series game recap card out of a pack.

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4. Brian Goodwin. Topps has been known to mess with the fabric of space and time in the past through the use of file photos. For instance, there are documented instances of Topps cards as late as 1969 using photos taken at New York’s old Polo Grounds … five years after the old ballpark was torn down.

(This all-time classic marks another posthumous cardboard appearance by the Polo Grounds. The subject commands such warmth and attention that you don’t notice the backdrop unless you’re looking for it.)

Anyway, 21st-century retro/turn-back-the-clock promotions present still another way to throw different times and places together.

What we have here is Chicago outfielder Brian Goodwin wearing a throwback 1983-style White Sox uniform — the Sox uniforms of my childhood — in a photo taken in 2021, printed on a card designed to mimic 1973. What year is it again?

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5. 2021 Rookie Pitchers. Multi-player rookie cards are always great — and especially so when they represent a team at the bottom of the standings, because the natural tendency is to look at them and think, “who are the scrubs they’re rolling out this year?”

Zac Lowther, Spenser Watkins and Mike Baumann combined to make 30 appearances for an Orioles team that went 52-110 — yet another in a stream of sad tanked seasons for what used to be major league baseball’s pre-eminent franchise. Together they compiled a 4-11 record and a 7.82 earned-run average.

Perhaps one or all of them will develop into successful major-league pitchers. (The first cardboard appearances of Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, and Mike Schmidt were on this type of multi-player rookie card, after all. Once upon a time, people pulled those cards and said, “who’s that?”)

Or, maybe none of them will ever pan out, and this card will remain a curio of … well, of the scrubs the Orioles rolled out in 2021.

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