Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Devil’s Night

This past weekend I was discussing Halloween with my 95 year old mother. She has never really been a fan. She just doesn’t get the fascination with the horrific and the obsession with images of death. The conversation was prompted by her being pretty turned off by a yard decorated with fake tombstones.

Why would anybody want to do that?” she asked. ‟We'll all be in a real one soon enough.”

She’s not wrong, and at her age I’m sure it feels more real than to the rest of us. I talked some about how it’s psychologically healthy for people to deal with frightening things in a safe and fun environment. But, as much as I love Halloween it’s not my place to change her mind on this and I respect her feelings.

Then, she told me a Halloween story from her youth. She was a late teen at the time and she and her friend Vida, who would become my aunt by marrying Uncle Carl, were out looking for something to do. There was a party being held but they had not been invited. Apparently the hostess was a girl they were feuding right then. Mom couldn’t remember why, but all of their friends were there and they had been excluded.

Based on what I know of the personalities of my Mom and my Aunt Vida I have to assume the next part of their evening was Vida’s idea... but maybe not.

The two of them went to the house where the party was being held and soaped the windshields of every car there. Mom said they were thorough. No one was going to be able to see to drive home without a lot of clean up.

They got away with it. No one ever confronted them. If they were suspected no one ever let on.

I have never participated in this level of vandalism in my life. At 95 Mom giggled gleefully while telling this story that I had never heard before. Maybe she doesn’t dislike Halloween as much as she thinks she does.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Bend it...

A handsome young man came into the store today. Very quiet. Very polite. It’s new book day here, our busiest day of the week, so he kind of disappeared into the background noise. After browsing for awhile he asked us where to find a comic he was looking for. Things had calmed down a little so a conversation ensued.

He was in town just for the day. He was traveling on a tour bus as the opening act for another musician. The name didn’t register with me. We’re a big enough city that many small name acts pass through here playing clubs and bars and smaller venues. He didn’t say very much about what he played, and seemed a little shy when we asked about the tour, just telling us he had been in Toronto yesterday. He has his bike on the bus with him, so he was tooling around Pittsburgh on a cold rainy fall day, just checking out the sights while here. He said he always tries to find local comic book stores when he’s in a new city and the internet had pointed him to us. He was very complimentary of the store (the ‟best one I’ve been to in my travels”), and before he left he asked us where the closest movie theater was. Thanked us, got on his bike and was on his way.

So of course, after he left, we Googled his name to see what kind of music he played. His name is Clark Beckham and he was the first runner up on season fourteen of American Idol. We’re listening to one of his albums in the store right now.

Artists walk among us, unseen and unheard.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Misspent Youth #3: Race to the Bottom

Though my favorite toys as a child were action figures I did have my share of cars. Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels primarily. They were relatively cheap, so I’m sure they were Mom’s default when I wanted something. But there were a lot of them. I had the Hot Wheels track with the loop and the jump ramp that I would stretch from the kitchen table out into the living room. I don’t have any of these left and have no idea what happened to them.

There was one toy car that stands out more because I do remember what happened to it. It wasn’t one of the small cars, but a larger one called an SSP Racer. SSP stood for Super Sonic Power. Each car had a large wheel in the center of its body. You would insert the ‟t-stick” and then pull, making the wheel spin and create sound, then let it go.

Mine was called the Laker Special. It was bright orange and I thought it was the coolest model they made. The others all looked like cars. The Laker Special looked like a Sci Fi rocket car. When it raced along the floor it looked like it was floating slightly above the ground. I have often thought that Luke’s landspeeder in Star Wars was influenced by this.

Living in the country I didn’t have lot of places where I could really take advantage of the full Super Sonic Power. The space in my house wasn’t really big enough for it to play out it’s full potential. There were no sidewalks, and even with very little traffic back then playing in the road was a no-no. But, I took it outside and made the best of it.

One day after a hard rain I was in a nearby wooded lot. Crews from the telephone company had been working in the area, digging holes to bury the phone lines that up to that point had been stretched between poles. It was an overall upgrade to the system at the time. There was a large hole in the ground, filled with muddy water. That’s when inspiration hit. I yanked the t-stick and put the car in the water. Just as I thought, the spinning wheel revved and sprayed filthy water everywhere, soaking me in an instant.

