The J line ran night and day and Storey Island sat in perfect darkness. There was also mom’s home-made soups and Dad’s steel drums, but everything felt like an “incestuous privilege” to Dirk Whipple; everything except riding that J line.
Mom knew a doctor; not the kind with a stethoscope, but one with a knack for palms and moon risings. Stelphus was his name and he and Momma Whipple mapped out a plan to seduce Dirk downtown with a burger and fries as bait. Worked like a charm. Dr. Stelphus sat at an adjacent table and didn’t say a word until Dirk’s mouth slowed down and he began pushing fries around his plate.
Only then did Stelphus make his move; striking up casual conversation and 45 minutes later, Dirk’s palms had been read and time of birth revealed. It was Momma Whipple’s turn now. She handed Dirk a 5 dollar bill and told him to “go and fetch some ice cream for him and his new friend.”
Stelphus put his hand on Momma Whipple’s. “Dirk may never show an interest in your soup or daddy’s steel drums,” he explained, “But don’t you worry about him riding that J train into the dark tunnel and out onto higher ground. All that in and out is good for the boy” and when Dr. Stelphus winked at Momma Whipple, she threw her arms up and raced to get Dirk; regretting she’d ever came.
It was on the J ride home where Dirk found a pack of unopened Topps baseball cards which didn’t arouse any excitement in him, but he opened the pack just the same, hoping one hundred-dollar bills might be inside, but there weren’t and so he flung the cards one by one onto the subway floor until one card sucked his eyes in. The player was kneeling down; looking like a sniper and aiming his bat at someone not even in the picture. Underneath it said “Ed Kranepool.”
“Maybe an assassin,” Dirk thought; excited to use a word he had just learned from the scarf dealer on Storey Island and less than a week ago too and now this picture? He flipped the card over and found a number in the upper left hand corner. It said 641. Dirk assumed all the cards had numbers for identification purposes like prisoners of war getting digits branded onto their wrists or forearms.
Dirk wanted to have more and more of these cards and collect them in a big pile and climb the fire escape of a big building and set them all free. He scanned the subway floor and counted six cards plus the ones still in the pack; “a good start,” he thought. The next morning Dirk walked to Clifton’s Pharmacy and began the ritual exchange of coins for cards.
That’s where he met Simmy Timpkins and learned of the 726 cards needed to complete the 1980 set. Simmy was big around the ankles and had all kinds of connections; stuck his nose in everybody’s business so when the time came and Dirk needed only one more card, Simmy stepped in like a pimp and promised him #217 Ed Halicki if Dirk would do him “just one small favor.”
There was an electric pole at the corner of Palisades and Avenue T and that’s where a gang of monk parakeets had taken refuge. Simmy’s little brother wanted one of the lime green critters for a pet and if Simmy didn’t get it for him than Simmy’s older brother would perform messy justice on Simmy.
Dirk made his way to Avenue T, spotted the hairy nest high above and just before beginning to climb, he said in a whisper, “screw it” and scanned the neighborhood for a pharmacy not named Cliftons. Dirk spent 40 dollars on cards that day; one pack after another and as luck or destiny would have it; he scored not one, but two Ed Halicki cards.
Dirk went home and gathered up all the cards, waited till dark and climbed the fire escape of Doogan’s Flour factory. There must have been over 3,000 cards he set free with all those doubles and triples flying every which way; some twirling like helicopter leaves towards the river and others nose diving into backyards and a few even slipping through open windows and onto a moving bus. One of them was Ed Halicki.