Posts Tagged ‘sports cards’

Flea-ing The Scene

July 25, 2014

Sunday July 20th, 2014 – Wilmot, WI

There’s a flea market that’s now a lot farther than it used to be from where I lived, but if I have time on a Sunday I’ll still make the drive. It’s a ski hill in Wilmot, WI which is really close to the Illinois state line, and having a flea market in summer is a great way to make use of their space.

I discovered it last year, and even though it’s not that great I still go at least a couple of times a month to if nothing else get in an exercise walk. It’s always an enlightening education to soak in the human freak show at any flea market, and I look at my $1 admission as really cheap tuition.

My main goal is to scope out a product I think I can sell myself. I realize nothing is easy, but I sure don’t want to be doing what 99% of the vendors are doing. Most of them pack up some kind of truck or trailer with a random collection of useless crap I wouldn’t take for free. Why do that?

The grunt work alone of setting up and tearing down couldn’t begin to come close to any profit that may possibly be brought in. I can’t believe some of the flat out junk some people put out for sale. What are the chances someone will come along and need a left front fender for a ’67 Buick Wildcat or a pool table with a ripped felt? Wouldn’t it be a lot smarter to bring pictures instead?

If I would happen to be looking for a used pool table, I wouldn’t think to look at a flea market in Wilmot, WI – or anywhere else. But I see people week after week with displays that make my eyes tired just to look. It reminds me of my Grandfather and father, and I want to set it all ablaze.

My grandparents, father and uncle were all borderline hoarders. They had issues with throwing anything away. When they eventually died, everyone else had to clean up their messes. I vowed I never wanted to be like that, and I intend to keep my word. I am not going to put anyone through that kind of hell when I croak. I want all my possessions to fit into the back seat of a small car.

The reason I go to flea markets is not to buy something for .95 and hope I can sell it for $1.50. I want to see how and what the public buys – if anything. Times are getting tighter by the minute and not many of us have a pocket full of disposable income. I’ll bet all those vendors are hurting.

Collectibles as a whole are going through the floor. I’ve been wheeling and dealing sports stuff for years, mainly to give me something to do. That business is occupying the bottom of the toilet, along with stamps, coins and especially Beanie Babies. What a waste of time that stupid fad was.

Come to think of it, they’re all pretty stupid. Sports cards are basically pictures of sweaty men. That may be popular at a bath house somewhere, but as far as contributing to society it really has no lasting value. It’s kind of fun to collect, but when life gets hard who has time for any hobbies?

My only ‘hobby’ at the moment is trying to pay bills for another month and keep my aging car on the road. Trying to track down a three legged albino porcupine Beanie Baby is a luxury I just can’t indulge myself with right now. And if I could, I’d hunt for it on Ebay without the sweating.

Still, I enjoy walking in the fresh air and taking in the sights which are many. I have no idea of what I would ever sell, but maybe I’ll find a product. Whatever it is, it won’t be old pool tables.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational - but finding a real bargain is pretty rare. It's mostly junk.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational – but finding a real bargain is rare.

Thank You Sparky Lyle

June 15, 2013

Friday June 14th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I had some business cards made up a couple of years ago saying that I buy old sports cards and other collectibles. They’re blaze orange, and I used to put them on bulletin boards anywhere and everywhere I had the chance. I hadn’t done it in a very long while, but of late I started up again.

   I get calls from time to time, but so far I haven’t hit the mother lode. Everyone thinks they have a million dollar collection when mostly it’s worthless junk from the last twenty years which will never have any value because it was way overprinted. They’re disappointed when they hear they didn’t hit the lottery, but too bad. I’ve had to live with disappointment since birth. They can too.

   Today I got a call from a guy who had cards from the ‘70s he found in his basement. That’s my era, and even if they’re not worth very much I still think they’re cool. They bring back memories of childhood I want to revisit – and there aren’t many of those. I asked him to name some players from the cards he had and one of them was Sparky Lyle – ace pitcher for the New York Yankees.

