Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Happy Memory Factory and Fantasy Fuel

I remember when I went into my first comic book shop.

I was in the sixth grade and it was in downtown Sterling, right next to Emil's Toy Store.  Emil's was also a magazine shop, and they carried hundreds of magazines, and it was like a library.  I would go there and look at model railroad magazines, then the remote control magazines, and of course, the gun magazines.

It was where I bought my copies of Soldier of Fortune and I can promise you I was the youngest person out there interested in first-hand accounts of the battles in Rhodesia.  The political stories and reporting were top-notch and to a young kid just learning about the world it was like getting information most adults never had.

But the comic book shop was something special.  Knight's Hobby.  It was owned by a guy named Jim Hey, who was a friend of the toy shop owner's son.

Plus, Jim looked exactly like the comic book guy in The Simpsons.  Seriously.  Jim was balding, though, but that was Jim.  Totally.

Knight's Hobby was where I got my first introduction to comic book titles like Daredevil, Sgt. Rock, and Judge Dredd.  I was a huge fan of those, and Marvel's Secret Wars had just started up.  I had the Marvel Universe Encyclopedia issues and a few other odds and ends.  Rom, the space knight.  A couple of Avengers titles here and there, along with a few Iron Man books that went into grim detail about Tony Stark's alcoholism.

The people who watch only the Iron Man movies don't know this, but Tony Stark was a raging alcoholic who destroyed his body with booze.  After a while, his body began to shut down, and only the suit was keeping him alive.  The last issues I saw, if I recall correctly, he wasn't able to get out of the suit anymore.  His liver and kidneys no longer functioned.

Grim stuff.  Damned grim.  And I think I still have that issue shown above.  Maybe.

But that was comics back then.  They were just starting to become moody and brooding.  We were still years away from Spawn and GenX.  Pitt and a few others.

When I was in the sixth grade, my best friend, Pat Pember, had his own titles he was interested in.  Pat was a huge fan of Moon Knight.

How did I afford these comic books and how was I able to afford to see movies every weekend?

As I've posted before, I had a paper route.  The money I made was enough for a few titles and a movie.  That paper route allowed me the opportunity to feed my imagination and played a huge role in my development.

There are a few memories I hold on to and cherish because they, more than most other memories, remind me that escapes do exist and usually, they are because a writer like myself sat down and put them on paper.

For some reason, a number of these memories are of rainy Sundays in the late winter/early spring.  The rain would be cold and nasty.  Back then, my feet were always wet.  Always.  In fact, I developed a skin problem on my feet because they were always wet.  My boots were worn out and my family didn't have the money to buy a new pair.  I knew enough not to ask, too.  I didn't tell my Mom, and certainly not my Dad, that my feet were always wrecked.

But on Sundays, I didn't have to go outside.  I could leave my boots to dry and hide upstairs in my cold bedroom.   Our house was a drafty old thing and I loved it back then.

I could hide upstairs in my bedroom with my stack of comic books and whatever novel I was reading at the time.  There was no football on television, just basketball, and I never was much of a fan of that sport.  Best of all, I would be left alone, because that was the single best thing for me back then--alone.

I've talked about my dad plenty but the short version was this--not being noticed was best.  And I was a ghost.

Those stacks of comics were so important to me because I could read them and fantasize about the person I wanted to be and the places I wanted to go.  They were fuel.

Back then, we had three channels, and Sunday Nights meant a good movie was usually on after 7pm.  If we were lucky, it was a new movie none of us had seen before, and if we were really lucky it was the latest James Bond film.  Another great character, another high-octane fantasy fuel.

Those creators, the writers who developed those stories, did wonders for me as a child.  They gave my brain something to dive into as it retreated from a harsh and ugly reality.  Mondays were made for daydreaming and I would go to Mrs. Broderick's class primed with a fresh tank of day dream material.   She was a stern, arrogant women from an age when education made you superior to those around you and who you married gave you status.  Her husband was a school Principal and eventually Superintendent.  She lacked a sense of humor and enjoyed dishing out penalties.

But I had day dreams to save me.  Day dreams of comic book worlds and heroes.  Villains who made perfect sense and a world that was worth saving.  It is a sad statement about our society that the older I get, the more I cheer for the "bad guy" because usually he or she has a damned good reason to be pissed off.

Sixth grade was hell for me.  There were so many issues going on and so many terrible things in my life--things so bad I can't talk about them here.  But I had comic books.  I had books and novels.  I had things I could dive into and not have to come up for air for hours.  That was when I discovered the books Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard and It by Stephen King.  Big, thick books that would suck me in and hold me there for days.  It was when I learned I could escape the world around me.

Last week, somebody on Twitter posted that meme at the top of this post.  It made me realize why I wanted to write in the first place.  It wasn't about being cute or seeing my name in print.  I wanted to write because it was another form of day dreaming for me.  It was my way of escaping reality.  And if I could give that gift to another person on a rainy Sunday afternoon, then that was even better.

It was something I needed to see and remember.

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