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Tuesday, November 08, 2005


After we saw Chicken Little, Jamie and I undertook two exceptionally tedious tasks while Janet was gone.  One of them, as I mentioned yesterday, involved vacuuming out the cars.  Under ordinary circumstances, this is merely a moderately tedious task; but because we had recently driven to Connecticut with Lucy the Dog in the back seat, it became an exceptionally tedious task.  For, you see, when Lucy the Dog rides in the car, she gets so excited that she bursts her coat.  She’s a small, short-haired pound mutt who looks like a cross between a beagle, a whippet, a dachshund, a deer, and a mouse (we have no idea how many species were involved in her conception), but still, at the end of the five-hour, 300-mile trip, the back seat is covered with enough hair to make a whole nother dog.  We’ve tried putting blankets on the back seat to reduce the hair disperson.  This works well for about twenty miles.

And the real reason you want to contain the hair dispersion, if you’re the owner of Lucy the Dog, is that the VW Passat comes with these kinda cross-hatched cloth seats, and dog hair actually weaves its way into the very fabric of the cloth.  In other words, it’s not a question of cleaning the car by simply running the vacuum cleaner over the seats with this attachment or that; it’s a question of scrubbing the seats and then picking individual hairs out of the cloth one by one, until tedium or madness sets in.

There’s no way to get every last little hair, of course, and what would be the point?  But in the course of our vacuuming, I found that some hairs were enmeshed so completely in the cross-hatches that lightly tugging on them would not remove them.  Others came free after four or five pulls, but once I’d yanked them loose I realized that fully three-quarters of their length had been embedded in the surface of the cloth.  Fascinated (since I could not fathom how Lucy could have worked her hairs into the car seat so diligently), I began to pull on random hairs here and there to see how many were deeply embedded—and I swear I got a hold of a bunch that pulled back.  They clung fiercely to the cloth; they put up active resistance.  It was almost as if they were the car’s own hairs. . . .

At which point I realized that I had discovered powerful evidence of the phenomenon described by Flann O’Brien in The Third Policeman:

The gross and net result of it is that people who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.

Except that in my case, it’s not about a bicycle.  Nonetheless, it’s clear that Lucy the Dog and Passat the Car have been exchanging atoms every time we make the trip to Connecticut, with the result that the Passat’s back seat is growing dog hair and Lucy the Dog needs to have her oil changed.  Strange but true, kids!

(By the bye, Janet tells me that her prime-time-television-watching friends tell her that The Third Policeman was recently mentioned on the show “Lost,” and that sales of the novel have gone through the roof.  Here’s to more de Selbyism in mass media!)

The second tedious task involved putting Jamie’s baseball cards into looseleaf binders.  Jamie has well over a thousand baseball cards (as well as a few hundred basketball, football, and hockey cards), and for years he’s kept them in shoeboxes stationed at key locations throughout the house.  He takes them out whenever he’s watching television; sometimes he sorts them by team, sometimes he puts them in random piles, and sometimes he just leaves them lying around.  But then, on our last trip to Connecticut, while the car was growing its dog fur, Jamie came across someone whose playing cards were all in binders, and ever since then he’s been all about the binders.  So on Saturday I drove him down to the card-collectors’ shop in nearby Bellefonte, PA and bought him a pair of binders and enough inserts for the first 900 cards.  By rights, of course, he should be putting his own dang cards in the binders, but he had some fine-motor trouble with the plastic sheaths, so I chipped in and sorted through packet after packet of old baseball cards, most of them from the late 1980s and early 1990s, all of which he’d bought for about $2 per hundred at the card shop over the years.

There were a few surprises in the stash—a skinny young Sammy Sosa, a skinny young Roger Clemens, a Paul Splittorff here and a Charlie Hough there.  But most of the cards were pretty nondescript: so a guy named Jimmy Jones once pitched for the Yankees, so what.  To break up the tedium, I showed one of the cards to Jamie, covered the player’s name, and asked him, “hey, do you know this guy?”

“Rick,” he replied.  Yep, Rick Aguilera it was.  Intrigued, I tried a second card.  “Matt,” he said when he saw Matt Williams’ card.  Now I was really curious.  And sure enough, over the next few minutes, as I showed Jamie one card after another of guys running, throwing, batting, lounging around the dugout, spitting, and so forth, he named every single one.  He knew first names only, OK, and he didn’t always know how to pronounce them, but there was no question he’d memorized the names on the cards.  I assure you, dear readers, that this is much harder than it sounds.  I have before me Greg Maddux’s 1990 Donruss card (Cubs, the first time around) and Jose Guzman’s 1991 Fleer card (Rangers), and despite the vastly different trajectories of these men’s careers, their pictures are nearly indistinguishable: two righties pitching in mid-stride, each with the ball just above and behind his right knee.  And indeed, the seemingly endless lineup of batters, runners, throwers, loungers, and spitters on the rest of the 400 cards we filed that day includes any number of lookalikes, quite apart from the fact that Jamie happens to own three Tony Bernazard 1988 Fleer cards and four Willie Wilsons.  (In one shoebox alone.)

Jamie had great fun astonishing me with his preternatural mental filing of his cards.  “But how do you remember all these cards?” I asked.  “I mean, my goodness—there are so many of them.”

Jamie shrugged.  “I just do,” he said chirpily.  “More?” And I ran another dozen or so by him.  By the end of our little exercise, we’d gone through about fifty cards.  He’d misidentified two—and immediately corrected himself both times.

I couldn’t wait to show Janet when she got back.  But she wasn’t all that surprised.  “It’s his gift,” she said.  And so it is.

Too bad it doesn’t show up on any of the standardized tests he’s taken.  But listen, if there are any marine biologists out there who need a lab assistant with a literally photographic memory and great cataloging skills, keep Jamie in mind, would you?  Many thanks.

Posted by Michael on 11/08 at 11:54 AM
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