My dear departed granny (Nana the Agnate, as opposed to Mimi the Enate
– kahching! Another buck) used to come and stay with us while Mom went off to have her babies (my brothers and I, known to our Dad as The Rhythm Boys, are Irish triplets, and we’d’ve been quads had James, who Mom always promised us was not doing the limbo with pagan babies and other godless wretches bereft of timely baptism, fought that extra bit harder to make the team). Neither of the grans was within striking distance of five feet, nor was either ever obliged to do any striking whatsoever, so adept was each at the outwitting of children. Although Nana had had but the one son, last in a brood of three, and Mimi’s family had, as they used to say, ‘gone to girls’, she and PopPop giving up after six, both women were gifted in all matters pertaining to the appeasement of pre-pubescent boys, such that I don’t recall ever being truly disappointed by either (save, perhaps, Mimi, at that instant when I’d realized that she not only didn’t believe her Esterbrook fountain pen was lost but rather knew that it had been stolen, and knew also that I was the culprit, thieving little shit that I’d so recently become – but that’s a story for another time).
Nana seemed somehow to know just that much more about boys, although from my present vantage I’ve begun to suspect that she maybe just knew more about menfolk, and hadn’t got as chubby as she was dining on the difference ‘twixt and between. Mimi not only wouldn’t have had any idea what baseball cards might mean to a lad of eight or nine, she’d have had even less retrievable info about where, how or why one might procure such things; Nana, on the other hand, had resources about which even nine-year-old boys knew squat. How many nine-year-old boys have friends who chew tobacco? Sure, there are always gonna be a few of whatever, in answer to any such question where weirdness is wanted as a quotient, but that said, it’s never gonna be more than a few.
Anyway, although I’ve a preternatural and lifelong connection to the weird, the unusual, the bohemian, the what-have-you, I did not have, at the age of nine, a direct connection to a tobacco chewer, but I had a direct connection to Nana, and she knew a guy who favored Red Man, that mid-20th-century producer and encloser of oddly-sized and -shaped artist’s renderings of major league baseball players. Sometimes they arrived with the tabs on and sometimes not (the tabs, white strips at the bottom of each square card, delineated by color-registry perforation marks, could be removed and mailed in to redeem such items as caps, mitts and so forth), always they exhibited some of the droopiest, goofiest, sorriest and most risible portraits one was ever likely to find in any marketplace where the coin of the realm was a combination of hero worship, celebrity, physical prowess and comeliness. None of that shit very much matters to a nine-year-old boy when in discovery mode, and no better ticket to the novelty of the next than a baseball card the like of which he’d never before seen, redolent of something as exotic, as foreign, as ‘other’, as chewing tobacco, being presented by a grandma whose father worked in anthracite coal, deep in a mine in West Virginia, and whose son worked in refined petroleum, in a skyscraper high above Madison Avenue. What a trip!