just a bookstore not unlike thousands of others across the country. The
bestsellers are stacked high at the front and there is a coffee bar to the
side. You know, where you can buy caffe latte, double mint mocha
cappuccino or whatever the hip thing is to drink while in a bookstore.
Though you can't drink it while you look over the books because that would
throw the 16-year-old clerk sorting the Kafka books into some kind of fit
the likes of which you only see in high school cafeterias after someone
has farted or thrown up or both.
Anyway, here in this receptacle of the written word, both classic and crap—where Steinbeck novels and teen magazines share the same space, where the Holy Bible is only a few steps away from the borderline pornographic romance novels, where the children's section is right next to the dirty limerick books and of course where the coffee bar doesn't have any fresh-brewed coffee—an event of fantastic proportions is taking place.
It's something that surpasses the millions of written words in the store. It is exciting, intimidating, scary and overwhelming. It is a Pokemon swap meet or convention or gathering. I really don't know what to call it. The only thing for sure is that there are more kids gathered in this place than I have seen in one place in the last 10 years. The store is thick with them. In the half-priced book section, in the auto repair section, the biography section, almost anywhere there is a patch of commercial-grade carpet; there is a kid. They are everywhere except the coffee bar, which is full of parents.
All of these kids have yellow cards. They have really weird things on them. The cards not the kids. Things called Picachu and Charizard. Really strange creatures, that seem more at home on a piece of blotter paper than in a kid's hands.
This isn't the typical Saturday afternoon at the bookstore.
I am here quite by accident. My son wanted to go to the bookstore with his friends.
This is the same kid who hates to read, lives for video games and wishes his school would catch fire.
But he wants to go to the bookstore. Maybe his future could be bright; he may get a job that won't require him to whore himself for just above minimum wage. I read a lot and all it ever got me was a job as a glorified whore or newspaper reporter. The terms are synonymous.
What the hell, I'll take my chances.
He said they wanted to buy Pokemon Booster packs.
It must be some new series of children's books.
Once there, it becomes obvious, my son was still the book-hating kid he has always been. There has been no epiphany. All he wants are trading cards. Pokemon cards.
Daniell and his two friends disappear into the mass of children.
I'm a little hungover from the night before. Ever since I got married last year, I've been drinking more. I don't think one has anything to do with the other, however. I make my way over to the coffee bar. I just want to sit down, but there aren't any open seats. All the other parents are there already. They are all much older. One of the benefits or curses, however you look at it, of having a kid when you're 18 years old is that people mistake you for your son's older brother. Anyway, I don't like crowds or coffee. Interestingly enough, my son loves coffee. He likes a lot of things you wouldn't expect a kid to enjoy, like "Sandford and Son" re-runs and peas. I hate peas, hell I hate vegetables. He loves veggies. Squash, corn, green beans; he even likes okra, not the fried kind, but the boiled slimy kind. About the only vegetable he doesn't enjoy are onions, unless they are sautéed and served over a well-done steak. I'm telling you the kid's weird.
He's smarter than me (or is that I?), neater than I am and more responsible. It really annoys me.
So it pleases me to no end that he's interested in something as childish as trading cards. It's only been a few years since I grew out of the passion myself.
Leaning against the wall, doing my best cool, disinterested, disaffected youth impersonation, which I've been working on for 12 years and still don't seem to have down, one of the parents looks over grins and gives me that upward nod thing that translates into "hello".
"How ya doing," I say, still trying to do my best Judd Nelson from the "Breakfast Club" act.
"Boy this is crazy. Isn't it?" the guy, who looks a little like Ron Guidry, the ex-New York Yankees ace pitcher, says.
He doesn't look like Ron Guidry in his prime though, but sort of like what Ron Guidry might look like now.
I loosen up and say "Yeah," with my own version of the affirmative nod he'd given me a few seconds before.
"They get so into this. It's really funny. They all want Charizard. You know if they get one, they'll probably be back here trading it next week."
"Right" I say.
"What the hell is a Charizard?" I thought, but I couldn't let on. I was Mr. Cool.
The Ron Guidry look-a-like goes on drinking his coffee-like drink and I tune in the other conversations at the coffee bar.
Most of the parents are talking shit about their "this" or their "that." "This and that" being nothing but lies told to one another so they don't seem like losers who allow their kids to drag them to Pokemon events.
Sickened by the adults, I start walking around. I'd rather be witness to the innocence of youth anyway.