   Sparky Lyle will forever hold a position of the highest esteem in my heart. He’s in my personal Hall of Fame, and all it took was a minute of his time. He signed a baseball for me during a game at Milwaukee County Stadium when I was a kid, and I never forgot it. I’ve been a fan all my life.

   It was one of the first Major League baseball games I’d ever seen live, and I went with some of the kids from my neighborhood. Their parents took a carload of us to the game, and it was a blast getting to see our beloved home town Brewers take on the hated Yankees. It was ball day, and all of us had a fresh white baseball as a souvenir. Naturally, we had to try to get some autographs.

   We couldn’t get to the Brewers’ bullpen, but the Yankees were within reach. There was a giant chain link fence in the way, but we could see them standing only a few feet away. There weren’t many of us there since the game was in progress, but one of the players told us he couldn’t sign.

   I must have looked pretty pathetic, because Sparky Lyle came over and said “Hey kid, toss that ball over the fence and I’ll sign it for you.” It took me three tries, but I finally got it over and sure enough he signed it for me. He asked my name, and wrote “Best of Luck, Sparky Lyle” under it.

   It took a couple of tries to get it back over the fence, but he did and I caught it with the care I’d use if a live baby were being thrown off a burning building. That baseball was instantly the most valuable possession I owned, and I thanked him like he’d donated his left kidney to save my life.

   I kept that ball on my dresser for years, but exposure to the sun had caused the ink to fade until the signature was barely visible after a while. I remembered that moment vividly in my head and still do, but it faded from the ball and I eventually got rid of it because I couldn’t stand seeing it.

   Signing autographs for the thousands of kids who ask for them must get to be a pain in the ass of epic proportions for ball players, but Sparky Lyle knew how much it means and did it anyway. It only took two minutes or less, but he gave me a memory I still cherish almost 40 years later.

   I looked him up, and he’s 68 now and a former manager of a minor league team in New Jersey. He was born on July 22nd – the same birthday as another hero George Clinton. Maybe the whole numerology thing has some truth to it after all. Whatever the case, it was a lesson to see what one small gesture can do. I hope I’m able to make someone feel that good with something that I do.

Thanks Sparky!

Thanks Sparky!

One kind gesture lasted 40 years. I still remember.

One kind gesture lasted 40 years. I still remember!

Entrepreneurial Thoughts

January 9, 2013

Monday January 7th, 2013 – Nashville, TN/Chicago, IL

Up early to make the long drive home from Nashville. This used to be a perk of the business in the beginning, but now it’s a painful chore. Eight hours in a car thrills me about as much as eight hours in a gay bath house – maybe less. At least in the bath house I could stretch my legs a little.

In the car, there’s no way to do anything but drive. It’s so many miles to get home, and nothing will change that. I can stop all I want, but that won’t shorten the trip any. I need to get behind the wheel and put those miles behind me – even though I just drove them the other way last Friday.

At least today I had some incentive as I was booked to host the Rising Star Showcase at Zanies in Chicago. Sometimes I can tend to fart around a little too much on my way home from gigs and that wastes even more time than I need to. It’s helpful to have somewhere to be to provide focus.

I did make a few stops on the way though. I’m still sniffing around the whole antiques thing to see if it could possibly be worth my while to make extra money. I’m still not sure if I want to put my time and effort in to invest in something that won’t pay off. There are no shortages of greedy idiots out there trolling for the million dollar mother lode, but I don’t have delusions of grandeur.

I’m looking to build a network of people who specialize in certain fields of collectibles, and try to be a bird dog and find items they can spin and make a decent profit. I will make a few bucks at it myself, and also educate myself as to what makes a profit. I’m not going into it without a clue.

I dabbled in sports cards on the road for several years. I’m still not sure if that was smart or not but it sure was fun to hunt for treasure all over North America. This time I’ll expand my scope to include anything and everything else I can possibly use to turn a buck. I might find I like it or my instincts will tell me to move on and try something else. I want to see how the current vibe feels.

