Jonathan V. Last, comic custodianSep 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 03 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
I met Chris in first grade. Both new to the school, we were wary of each other that year, but by the following September we had become best friends.
Chris and I were inseparable through our boyhoods, partly because our interests always seemed to evolve on parallel tracks: Just as we were giving up on G.I. Joes, we moved on to Transformers. Just as we were leaving video games, we started playing tennis. Just as we discovered girls, we wound up playing more tennis.
One of our longest phases was a descent into comic book collecting, a period that spanned roughly from third grade to Suzanne Jehl, who precipitated the aforementioned discovery. We went to the annual comic book convention in Philadelphia, and every Saturday we’d go to the local comic shops, pick through the racks, then take our prizes home to read and catalogue.
Coming from modest circumstances, I had to husband my resources: I’d hem and haw before spending 60 cents on a new issue. But Chris was rich. His mother would hand him a $20 bill every time she dropped us off at the comic shop. Twenty dollars! He wouldn’t just buy new comics—he had the scratch to buy the high-value comics on the wall behind the counter, some of which cost five or even six dollars.
I didn’t envy Chris’s money, but I envied his comic books. My own collection was wonderful. By the time I stopped, I had perhaps 1,200 books, which were worth, at the time, close to $5,000. Chris’s collection was so vast—we estimated it to be in the neighborhood of 10,000 comics—that he could have used it as the down payment on a small house.
Last summer Chris’s mother, a lovely woman named Patricia, died quite suddenly. He had lost his father years before. An only child living in New York City, he sensibly opted to sell his boyhood home. Sensibly, perhaps, but not easily. Among the possessions that had to be disposed of were his comic books.
Which is how, 33 years later, I became custodian of the comic book collection of my dreams.
Having a best friend is special enough, but having the same best friend for your entire life is a rare blessing. Before the handover, Chris and I spent a long while sorting through the comics, boxes upon boxes upon boxes, a grown-up version of the cataloguing we did as kids at the end of each weekend.
There were his classics: early X-Men, Spider-Man, and Daredevil runs along with an assortment of Silver Age Westerns that Chris, inexplicably, loved. There were curiosities: an issue of the 1950s noir T-Man: World Wide Troubleshooter. It’s about the adventures of an agent from the Treasury Department. Which sounds ridiculous, sure. But no more ridiculous than U.S. 1: High Adventure Trucking Down the Highway. A short-lived series from the ’80s, U.S. 1 was about a guy who drives a tractor trailer and has a CB radio implanted in his skull. However terrible this sounds as a concept, the execution was worse. Except that as I examined the first issue, I remembered the afternoon Chris bought it at a shop called Hero’s World, in our favorite mall.
Paging through the comics I found other tiny treasures. Inside an old issue of The Avengers was a small advertisement for a “Monster 7 feet tall in authentic colors . . . only $1.69.”
Another issue carried an ad for something called “Yubiwaza.” The handsome, tight-lipped pitchman is identified as “Yubiwaza master N.J. Fleming,” who explains that “Yubiwaza is the secret, amazingly easy art of self-defense that turns just one finger or your hands into a potent weapon of defense.” The full-page color spread concludes with a testimonial from “Yoshie Imanami,” the “Pretty Japanese wife of N. J. Fleming.” A few boxes later I found another ad for Yubiwaza. This one featured only the pretty, Japanese face of Yoshie, who claimed the Yubiwaza system as her own and made no mention of Fleming. Another casualty of the divorce revolution, I suppose.
As I lifted a stack of comics out of the last box, an old picture tumbled to the ground. It was one of those wallet-sized photos that everyone used to carry but have been replaced by iPhones. There, in black and white, was Patricia. She’s smiling, and I can see Chris’s face in hers. She’s just a child, maybe 10 or 12. The age Chris and I were when we were buying T-Man and Spider-Man and all the rest.
The symmetry made me realize that my own son is now the age Chris and I were when we first met. In a sense, our thousands of comic books are his now. But I hope that someday he finds a Chris of his own.
Matt Labash, maximal minimalist.Sep 22, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 02 • By MATT LABASH
The surest way to know who you are is to understand who you are not. For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought myself a simple man. I prefer hamburgers to fancy cheeseburgers, with all their dolled-up, dairy-fied excess. I have a “Simplicity” calendar with lots of Lao Tzu quotes. I would rather micturate outdoors than indoors, as it connects me to the land while keeping down the weeds. And as long as we’re showing our simplicity cards, I would rather say “squirt” than “micturate.”