Pretty cool.

The Laker Special immediately sank out of sight into the brown mud. The hole was a lot deeper than I thought it would be. I sank my arm into it, but couldn’t reach the bottom. I got a shovel from our garage and poked around with it, but no matter what I did I couldn’t find my racer. I didn’t tell my Mom because I think I was afraid of getting in trouble for losing this slightly more expensive toy. Within a day or two the work crews were back and filled in the hole. Unlike the happy ending of my previous story about Geronimo, the Laker Special was lost forever.

To this day I can go to that spot. Somewhere, six feet or so under the ground, like an ancient artifact of the past, my SSP sleeps.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Oh, for Fudge Sakes

When was the last time you laughed hysterically? Not just laughing hard, but uncontrollable, difficult to breathe, tears and snot rolling down your face, completely unable to stop yourself laughter? It’s cathartic, but I’m not sure it’s healthy. I laugh a lot. I know a lot of funny people. I’ve been told I can be a funny people. But it’s been a long time since I was out of control hysterical.

This may not be the last time this happened to me, but it was certainly the worst. Best? Most memorable.

It was the end of my first semester of grad school, without a doubt the most difficult academic semester of my life. I think grad schools plan it that way in order to weed out the people who aren’t going to make it early. I’ve always been a pretty solid B student without having to work very hard. As a result I have crap study skills. I can get really motivated when it’s something I’m interested in, but have little patience for the topics I’m not. That semester was full of things I just didn’t care very much about. That same fall Fred and I had signed a contract to produce our first comic book, which ended up never appearing, so that was taking up a lot of my time and attention. That alone should have clued me in on where my actual priorities were.

Anyway, even though I had dropped a class in Research Statistics to be taken again later, I still had four final exams and a major paper due the last week of class. The story I have told for years is that I got about eight hours sleep in the course of four days. That seems unlikely to me now, but nevertheless, I didn’t get much sleep. I was living on caffeine. The area I lived in was a test market for Jolt Cola (‟All the sugar and twice the caffeine!”). My routine for those four days was a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, a can of Jolt, repeat. There’s a reason I wasn’t sleeping.

The day came when we were all finished. It was the day before we were all leaving for Christmas break. A bunch of us were hanging out at the apartment, trying chill and relax and have fun before we left. I should have taken the opportunity to crash but I was really wired. Our friend Holly made chocolate fudge. I want to go on record by saying it was possibly the worst fudge in the history of fudge. We all thought so. Holly thought so. Somehow it seemed like a really good idea that instead of eating it we should wad it up into a ball and toss it around the living room.

Based on my reaction, this must have been the funniest thing to ever happen. Ever. Anywhere. Another friend was there, reading quietly on the couch, somehow completely oblivious to our shenanigans. At one point the fudge landed in his lap. He held it up like it was an alien artifact. The look on his face was the final straw for my sleep-deprived, caffeine-addled brain. I lost it. Completely, rolled up in a ball on the floor, shivering, uncontrollable, difficult to breathe, tears and snot rolling down my face, completely unable to stop myself from laughing.

Every time I thought I was getting some semblance of control, I would look up and lose it again. I eventually made it to my bedroom, closed the door, turned out the light and curled up on my bed, still shaking in the throes of mirth. It took awhile, but I got my shit together and went back to join the others.

Where I immediately collapsed to the floor again, all composure gone.

By this time my friends were getting seriously worried about me. I think I may have been on the verge of some kind of breakdown. Miriam came to my rescue. I was still reeling, but she took my arm, grabbed our coats and made me walk her back to her dorm. I think the combination of the cold December air and her calm presence may have saved my sanity that night.

There are times I feel like it’s been way too long since I have indulged in genuine hilarity. I like to laugh until I ache, especially in the company of good friends. I never want to be that out of control again.

No more fudge for me.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Misspent Youth #2: Geronimo!!!