I stopped at a few thrift stores in Louisville and Indianapolis, but didn’t find anything I thought was worth buying. I’m trying to get rid of stuff rather than stockpile, but if I run across a trinket I think I can spin I’m willing to roll the dice on it. I have to pass through those towns anyway, why not take a few minutes to buzz through the thrift stores and scope them out? I could hit a jackpot.

The main thing is, I’m thinking like an entrepreneur. Like it or not, that’s how most Americans need to be thinking these days. Everyone I know could use a few extra bucks, and the job market is shrinking rather than growing no matter what CNN says. We all have to hustle for ourselves.

Unfortunately, being an entrepreneur is not necessarily for everyone. It’s just like owning one’s own home. I for one am not cut out to be a homeowner, and my brief experience trying it has left a horrible taste in my mouth that will not only last a lifetime but also into the next if there is one.

Entrepreneurial endeavors are different. I’m very intrigued by the process of finding a need and filling it, even if I’ve never had any actual success of note at doing it. The choices I have made in life have put me in this position, so I need to put my energy into making the best of the situation.

Making Up For Mistakes

August 7, 2010

Friday August 6th, 2010 – Milwaukee, WI

One annoying trait I’ve noticed continually in most of my least favorite people I’ve ever met is their refusal to admit and claim a mistake. Everyone or everything else but them or their actions was responsible for any given situation gone wrong – every time, all the time.

My father was totally like that, as was my Aunt Charlene. Neither one of them ever said they screwed something up, and it was comical after a while to hear how they would put a spin on anything to remove themselves from any blame whatsoever from any situation.

The funny thing is, they never got along – but they were exactly the same. I’ve been in a lot of radio situations where the bosses were like that also. They’d never ever admit it if a mistake was made, and the next thing I knew would be I’d been fired. How does that fly?

I may be personally chock full o’ faults in my own life, but admitting my mistakes isn’t one of them. It’s been a main theme for this diary and continues to be a major part of how I live my life on a daily basis. I fully admit I’ve made some terrible choices, but I want to turn them around and do things correctly as much as possible. That‘s not at all easy to do.

But who said life was easy? Nobody I know. Pimpin’ apparently ain’t easy, and neither is life itself. The key is what we all do to correct the things we can, and move on, hoping whatever lessons we learned will serve us well. I’d hate to screw up and not learn from it.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in recent years was buying the large collection of sports cards that I did. In theory, I had extra money at the time, and I’d planned on setting up at sports card shows across the country during the day, as I performed comedy at night.

Like Communism and several other things, that sounded great in theory and on paper. If I could have pulled it off, I’d have two streams of income, and life would be better in a lot of ways. I was never able to do it, for whatever reasons. Some were legit, but the facts are I never turned a profit with it and all I had was a huge pile of cardboard clogging my life.

I could have chosen to do nothing, and let them sit – just as they have been for much too long now. That’s not what a winner would do, so today I packed the whole lot of them in the back of my car and drove them to Milwaukee to my friend Rich who sells sports cards on Ebay for a living. I’ve known Rich forever and he said he’d help me liquidate my pile.

He didn’t have to do that, but he said he would and I’m taking him up on it. I’ve helped a lot of people in my life, and when it comes back it’s greatly appreciated. Rich will assist in sorting and pricing and helping me move it as quickly as possible, which still may take a while. There’s a lot of stuff there and it’s in all kinds of conditions. That’s how I got it.

There is no doubt I made a big mistake buying these. Life circumstances were different then, and I did it. Now I need to undo it, probably at a loss. I can’t worry about that now, I will take what I can get and humbly accept it. I’ve learned a lesson, and will grow from it.

The hardest part is, I can’t just hit a reboot button and start all over. I thought about this before I did it, and even imagined the worst case scenario, which is exactly what occurred almost to a tee. The entire sports card business is on thin ice, but I still love it anyway. I’ll be hooked on old cards as long as I’m alive, but right now I can’t afford to be involved.

