A Story of Regeneration

by | May 29, 2014 0 Ideas

SERA’s own Kyle Emery recently presented at the AIA Oregon Design Conference.

In a refreshing departure from architectural rhetoric, Kyle shared a personal experience about finding value where you least expect it. Worthy of noting is that his story was presented “The Moth” style, i.e. without any devices or reading.

Check out Kyle’s complete story below:

Hello, my name is Kyle Emery. The title of my story is “The Card.”

Growing up in small town Michigan in the 1980s, there wasn’t a lot to do. My older brother Troy and I weren’t interested in hunting deer, or fishing or riding 4 wheelers. So our only other choice was sports. And like many boys, we collected sports cards. But we took it to another level. To this day, I have about 25,000 cards in various boxes and plastic 3 ring binders in my attic and basement. And despite most of them not being worth the chipboard they’re printed on, I can’t get rid of a single one.

Our mom used to take us to various card shops and trade shows, but there was one place we’d visit regularly called the Sports Trading Post.

As a kid, the space seemed huge and awe inspiring. But thinking back as an adult, it was really just a glorified pawn shop. You could feel the hard concrete just underneath the thin, worn carpet. The tall storefront windows on two sides rarely let in light as the blinds were drawn to discourage sunlight and thieves. A fan high overhead on the water stained acoustic tiles always ran but never seemed to make the space any cooler. Glass cases with gold colored frames lined the walls, the inner shelves displaying sports cards of assorted value.

The top shelf held the most popular and valuable cards of the day, the rookie cards of Ken Griffey Jr., Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders. Those were the cards my brother would obsess over. He’d barter back and forth with the owners Craig and Bob for hours, poring over his Beckett sports card guide, trying to squeeze out the best deal. To Troy, the cards were just another form of currency. The cards were worth what someone would pay for them, no more, no less.

But those newer, rookie cards held little interest for me. I liked the older cards on the lower shelves, the Yogi Berras, the Bob Gibsons, the Frank Robinsons. And what I liked about them was what they contained; the statistics.

And in front of those glass cases, sitting on the floor were three haggard Xerox paper boxes labeled 10 cents, 5 cents and 1 cent. Each box contained a scattered selection of older cards, cards with frayed edges and bent corners. Cards drawn on by markers, cut with scissors, stuck in the spokes of bicycle tires, cards that no one wanted.

Every Saturday I would sit on the floor next to those boxes for hours, patiently sifting through the haphazard mess, one by one. My favorite cards were of players with long careers nearing their end, when the stats on the back were printed in so small a font it was almost illegible.

No one else ever looked through the boxes, it was as if Craig and Bob put them out just for me. I knew my brother disapproved of me poring through the ratty old cards, sitting on the threadbare carpet like a bum, wasting my allowance.

But it was more than the statistics that I loved in those old cards. It was the history they contained. Like I was reviving a story of the past each time my eyes passed over the numbers. Every season’s tally of doubles, strikeouts, home runs was a catalogue of that player’s triumphs and failures, their beginning and end. It was a glimpse into the lives of the athletes I idolized, and it made me feel like I understood them a little bit more.

One fall Saturday afternoon, I had finished early with my purchases. The wall clock said there were 10 minutes before our mom would arrive and I glanced over at Tony. He was leaning over the glass case in conversation with Bob, his stack of cards unbought. I remember thinking that the 5 cent box hadn’t been thoroughly reviewed. So I sat back down at my spot on the carpet. As I flipped through a stack of cards, I came across one I’d normally skip.

The stats on the back weren’t particularly interesting; this pitcher had only been in the pros one year, practically useless for my stat driven stacks. I turned over the card, a 1976 Topps card #98, to find the name Dennis Eckersley.

I couldn’t believe it. He was the best closer in the game, a perennial all star, an MVP, a World Series winner. I stared at the card in disbelief, handling it as if it was an ancient relic.

The card wasn’t flawless, but there was no curling on the corners. No fake ink signatures on the front. I had no idea what is worth, but I was pretty certain it was more than 5 cents.

I quietly bought the card and walked toward the front door. Troy was already standing there, his eyes furrowed in curiosity as he stared at the card in my hand.

“What’d you just buy?” said Troy.

I said “Oh, one more card I found in the 5 cent bin.”

“Let’s see it,” said Troy.

I was careful to hide the front from my brother’s view until just the right moment. I thrust it up toward his eyes like a punch.

“Look!” I said.

Troy sat there dumbfounded. As he stood there, unable to speak, maybe he was reconsidering his thoughts on worth. How newer isn’t necessarily better. That the value of something is the meaning that someone applies to it, not just the price someone is willing to pay for it.

But he was probably just pissed I had proven him wrong.

Thank you.

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