My favorite toys as a child were action figures. Pretty specifically a line from Marx Toys called The Best of the West. The cowboy Johnny West was the main character but there were soldiers and Indians and a full West family including Johnny’s wife, two sons and two daughters. I had most of these. There were also two medieval knights (my favorites), and two vikings, of which I only ever owned one. They came with a wide assortment of accessories. I still have many of the figures, though some of them are lost to time (and the memory of why some are missing). I have a few hats and swords left, but that’s about all.

These are the figures I have left.
They're standing on top of a bookshelf in my living room

In first grade I took my Geronimo figure with me to school. I don’t know if it was a show and tell day, or if I just wanted to take it to show my friends because I loved it so much. During recess outside I started to throw it high in the air and then catch it when it came back down. I’m fairly certain I was shouting ‟Geronimo!!!” when I did this because for some reason that’s what you shout when jumping out of a plane or off something high. A friend asked if he could do it and I said Yes. I’m certain it didn’t happen on his first throw, and I’m equally certain it wasn’t intentional, but, on one of his trips to the sky Geronimo ended up landing on the roof of the school.

There were tears, mine and his. I think I yelled at him and told him he had to buy me a new one. The teacher came over and tried to comfort us. What no one did was make any effort to retrieve it. It was a small country school and all of the teachers were ancient, so I understand why they didn’t climb up there. But, we did have a maintenance guy, and there were ladders. But no one went up to get it.

For a long, long time.

Every day at school after that I would see Geronimo laying at the edge of the roof. Over summer vacation, every time we drove by, there he was. The following year, when my class was bussed to different school, every day through the bus window I saw Geronimo, abandoned to his fate. I saw him soaked by rain. I saw him covered in leaves. I saw him buried in snow.

One day while the bus was stopped in front of the school, discharging the kids who went there while the rest of used stayed seated to go on, I noticed Geronimo was no longer on the roof. The maintenance man got on the bus and handed him to me. He explained that someone had kicked a football and it got stuck on the roof. While he was up there he got my action figure as well.

This is the actual figure that went
through this ordeal.

Little Wayne learned a valuable lesson that day about what we value as a society. My toy, something really, really important to me at the time, and my tears, was not important enough to justify getting the ladder out of storage and climbing to the roof. But, one single football gets kicked up there and everyone leaps into action. Thanks for making my feelings and values an afterthought, Janitor Jim.

I’m still a little bitter.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Misspent Youth #1: Flashback

Ten years ago or so I wrote and drew two short comic strips detailing the misadventures of myself when I was a child. I intended these ‟Little Wayne” tales to be an ongoing series, to be collectively titled Misspent Youth. I drew them in a different artistic style than what I usually do. My goal was to emulate some of the great ‟Little” comics series of the past like Little Archie, Little Dot, and Little Audrey, as well as strips like Richie Rich. While I was mostly happy with the results of the two I produced the art style never clicked for me. I began work on a third one, but ended up really hating the art I was producing for it, got frustrated, took a break, and never went back.

It’s unfortunate, because I think I had some good ideas. I had a list of autobiographical memories that dealt with nostalgia, child-like wonder, and the disappointment that arises when confronted with the real world. They were also pretty funny. I still think they are worth sharing, so rather than go back to a dead project and attempt to draw them I want to relate them here. It will be different of course, but hopefully still entertaining. Each of these blog entries will carry the Misspent Youth title.

I want to begin by retelling the first story I drew in prose form.

When I was in first grade in 1967 I wanted to be the Flash for Halloween. I’m pretty sure none of my teachers or most of my friends even knew who the Flash was. Fifty years later he’s on TV and kids everywhere are into the Scarlet Speedster. It makes me incredibly happy when I see posts of friend’s children dressed in the incredibly detailed costumes that are now available.

I wasn’t so lucky back then. Mom bought me a Ben Cooper Flash mask and costume at McCrorys. One of those plastic affairs that made you sweat and it was hard to breathe. The costume was a plastic sheath that had a picture of the Flash on the chest. Flash wore a red and yellow costume with a lightning bolt on it. He didn’t wear a picture of himself. I didn’t want to wear a picture of the Flash. I wanted to be the Flash.

