Logan’s Moving Pictures is back with a look at a childhood past-time, collecting trading cards, and a documentary that looks into the phenomenon that died (though is making a comeback); Jack of All Trades.
The first thing I do at the start of every new day, whether that’s one minute after midnight, or waking up from a bad dream at dawn, or even sleeping in until after noon, is I go to my Facebook page and look at my memories. I have always liked revisiting posts I made on that specific day in years past, though I’m really not sure why. It never takes long, and I guess I like to think about where I was on that day, in that year, compared to where I am now. Dwell on what has changed and what hasn’t.
From August until January most of them are me either celebrating with or complaining about the Atlanta Falcons, but dispersed in-between those are the occasional bit of funny and sometimes a dose of true nostalgia. My favorite ones are when I said or posted something that either I thought was insightful and turned out to be idiotic, or when I genuinely wrote something that was poignant, moving, or absolutely hysterical. A note (or a joke) from my past to my future self.
Sometimes there are posts from others, things I was tagged in, but not often. Most of the time when that happens, I can’t see the actual post as it’s been removed or is no longer available for some reason, just that I was tagged in it by a friend. Recently I scrolled past a post from early 2020 that my brother Ryan had tagged me in about a movie, a documentary actually, called Jack of All Trades. It simply said, “Logan Polk you should watch this.”
Those are always the hardest “memories” to come across, but they are rare. We didn’t really do a lot of talking online; if anything we’d make vague passive-aggressive jabs, but never really tagged each other in all that much. When I do find one though it feels like that gut-punch you didn’t know was coming. You couldn’t brace for it and now you aren’t sure if you’re going to cry, pass out or merely find yourself hunched over ready to vomit.
Eight months after he sent that message he died, having asked me a few times if I’d ever gotten around to it. I hadn’t. Two years later I still hadn’t watched it; had forgotten all about it in fact. Until I happened upon that post.
This column was started on the notion that I’d be talking about movies that my brother had in his collection. I don’t know how you define “collection,” but even by my loose standards, this wouldn’t fit the criteria. And considering that this documentary starts off with the simple question of “whatever happened to collecting baseball cards,” me attempting to redefine the word would be heresy.
What I will say is that when the ghost of your twin brother reaches out to you via Facebook to tell you to finally watch a movie, one he’s asked you to watch a dozen times before, you do it. Then you write about it.
So here we are.
It’s very weird and prescient that I came across that message on the heels of the death of my Uncle Bink. In my last column and a few others since we started this journey, I mentioned days and nights spent at my Grandmother’s kitchen table opening packs and boxes of trading cards. It’s a set of memories that are never too far from my mind; mostly because I love opening trading cards, and partly because it’s a time when I can remember most of us just being happy. There were bouts of jealousy when someone got something you may have wanted, some special chase card, or a player/character you were both fond of. Then some trade would have to be made, of course. But regardless, we were always having a good time doing it.
Then, it all disappeared. No more cards. We just stopped.
Either it got too expensive (it did), or the availability just dried up (it did), or maybe we just partly lost interest (some of us did). But not my brother. I thought he had, for the most part, but after he passed I discovered that he had a closet packed full of baseball and football cards. All of them printed in the last 5-6 years. So, even if he’d let go of the chase for a bit, at some point it came back full force.
My Dad also has a trading card closet in his house; none of those cards are recent at all though. It’s just a space piled high with almost entirely worthless, decades-old cardboard, featuring players most people don’t even remember. I also have it on good authority that my Uncle Bink left behind a decent collection as well. I’m not sure where they will end up, but the closets here are already full, so I hope they do find a home with someone that will love them. I myself have binders and containers full of them in a storage unit. Some of them are sports cards, but me being the comic book geek that I am, most of them are of the illustrated variety.
All of that to say I immediately felt a kinship with the subject of this documentary, Stuart Stone.
Stone also serves as co-director with his childhood friend Harvey Glazer, and the two set out to discover just what happened to card collecting after the huge boom in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Prompted by his mom’s persistence to finally get rid of all of his old “junk,” Stu decides to take some of the cards to a nearby collectible show, certain he’s going to make a pretty good bit of money. And that’s where things get interesting.
Stu briefly discusses that his dad once owned a large baseball card shop, a franchise, in fact, called Sluggers, relatively well known in Canada. Shortly after Stu’s bah mitzvah his father, Jack, sold the stores and left his family when it was discovered he was having an affair with an employee. Along with Stu’s sister, Harvey insists exploring that connection could give Stu some closure, and they ask some of the dealers they come in contact with if they knew Jack. Eventually, they find someone that does.
Unbeknownst to Stu, they discover that Jack is in Toronto and go about making contact to arrange a meeting. All the while Stu is on his own quest to discover the dirty little secrets behind the boom and bust of the market for these cards. All of that probably sounds boring as hell to most people, but I spent the entirety of it glued to the screen, equally interested in the diverging stories and where their journeys would lead. Like so many of the best pop culture retrospectives, it was cathartic, even when you knew it was contrived.
From the moment Stu’s absent father is mentioned you know no matter what road the movie takes, it’s going to lead back to that highway of heartbreak. Their reunion isn’t really one of reconciliation or even forgiveness. Stu’s questions about what happened won’t have any satisfying answers, so watching his father wave them off and shrug his shoulders is frustratingly understandable. What’s there is awkward and uncomfortable, and rightfully so. It’s only when Stu begins to talk to his dad about the baseball cards, telling him what he’d discovered on his journey, that they really start to reconnect.
He set out to find out why card collecting fell out of favor and discovered that the hobby he thought was so pure and fun as a child actually flourished under false pretenses and bad faith. But it doesn’t change the fact that his happy childhood memories mostly centered around the hobby, especially his memories of his father. I couldn’t stop smiling at the final scene of the film; Stuart’s closest family and friends gathered in a park, opening boxes and boxes of baseball cards, laughing, cutting up…
We held a small memorial for my Uncle Bink after his death and I was inspired by the ending to go splurge on boxes of baseball cards for us to open. So, as we said goodbye to him, most of my family sat around a table and opened packs of modern baseball cards. And the craziest thing happened…
The pack I opened happened to have a throwback Nolan Ryan card, for whom my brother was named. The pack my dad opened had a Thurman Munson throwback, who happened to be my Uncle Bink’s favorite player. There was a pack that contained both a Chipper Jones and a Hank Aaron card; Jones being a player we’d watched and loved as kids, and we were having the memorial on the one-year anniversary of Hammerin’ Hank’s passing. My Great Aunt, who probably hadn’t seen a pack of baseball cards in thirty years or more pulled a Bo Jackson card. Bo was an alumni of Auburn, and both her and her late husband, Ed (whom we also recently lost), were huge supporters of the University and fans of the man. There was a Roberto Clemente card, one of my favorite players in history; a Ronald Acuna Jr card, who we recently watched help take the Braves all the way…so many more fantastic, fateful coincidences. And we all had such a good time.
I don’t know that Stuart gets the closure his family and friends think he so desperately needs. What his journey made me realize though, is that most of the time closure is about just accepting that it happened more than it is about getting answers we think we so desperately want. Knowing why doesn’t change the journey, and while it might be impossible to recapture the joys of our youth, sometimes it’s important that we try.