06 August 2010

The Great, Every-Other-Weekend Escape

Three years after my parents's divorce, my mom and grandmother went into business together running a consignment shop, Something Old Something New.  The official schedule was Tuesday through Thursday, 10AM-5PM, Friday and Saturday, 10:30AM-5:30PM.  In those early years, though, it was pretty common for them to go in much earlier, stay much later and to be there on Mondays, as well.  I might write more about the shop in a future blog, but right now it's only relevant to account for Saturdays.

My brother and I were on the standard, every-other-weekend visitation schedule.  I stopped going to our dad's after a while and, like the shop, that's a subject for another time.  I was old enough to be left alone, or even to supervise my brother, but it came to be that every other Saturday while mom was at the shop, our grandfather would come out from Louisville and take us for the day.  Whether it was just to give us something to do other than sit around at home, or because he wanted more involvement with us, I can't say.  I could ask, I'm sure, though this far removed I'm sure no one really remembers anyway and I can't see where it makes any difference on the experience itself.

The Great Escape, Louisville
He'd come and get us usually around the time the shop opened; I recall him picking us up there frequently.  Once we got back to Louisville, our first stop would almost always be The Great Escape on Bardstown Road.  The Great Escape was, and is, a superb comic book shop; the staff has always been as knowledgeable as they are friendly.  These days, they carry every kind of entertainment media from paperbacks to vinyl records, from VHS to Blu-ray Discs, from gaming cards to Wii games.  Anyway, neither my grandfather nor my brother had any interest in even going into the place, but I'd get a crisp $20.00 bill and be turned loose.  I think he was so supportive of my hobby because it reminded him of my Uncle Stuart and his love of comics; he drowned as a teen a few years before I was born.

I got a thrill from being able to go in and shop entirely on my own.  No one rushing me, no one scrutinizing what I was browsing, no one in fact even knowing my name inside the place.  In those days my reading largely revolved around Batman, Superman and Star Trek.  I know--real diverse and original on my part.  In the early 90s, it became common for popular characters to have multiple titles dedicated to them.  And to ensure that readership was comparable among all those titles, ongoing story arcs would be continued not within the confines of one of those periodicals, but throughout all of them.

You couldn't, for instance, read what happened after Batman #X in Batman #Y; you'd be three issues behind by then.  Instead, you had to buy Detective Comics #Z the very next week, which would pick up where Batman #X left off.  Batman and Superman each had so many that they were literally published at least weekly.  This meant that every other Saturday, I was there to pick up at least four issues just to keep up with those two characters.

Catwoman #1
Batman was far and away the biggest drain on my $20.00, because in addition to the "regular" Bat-books (Batman, Detective Comics and Batman: Shadow of the Bat), there was the anthology series Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and The Batman Adventures (based upon Batman: The Animated Series and written with readers in mind who would have been age appropriate for the animated series).  Furthermore, both Catwoman and Robin had their own spin-off solo books and it seemed there was no shortage of Batman mini-series and one-shot specials to be published, in addition to the Annual issues for the ongoing books.  By the 90s, it was common for a unifying theme to tie together nearly every Annual that DC published; you could read just the books that interested you and should be fine, but if you read each and every one of them, it would create a massive story that involved every character they published.  It's amazing that $20.00 kept me up to date with as many stories as it did!

Batman doesn't wear wizard caps.
Even more amazingly, I supplemented my comic reading with a handful of regular purchases.  For instance, no comic reader in the early 90s would have considered allowing a month to elapse without acquiring the latest issue of Wizard: The Guide to Comics.  I can still remember when each cover placed a purple wizard's hat with stars atop popular comic characters in specially commissioned artwork from the top talent in the industry.  I also liked to buy Previews, a monthly solicitation catalog showcasing everything--and I mean, literally everything--that any comics publisher intended to sell the next month.  One year, they serialized one of Frank Miller's Sin City stories, "The Babe Wore Red."  Each issue featured two pages from the story, and it was exciting for me to follow from month to month.  Eventually, Dark Horse Comics published the entire story in comic book form (along with a couple of other short stories), but I'll always pride myself on being among those who read it in its original, serialized form.  Plus, Previews was much larger than the standard comic book, so it was like seeing a movie in the theater vs. its full screen, cropped version on TV later.