Like a lot of things, it can be a time and money sucker without immediate or guaranteed payoff. There were no guarantees I’d make my money back much less a profit, but it sure did sound like a great idea at least for a while. What I didn’t think of was all of the hidden costs like table fees at shows, theft, and travel expenses. There’s also the risk of damage.

Rich had some water in his basement last week in an area he’d never had it before, and he’s lived in that house since he was 5 years old. He had to throw out some collectibles he never thought he would, and that fear does exist with all dealers. Fire, water damage, theft and even natural disasters like tornadoes or earthquakes can wipe out a collection quickly.

We talked about exactly that as Rich and I unloaded my car in his driveway and brought the boxes into his living room. He’ll sort it for me and has some people who may want to take some of the newer stuff off my hands. I’m sure the price will be low, but at this point I just want it all GONE. I bought it a few years ago now, and I just want to recoup and go.

Another mistake I made in the last few years is with the comedy clubs in Milwaukee. If I could change it I would, but I can’t. The fact is, most of them have been run by anything from gangster wannabes to novice Polocks, and the comedians have been treated poorly.

I’ve worked them all in my time, and the one place I’ve always been treated fairly is at a place called Jokerz. I was one of the first headliners they booked, but it was through a guy who no longer books the room. He asked me to stop working there, and since I’ve known him over twenty years, I said I would. I chose to work another club I’d also worked for.

That owner called me too, and asked that I would work only his club and if I did he said he’d “make it worth my while” and “take care of me.” Yes sir, he did that alright. He put me in the trick bag and bounced my check – THE number one sin a club should never do.

That whole situation was a huge mess and continues to leak raw sewage into my life as my reaction to the check being bounced wasn’t very pleasant. First off, I accepted a check from a Polock – red flag number one. Then I bitched about it and took it out on his special needs child which got his tarantula wife all caffeinated and pissed off and it started a war.

The truth is, I never should have stopped working at Jokerz in the first place. I liked the staff from the start, and I still do. There’s a manager there named Natalie who is a people person and a sweetheart all the way. She took me back, and I did my first show tonight.

The crowd wasn’t huge, but it was very friendly and the show was really fun. My friend from high school Joe Kubicek came out, a former Milwaukee cop. He’s been a supporter for years and I appreciate not only that, but Jokerz for having me back. I felt I was home.

Albatross Removal

April 13, 2010

Sunday April 11th, 2010 – Milwaukee, WI

I made a big step in the right direction on getting rid of the sports card albatross around my neck today. I’ve been trying to shop them around to some dealers I know, but that has significant risk attached. Most dealers of any collectible range from total scumbag shyster criminal types to partial scumbag shyster criminal types. Very few will cut win/win deals.

All of them aren’t like that, but from my experience the overwhelming majority of them are. I’ve seen coin and stamp dealers operate over the years, and my cousin Jef Parker had several comic book shops in the Milwaukee area before he passed away several years ago.

The people might be different in each hobby, but the game is exactly the same. There is a predator and there is prey. The predator needs to eat, and the prey is at their mercy as to what their ultimate fate will be. Usually, it’s ugly and bloody with the prey getting eaten.

I knew I was taking a risk when I bought these cards. I had some money at the time and I bought a few collections of various sizes from various sources. I thought I would be able to do card shows on the road while I was doing comedy shows, and make double income.

In theory, it sounded great. So does Socialism. Let’s see how Mr. Obama’s master plan to fix health care works out in reality. On second thought, no let’s not. Let’s not have this forced upon us like they’re trying to do. Let’s THINK a little. Maybe a lot. Let’s be smart.

I thought I was being smart by buying these cards. I thought it through and even though it was a gamble, it was a calculated one so I pulled the trigger. I knew what the very worst case scenario was, but I did it anyway. Then it happened, and now I am stuck with them.

