Entertainment and Sports

Pick a Card, Any Card

I'm increasingly defined by the cards that are pressed in my wallet, stuffed in a pocket, and riding on the ass of my life.

By Kevin Somers
Published December 14, 2005

Being Canadian, it seems, requires having an extensive card collection; hockey or otherwise.

My wallet is already pregnant with them, but every check-in clerk, check-out girl, in-house specialist, and outhouse salesman offers another one. My card collection inflates like an economic bubble, and each of them tells a story.

The oldest isn't exactly a card. It has all the characteristics of a card, but not long after birth I was issued a small blue certificate.

In our cloning/­test tube epoch, it's nice to have proof of birth. The card is fraying and wearing out but laminating official documents is illegal so a contest has emerged and I'm trying to outlive my birth certificate.

Another card with a fancy name is my Driver's License. In case of crime, death, or forgetfulness, my address, DOB, height, weight, picture, name, and sex are on the front. On the back it states: CLASS: Automobile/­combin. (max 11 000 kg), towed vehicle (max 4600 kg).

Most Canadians aren't aware they're licensed to tow. I occasionally hook one of our cars to the other and pull it unnecessarily; it's good for a Bush economy.

A business card has been in my wallet since 1989. It reads: Mickey Guttenbiel, Handcrafted South Seas Jewellery/­Ph 32083/­Nuku'alofa, Tonga Island, South Pacific.

From Australia, I hitched a ride to The Kingdom of Tonga on a sailboat and purchased some jewellery from Mickey while there. I was planning on flogging it at an inflated rate in Hawaii; the next stop on a long and winding world tour.

The keen immigration officer at Hawaii's airport spotted my well-stamped passport and beat up backpack. He said Canadians usually enter the US without impingement, but not me; he worried I'd work on holiday island.

He sent me to a small room to wait for his supervisor and entertain worst case scenarios. A pleasant Polynesian-American came into the room. He went through my back pack then he took my wallet and asked questions about the photos and cards inside.

He stopped, held out Mickey's business card, and asked, "Do you know this guy?"

I told him I had just been to Tonga and purchased jewellery from Mickey.

"Holy s---, he's my cousin," he said.

We talked about Tonga, where he had been born and lived until age thirteen. He apologized as he put everything away. He stamped my passport, shook my hand, and welcomed me to America.

Something like a St. Christopher's medallion, I've carried Mickey's card ever since. It's been laminated, so there's no chance of outliving it. If Mickey is related to St. Peter, I've got a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card in my wallet, so I live it up sometimes.

When I do, I'm glad to have an Ontario Health card at the ready. Heavily taxed Canadians boast free, eternal, universal health care. Between mismanagement and an aging, fattening population, Canada's revered health care system is battling up a parliamentary hill.

I also have membership cards from two fine institutions; The Hamilton Credit Union and a video store. The credit union has given me an ATM card, as well. Because it gives me access to money 24/7, the ATM card is as sacred as the Social Insurance Number (SIN) card, also in my wallet.

SIN is an appropriate acronym for our national identity card. The department which oversees the SIN card has been mailing them away flippantly for years; 225 to one address alone.

Too accommodating (or inept) to be vigilant, Canadian officials pray there are no really bad guys in our country, just opportunistic scam artists not connected to the Liberal Party.

If my wallet is in a breast pocket, my library card is close to my heart. Otherwise, I sit on it. Either way, there is nowhere like a library and I'm grateful for their card.

Although they lend stuff for free, libraries don't attract crowds like a mall. I hate malls, but they're less painful since I was approved by the nice credit card people. I have one of their cards in my wallet, too, and I take it shopping.

When I see something I like, I give my credit card to the cashier for a quick swipe and, like the library, the sting of giving away actual money isn't experienced. The credit card people send a bill every month, however, and that hurts.

There's an ETFO (Elementary Teacher's federation of Ontario) card in my wallet. Solidarity, Sisters.

Finally, there's a laminated, lamented hockey card in my wallet. As a teenager, Wendel Clark came to Toronto from Saskatchewan and immediately made the Maple Leafs more interesting.

Wendel could skate, stickhandle, shoot, and, although not big, hit like the team bus. Pound for pound the league hasn't seen a better fighter.

Wendel was hard working, modest, and agreeable. Hockey is no longer the most popular game in Canada: soccer is. Dude, where's my country?

I try to be streamlined; besides a wedding band, I have no jewellery or watch. I don't own a cell phone, pager, day-timer, scanner, burner, or facsimile (thereof).

Accumulating cards, however, is inescapable and I'm increasingly defined by the cards that are pressed in my wallet, stuffed in a pocket, and riding on the ass of my life.

Want to hear a story? Pick a card, any card.

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

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