In the spring of 1958 I flipped a lot of cards. You could say I was a flippin’ idiot and you wouldn’t be overstating it by overmuch. I’d even go so far as to say that I was not only the biggest flippin’ idiot who prowled the yard at St. Andrew’s (by an inch nosing out Steve Snot – not his exact name but you remember what fourth grade was like), I was the best. If you’ve a negative turn of mind perhaps you entertained, however briefly, the thought that maybe ’58 was a milestone for yours truly en route to a lifetime spent prowling yards – maybe even ‘THE yard’. No matter, O Ye of Little Faith – I was on my way to God Only Knew Where, I wasn’t taking any prisoners, and the only impediment that I’d identified by the end of that formative school year was a certain Brian Fitzpatrick. So certain was he of his own flippin’ superiority that he damn near won me over to his way of thinking without a fight. Until the showdown, that is (an event these days known as a throwdown). Word had travelled along the grapevine that there was this fat cat in the fifth grade who didn’t mind flippin’ with us youngsters ’cause he had never lost to any of us. By the time summer vacation had rolled around and accounts had to be settled, not that there were many requiring settlement, flippin’ being for the most part a cash-and-carry enterprise, BF (care to guess what fourth-grade boys made of those initials?) was shittin’ in high cotton, never appearing in the yard with less than a shoebox of cards, mostly Topps, maybe a few of the large-sized Bowman lesser lights from the three years before they disappeared from playgrounds and schoolyards all across America, gone the way of the dinosaur. Most kids would use those old Bowmans and any of the legion Topps dupes which seemed to lurk behind every nickel (not Mack Burk again!?!), making dupes of the dreamers, the gamblers, the packrats, bingers and plungers growing slowly and surely like weeds along the pathways leading to the sweet shoppes, corner groceries and five-and-dimes of ’50s America. I always had a fat wad in my schoolbag in hopes of a game. I had a couple friends who were almost as good as me (horseshoes and hand-grenades, right?), and this Fitzpatrick kid had cleaned them out. That’s when they began prodding me into a head-to-head with the guy, since I couldn’t resist needling them about the astonishing speed with which they’d collapsed in the face of superior firepower. If I’d kept my trap shut I might have been able to avoid falling into one but I’ve always been alligator-mouthed so it was just a matter of time, the approach of which was accelerated by my two ‘friends’, who thoughtfully arranged the meeting that I had come to dread. It took place during the last week of school, on a Monday, as arranged by our seconds, and there was a small crowd awaiting our arrival, word of the contest having spread to all interested parties in St. Andrew’s. I had all my flippin’ stock with me and Fitzpatrick had his usual shoebox. Nothing about him suggested that the day was different than any other day, and perhaps it wasn’t, but one never knows about such things. It was decided that, he being not only older but also the acknowledged champ of the yard, he would lead off, giving the younger guy the slight advantage. It suited his sense of noblesse oblige, to show maganimity to his next victim. For my part, I was warming to the idea of crushing him, if for no other reason than to wipe that smug look off his increasingly detestable phiz. For both of us it was only a matter of time, which had finally arrived. He positioned himself the regulation four feet or so from the brick wall, right foot slightly advanced, he being a rightie, reached blindly into his shoebox, selected a card, adjusted his grip, and flipped. I had already selected my first card, one of the ten or so Mack Burks I owned, and was about to make my move when my eyes focused on his initial toss – an actual 1958 Topps #1 Ted Williams, looking at me as cockily as Teddy Ballgame must have at every pitcher he ever faced, and as fresh as if he’d just been taken out of a pack. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like a vision of The Grail, and this idiot had just tossed it out there like it was so much chaff. For a moment I thought, this kid is so sure he’s gonna win he did that just to psych me out but when I met his gaze I realized that nothing could be further from the truth. This guy was a philistine – that card was the same as every other card to him. It was all about quantity. Nothing else mattered a whit or a jot. I kept looking at him until he finally piped up. ‘You gonna flip or what?’ I looked back at Ted one more time and then I said, to the astonishment of all, ‘I’ll give you all my cards for that one.’ He looked at me like I’d grown a horn from the middle of my head, and said, ‘Are you nuts?’ With that I reached in my bag, grabbed all of ’em and held them out. ‘Waddya say?’ He had no idea what to say so he just nodded. I handed them over, picked Ted up from where he lay, stashed him reverently in my shirt pocket and walked off, oblivious to the murmurings that trailed and then tailed off as I rounded the first corner. There was no way I was ever gonna be lucky enough to pluck that card from a store-bought pack but somehow life provides if only you’re plucky enough to commit to it. Who knows but that Brian Fitzpatrick is out there somewhere, sittin’ on a pile, and happier’n pig in shit. I never saw him again after that day, and I sure as hell didn’t hide. I knew, in my deepest secret soul, who got the better of whom in that contest. I’m betting he felt the same way. It was a good day unless you were a spectator, and there’s gotta be a lesson in that, somewheres.