But what I find are kids deep in negotiations.
"You trading?" a short kid with a bowl-cut asks a fat kid.
"Yeah what you got?" the fat kid answers.
"I got a holo Blastoise and some rare Japanese cards. Do you have a Charizard?
"I got a Charizard, but I'm not trading that. I already have a Blastoise." the fat kid says walking away.
Charizard seems to be the holy grail of Pokemon cards. Everybody wants one, but they are in short supply. Kind of like the Miata when it first came out or Cabbage Patch Kid dolls. By next year you can probably get a Charizard for a regular Jigglypuff. Huh? Whatever.
Just let it be known that supply and demand are always a relative thing. The truth is there are probably millions of Charizard cards out there. Every other kid at the bookstore seems to have one or two.
Standing in the pit of Pokemon trading gives you a real sense of greed. It's the same as if I were standing in the middle of the Chicago trading pits or the Wall Street commodities exchange. People yelling, running around, looking for the best deal, talking in their own hieroglyphic language. It's your basic free-market economy in miniature. Would some of these kids grow up to be the future robber-barons of industry? Maybe. Some kids have "it." That hunger to make the deal that is only evident in salesmen and hookers. You could see it. Well organized, they know exactly what they want and what they were willing to give up for it.
I follow this one kid around — all the time looking around to make sure no one thinks me a potential child molester — to observe his technique.
Casual in his manner, he approaches one kid after the other not saying a word. He has a Charizard, but he has two more at home. He keeps the fabled card on top of his pile and waits.
Here's where the other type of trader comes in, the natural-born sucker.
"Ooh. He has a Charizard. He has a Charizard," one of the kids says.
"Um. Uh. What do you want for the Charizard," the boy asks excitedly.
"I don't know. What do you got."
He slowly shuffles his cards again, hiding the Charizard among the others.
"Um. I got a Blastoise, a Trainer card and two Alakazams.
"This trainer is counterfeit," the boy says.
Counterfeit. There's counterfeiting in Pokemon cards. I would later find out that counterfeit cards are abundant. There are even Web sites that keep track of the latest counterfeit cards, and how to detect them.
At this point a third kid gets in on the deal. I have no way of proving it, but this kid seems like the rabbit. The guy who artificially inflates the trading. He offers the kid with the Charizard a stack of cards with more of the strangely named characters.
"Let me see," the seller says.
"Got this one, don't got it. Got it. Got it. Need it. Got it. Need it."
The seller goes through about a dozen cards, ignoring the other boy who first approached him.
"Wait. Wait. I'll give you all these cards for a Charizard. All these for one card, come on," the first boy says with panic in his voice.
"I don't know," the seller says.
The third kid has stopped dealing. He's just watching, which makes me even more suspicious.
"Come on. Look. All these cards for a Charizard."
"Um. Okay." the seller says reluctantly taking the boys 30 or more cards and giving up his Charizard.
"Yes! I got a Charizard. Yes!" the first boy goes off chanting.
He just traded about $10 worth of cards (each 10 pack cost about $2.99) for one card.
After watching a few more deals. I find myself getting into the action. This is so wild.
That's when I spot them: a stack of cards, lying there next to the discounted cookbooks. I feel giddy. I'm tempted. I stand next to them for a while giving their owner a chance to recover them, but nobody seems to miss them. There are some kids on the floor by the cards, but there are kids everywhere. These may not even be theirs.
So with pulse quickening and eyes shifting, I casually pick up the cards and walk away.
"Yeah. I got some cards," I think to myself.
I find Daniell and his friends, tell them I found the cards and watch as their faces brighten. I just scored some Japanese cards. These are rare, not as rare as a Charizard, but very tradable.
Deep down inside I feel a little like a bastard, especially when I hear one kid telling his mother that he lost his cards. Are those cards his? Probably not, I say to myself. But even if they are he should have paid more attention to them. You snooze you loose. "Finders keepers, losers weepers." If I find a $20 bill on the ground, I'm not going to go around looking for the owner. It goes in my pocket.
It's just another lesson of life.
Daniell gets a hologram Blastoise card with the Japanese cards I "found." So in my mind it's worth it. I guess.
As we leave, the Ron Guidry-looking guy excitedly calls his son over to the coffee bar.
"Hey. Ryan, that kid over there got a Charizard. Go see if you can trade for it."
He's more excited than his kid.