So Mom got out her sewing machine. We got red and yellow cloth ad began to cut and sew. I was pretty specific with what I wanted. In every Flash comic, and on the costume we bought, the yellow part of his costume streaked out behind him as he ran. I now know that these drawings were by Carmine Infantino. The yellow streaks were meant to represent Flash running at super speed. At the time, all I knew was that I wanted the yellow part of my costume to be made out of long, trailing strips of cloth. It would make me look like I was running really fast, you see.

So the day of the first grade Halloween party came. We held a parade down the only street in my small hometown. There I was, all drooping red and yellow cloth, not looking like I was moving very fast at all. To make matters worse they paired me up with some kid in a devil costume. I was supposed to be a superhero and they made me hold hands with the prince of Darkness.

They just didn’t get it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Burning From the Inside

Carrie was the first Goth girl I ever knew. Black clothes with lots of lace. Black ripped fishnets. Black hair, black nails, black lipstick, thick black eye makeup. Pale white skin. She was tiny, definitely under a hundred pounds. A few years later when Neil Gaiman introduced the character of Death into his Sandman series my first thought was, ‟Ahh... Carrie.”

Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series.
Art by Chris Bachalo.
©DC Comics

I was in grad school at the time, living with five undergraduate guys who were just slightly younger than I was. Carrie had grown up next door to one of them and he thought of her as a little sister. I don’t think she was out of high school at the time. One night we went to hang out at the rehearsal space for a local punk band called Faces of Death. It was in the basement of an office building in the downtown section of the small city we lived near. Though I was a veteran of large concerts this was my first up close exposure to the punk underground (but not the last). It was supposed to be a band practice and while loud music was played for awhile it turned into more of a just hanging out and drinking kind of party.

Carrie was there. Though underage she knew everyone and my roommate in particular was looking out for her, at least to the extent of her physical safety. She was drinking with the rest of us. A few people went outside for a smoke break, and even though I don’t smoke some fresh air seemed like a good idea. That night Carrie had applied a lot of Aquanet to her hair, sculpting it into wing-like crests on the side. A long black devil’s lock hung stiffly over her face. While lighting a cigarette the devil’s lock caught fire and went up like a fuse. At least three of us jumped into action, trying to put it out, slapping the poor girl in the face and head before the entire thing was engulfed in a hairspray inferno. We were successful. Carrie wasn’t even burnt. The devil’s lock was a thing of the past though.

I have no idea what ever happened to Carrie. She would be well into her 40s by now. Does she still embrace her Gothic past, or is she slightly embarrassed by it? Does she remember the night she was on fire?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Quaker Notes

It was a Quaker wedding, the first of these I have ever attended. The couple are a little over half my age, vibrant, brilliant, and beautiful. They are relatively new people in my life, new enough that I admit to being surprised to be included in their special day. And it was special. It was a perfect outdoor wedding, complete with sunshine, a wide variety of wonderfully eccentric guests, the most fun first dance and mother/daughter dance I have ever seen, tremendous food, and a ginger pear alcoholic cider slushie that could easily lead to a joyous coma.

But it was the ceremony that stood out. I have attended many non-traditional weddings in my life. I have officiated quite a number of weddings, my presence in that role alone guaranteeing the non-traditional label. But that’s the thing here. This was a traditional Quaker wedding. It was my unfamilarity with the proceedings that made it seem different. It was wonderful. Quakers believe that no one has greater authority over these matters than anyone else, so there was no officiant. It was a self-uniting marriage, legal in Pennsylvania, where all that is needed is the signatures of the couple and a witness. Instead of a service the couple sat, surrounded by their friends and family. It was silent at first, but then, as the mood struck, people would stand up and speak to the couple. Stories were told. Personal anecdotes were shared. Some were funny. Some bordered on the profane. One man sang a song he had composed for the occasion. All were heartfelt expressions of the love and happiness everyone there felt for the couple. When it eventually became apparent that no one else was going to speak they stood and recited their vows to each other.

What a marvelous thing, to have the people you care most about tell you that they love you, in so many varied and wondrous ways. What better way to embark on a voyage together than to be buoyed up on waves of joy? We all take for granted that our friends care for us, but maybe we need to actually hear it more often. Maybe we all need to tell others more often.