Friday, June 6, 2014

That Comic Book Smell, and Other Memories

Do you remember your childhood places?

Growing up, my brother and I used to frequent the same comic book store every week.  It wasn't anything fancy, just a small sort of hole in the wall, but upon walking through its doors we were transported to our world, a world where story after story came to life on inked and colored paper.  

There was a kid behind the counter, an Asian-American boy with a ponytail and thick glasses.  In the "real world" he was probably a total geek, was probably picked on at school, was maybe an outcast.  Here he was someone special, the cool guy, a Comic Book guru and a font of knowledge.  

We were geeks, too.  My brother was the "fat kid" and I was the "dorky girl", but there, we blended into the crowd.  We bought the newest comics every week, and sometimes back issues of some of the better storylines.  We might get into a conversation with (let's call him Tom), or he might suggest something that would compliment our selection. I'm sure we were slightly memorable, if only because we often came with rolled up change, in significant amounts, courtesy of my father, who used to throw all the change from his tool box into a jar and give it to us for comics.  (He stopped doing this the year he realized he had given us $122 in one bag of coins.)

As life got bigger, as we grew older, we stopped going.  We had buckets full of comics to read through, but we didn't make the weekly trek any more.  Several years after we stopped going, my brother died.  Years of visits to the comic store disappeared in an instant, lost with the shared memories that my brother and I had.  Nobody else would remember the way we would negotiate which comics we were getting that week, and if they were going to be new or old, or a combination of the two.  Nobody else understood the way we hunted for specific story lines, because they interacted between titles, or the need to have the Classic Xmen comic even though we had the same stories printed in the original version.  Over time, the memories began to fade, because no one was there to really share them with.

They were gone until my kids turned 12 and 10.  They asked me one day if we could go to a comic store, and the memories of such good times came flooding back.  Instead of going to the place down the street, with it's limited comics and funky fashions, we made the drive to the next town over, back to "our store", on a little corner on Hancock St.  I took my kids down the alleyway, which is how you get there from the parking garage, and it's also how you get to see all the comic book posters covering the window of the store.  The excitement began building the moment I saw the Xmen logo.  Sleek designs, superheroes in colorful costumes, and the smell of old paper hit me as I walked in the door.  

And there behind the counter, sporting a white-haired ponytail, was good old Tom.  

I don't think he remembered me--why would he?  I was one of thousands of customers.  But I remembered him, and in remembering, memories of my brother and the time we spent there came flooding back.  Tears filled my eyes, and I had to disguise them by sticking my face into the bins of old comics.  Coffeeguy realized that it was a moment for me, and showed the kids around a little while I composed my 41 year old self.  

I got it together, and began to show them the old comics, the newest comics, and introduce them to my favorite titles.  They were fascinated, and my heart swelled, watching them look around exactly the way big brother and I had.  

They now ask, whenever we have extra time, if they can go to the comic book store, which makes me so very happy, to pass on a tradition that was such a huge part of my childhood.

The last time we went, just the other day, Coffeeguy had a jar with him.  I asked what it was, and he said, "I remembered the story about the change.  I've been throwing mine in here, and I figured we could give it to them when we get there."  I love that man.

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