David Skinner, aging jock.Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By DAVID SKINNER
Twice now, as I enter my forties, I have picked up a new sport. First I took up tennis, which I have always enjoyed watching and is known to be a game one can play well into the gray-haired years. And a couple months ago I started playing Gaelic football, a bruising, I hope not bone-crushing, but definitely high-speed, um, melee more than an actual sport, which perhaps no one of any age should play and about which I knew almost nothing.
Irwin M. Stelzer books the barberSep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
On a recent trip to Washington I had the rare experience of some free time between meetings. Best used to get a much-needed haircut, I thought. A few blocks from my hotel I found myself in a barber shop of the sort that caters to people more modern than I, a gray-haired economist, and generally above my station in Washington society.
Jonathan V. Last abdicates the ThroneAug 11, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 45 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire might be the most daunting mountain in the history of fantasy fiction. The cycle includes five fat books so far, totaling over 4,500 pages, and Martin suggests that at least two more volumes will be needed to conclude the story. Compared with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series or Asimov’s Foundation books, A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t just Everest—it’s the entire Himalayan range.
Fred Barnes on an unforgettable hero.Aug 4, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 44 • By FRED BARNES
Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. had three careers in the course of his 89 years. He was a Navy pilot. He was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for seven years and seven months. And he was a U.S. senator from Alabama.
He excelled in all three, but it was as leader of the POWs at the Hanoi Hilton that he should always be remembered. He spent four years in solitary confinement and was brutally beaten many times. Yet he defied his captors year after year and suffered as much as the POWs he led.
Joseph Epstein sees himself through four eyes.Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Of late, the last four years or so, I rarely go out for long without being praised. I am praised not for my writing, my perspicacity, my elegant bearing, my youthful good looks, my extreme modesty, but for my eyeglasses. “Nice glasses,” strangers say to me. “Like your glasses,” they say. “Love those glasses,” is a refrain I hear at least once a week. “Where did you get those glasses?” people wearing glasses of their own often ask me. “Thank you for your kind words about these glasses,” I have taken to answering. “They are my best feature.”
Philip Terzian, epical exterminatorJun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
Arriving home the other afternoon by car, I noticed an elongated object straddling the lawn and driveway in front of our house. “Is that a snake?” I asked my alluring wife, whose fondness for such creatures is approximately the same as my own. But before she could answer, or even focus on the spectacle, I could see that it was: an eastern ratsnake, in fact, a few feet in length, recently emerged from hibernation and probably in search of a mate.
David Skinner's first museJun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By DAVID SKINNER
The first writer I ever met was my Uncle Joe. He was tall, with a fading cap of screwy red hair, big mischievous eyes, and a smile that might have been drawn by Dr. Seuss.
I remember him saying to my younger brother and me that there were goblins in his basement. No way were we going to fall for that. He opened the door, inviting us to take a look. “Go ahead. You can see them, can’t you?” We peered down the basement stairs, into the darkness, but saw nothing. “Whoa, there goes one, did you see it?”
Terry Eastland, Southern fried chicken manJun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By TERRY EASTLAND
I happen to like fried chicken. I like just about everything about it. I like being in the store and looking for the right chicken. I like cutting up the chicken, and then preparing the pieces for frying, and then frying them in the big pan we use for that purpose. And I like eating my portion. I can’t say I like disposing of the grease, a messy business, but then the meal I’ve just eaten has usually been worth it.
Victorino Matus finds anachronism is relativeJun 2, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 36 • By VICTORINO MATUS
With growing amusement (and only mild alarm), my wife and I have been noticing how our parents’ quirks have gotten, well, quirkier. My mother and father, for instance, steadfastly refuse to text-message. “I don’t want to get charged,” my mother says. And besides, “Why do you need to text when you can just call me?” Of course, this assumes she hears her flip-phone at all—it’s often buried deep inside her handbag. She also has a habit of turning the phone off.
Philip Terzian, Muzak Man.Apr 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 29 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
I once lived for a year in a small town in Alabama. Like many small towns in the mid-20th century, Anniston was worried about its long-term prospects, and kept thinking of ways to keep the town, especially the downtown, vital. If this had been New England, the town fathers would have closed off one avenue to automobile traffic and created a pedestrian mall; but because it was the Deep South, they’d chosen to cover the sidewalks on the main drag with an awning and have Muzak piped in.
David Skinner in the eye of the beholderMar 31, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 28 • By DAVID SKINNER
In our dining room, there was a small glass-top table that looked like an old-fashioned pushcart. On it my mother kept several small plants that made a mess of the glass top as they shed their leaves and, when watered, dripped soil from the holes at the bottom of their pots. To clean the table you had to remove all the plants, wipe down the glass, clean off the bottoms of the pots, and return them to the glass. It was a chore we always put off, except when Aunt Eileen was coming to visit.