Actually, the second worst thing happened. The first would have been a flood or fire and then I’d REALLY be screwed. I’m not insured for them and I’d be out every single penny I spent to buy them all. Now, at least I have somewhat of a chance to get some of it back.

The two main mistakes I made were buying a mixture of older and newer stuff, and that much of the older stuff was in mid-grade condition. Older and newer stuff has a different customer base, and as the saying goes – “The very best place to get hit is in the middle of the road.” That’s where much of the stuff falls, and there are all kinds of dealers selling it.

Personally, I don’t even like the new cards. They’re overpriced and overproduced and it has a whole different collector mindset today. I like the old classic stuff from the 50s, 60s and even the 70s, as that’s when I collected. After about 1985 or so, I couldn’t care less.

Still, I probably have 50,000 cards made from 2000 to 2008 or so that I have no interest in at all. I only bought them thinking I could turn a buck. Now I wish I’d never seen them and can’t wait to get them out of my life. There’s a painful lesson in this, and I’m starting to see it crystal clearly – stay with what you love and the rest will work itself out. I made a huge goof and now I need to ungoof it, at least to the level I’m able to make it disappear.

In all likelihood, I’m going to take a loss when they’re all gone. I’m afraid to estimate it as an actual number, because I don’t want to turn it into a reality. Thoughts are things and it’s easy to dwell on how horrible this whole situation is. That’s not going to change it for one minute, but what will change it is me unloading as much of it as I can for a fair price.

That’s where it all gets cloudy. What exactly IS a ‘fair price’? Most dealers will ramble on about overhead costs and how the market is slow and some of it is legit, but then a lot of them will turn around and offer a lowball cash price hoping their scare tactics worked and they can steal the deal. I’ve seen how they do it and it’s all a big production number.

The reality boils down to old fashioned economics – supply and demand. If someone is a card dealer, they need to have inventory to sell for more than they paid for it. I get that. I don’t mind if a guy makes money off of me and in fact I want that. That way he or she has a reason to potentially by from me again. The problem I have is finding the correct deal.

My two main friends in Milwaukee deal in mostly top level cards, and much of all they do is conducted on Ebay. My cards have a market, but it’s not those guys. I do know of a guy from Michigan that’s been doing shows for 35 years. His name is Mark Smith and he comes to Milwaukee on occasion to set up at a card show and we’ve talked several times.

Mark does this all over the country, just like I do comedy. He’s probably about the very same level in cards as I am in comedy. I’m nationally touring, but not super famous. I am known in some places but still have a private life, so all isn’t bad. Mark has a life but still goes out and works card shows all over every week. We both hustle to get our bills paid.

That being said, Mark has agreed to take my cards on consignment and include them on his table, which is at a different card show each weekend. He said he can give me a down payment up front and then make payments every month and I’m ok with that. I’ve had my ass scorched big time in the past with comics and car deals, but this is a different animal.

Mark has a stellar reputation in the business, and if he screwed me word would get out in about ten minutes. He can’t afford to screw up his reputation, which is very solid. That took him 35 years to build and we talked about that today as we ran over the deal we want to work out. He’ll send monthly payments, and I know he will. He’s the total right choice.

I still may end up losing out in the short run, but in the long run I’ll have all this GONE, and that is worth it right now. If I hit it big, I’ll be able to buy it all back and fifty times as much beyond that if I want. The problem is, I don’t want. Not anymore. I’m done with the thought of trying to do both. I can’t. It didn’t work out, and now I want to pack and move.

Mark is going to be back in Milwaukee in May. That will give me a chance to put all of it in a package and give him what he wants – which is older stuff. Mine isn’t great, but it’s not horrible either. There’s some sellable stuff there for sure, but how much will it bring? That’s what Mark will figure out, then we’ll work out a percentage and my life will keep moving. I learned my lesson. There are ZERO ‘quick bucks‘. I’m giving up chasing them.