Once I made my selections, we'd pick up lunch.  Just a couple of doors down from The Great Escape at the time was a Hardee's and man, their fried chicken was flat-out great.  If we had other stops to make, we'd hit the Hardee's on Breckinridge Lane instead on our way back to his house.  Alternate stops usually involved picking up a bottle of whiskey.  I could have cared less, except that I discovered the brass tin box the bottle came in was just the right dimensions for holding baseball and trading cards.  It might have been weird for a kid to keep his cards in a tin clearly designed for a bottle of booze, but if I gave it any thought at all I was just amused.

A staple of Pappaw's fridge
We'd get back to the old man's house around noon, and we'd settle in for lunch.  To this day, I could walk into his house and know that the refrigerator would be stocked with Pepsi, Bud Light and a carton of orange juice.  There'd be some deli meat, too.  His kitchen table and chairs remain my favorite set of furniture ever: the table is round and white, with orange triangles with rounded edges set inside.  It creates the effect of looking at an orange-inspired piece of pop art.  The bucket-seat chairs are upholstered in a vinyl/leather-ish material that matches the orange on the tabletop.  How my stoic grandfather ever came to own something so whimsical I will never understand, but to this day I get a thrill just walking into his kitchen and seeing it.

After lunch, he'd pull out a coffee mug that he'd put all his spare change into over the intervening two weeks.  I would count it out and divide it evenly between my brother and myself.  If you're wondering about how fairly my brother was treated in all this, don't worry.  He had no interest in buying anything other than a truck, despite being about a decade away from being old enough to drive.  He collected a $20.00 bill to match the one I spent at The Great Escape and he combined it with his half of the coffee mug change for his savings.  When the time came, he had a truck to show for his patience and planning.  This is, of course, just one of the many ways in which my brother and I are unalike.  There are many times I wish I was more like him.

My brother would slip off to the living room and watch TV, and I would sit at the kitchen table and read the day's purchases.  I would read Wizard and find out what was going on in other publications, even ones I never intended to read for myself, just out of curiosity.  I liked knowing what was going on with other titles in case I took a fancy to try one out.  I was completely ready to jump aboard Green Lantern when the time came that they introduced Kyle Rayner as Hal Jordan's successor, adding to my regular "buy" list.  I loved thumbing through Previews; it was like if the Sears Christmas catalog was only about things that interested me, and came out every month instead of once a year.  I might buy less than one percent of everything solicited in its pages, but I loved to know about everything I could have bought.

Often in the later afternoon, my grandfather's brother Don would drop by and they'd drink their Bud Lights and shoot the breeze.  I remember Donny talking about something he'd seen on TV the night before, usually on one of those somewhat legit/somewhat sleazy expose shows.  He was out of the target age bracket, but I'm here to tell you, he was exactly the kind of person reality TV has tried to reach.  By 6:00, 6:30 at the latest, my mom and grandmother would arrive to pick us up.

I hated to miss these guys
Now, this was problematic for me because FOX-41 aired Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at 6:00 and WAVE-3 aired Star Trek: The Next Generation at 7:00.  Fortunately enough for me, FOX was kind enough to re-air Deep Space Nine on Sundays at 5:00 and half the time University of Louisville football games would run into its time slot and it wouldn't come on on time regardless.  Sometimes we'd come straight home and I'd get to see most of The Next Generation.  Other times, we'd go out to eat and I'd just content myself that I'd see the next episode and catch the one I missed in reruns.  It was hard to complain, given how well I'd made out earlier in the day.

I can't say now just when, or even why, that biweekly schedule came to a stop.  I can't even tell you know whether I stopped most of my comics buying before or after he quit getting us every other Saturday.  I remember I made the decision to quit most of my comic buying after the "Zero Hour" event wiped out DC Comics's continuity and hit the "restart" button on storytelling.  I'd just had enough with the massive crossover storylines.  I hadn't considered it at the time, but my own life kind of shifted paradigms when they did that.  I never completely left the world of comic books, but I certainly quit being the obsessive consumer I had been and allowed my attention to be occupied by other things as I tried to make sense of being a teenager.

[Notice: If you come across a photo of a bucket of Hardee's fried chicken, I would greatly appreciate it if you'd let me know so I can add it to this entry.]