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Thanks, Daddy!

I was born on my father’s 41st birthday. I was an “oops” baby. My mother was 37 at the time and had already raised a family. My brother was 18 years older than me. My older sister was 15 years older than me. And, my younger sister was only ten years older than me. But, my parents were convinced they were done building their family. My mother was convinced she was going through the “change in life”. In a way, she was!

My father would have been 103 years old on June 13th. He almost made it. He passed away at the age of 98 after a fall from his scooter. He fell asleep waiting for someone he was concerned about. He wanted to escort her out to her car and see that she made it safely. Concerned about her safety and not his own, he fell asleep and tumbled off his scooter. A week later he was dead from swelling of the brain from what is called “the walking dead” syndrome of brain trauma.

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Why I Write

Sevenpose

One of my more thoughtful poses contemplating the great American novel.

There is a memory I cherish of a young boy, age 8, walking across a dusty, hot playground. I was that boy and I led a single file line of my classmates towards a small, wood framed house perched on the back corner of our elementary school property in rural Blanchard, Louisiana. It was an old house with worn wooden steps and only one door and one window. As I walked up the stairs, my heart raced and my hand trembled. I opened the old, wooden door and a warm, redolent breeze flowed over me. From inside this house the fragrance of paper and ink and glue; the very blood of books filled my nostrils and I sighed in utter contentment. Here was the universe: here was magic and fantasy; here were worlds and geographies for me to explore; here were men and women and children from the past and all their brave and terrible deeds; here were Books.

In the corner sitting behind a wooden desk was a slight woman with short, dark hair and a ready smile. Mrs. Asbhy stood up and motioned to a nearby shelf of our local branch of the Shreve Memorial Library.

“Bruce, I found a special book for you. You should try it. It is science fiction.”

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God “doesn’t dress like that”.

I promise this is my last post on the Avengers.They are, after all, representative of my generations “video” games. We called them comic books.

One small note. I saw “The Avengers” Saturday morning at 1025 AM in a packed theater with my daughter, Casey. There are so many small and wonderful moments in the movie but the one stand out to me took place on a jet. Ironman has just jumped out of the back of this jet to go on his own head to head with two “gods”, Thor and his evil brother, Loki. Captain America, wonderfully out of time, out of sync, and “old fashioned” shrugs into a parachute to go after Ironman and the pilot says:

“Sir, you can’t handle two ‘gods’.” (Or something to that effect.)

To which Captain America replies.

“There is only one God and he doesn’t dress like that.”

I cheered. Go Steve Rogers!

So, how did I get involved with comic books? Here is my story. And, it alls starts with a small town, Saline, Louisiana, the watermelon capital of the world.

A small town. Main Street. On one side the Grocer. On the other side the Cafe. Next to the Grocer, the Hardware Store. Next to the Cafe, the Post Office. And, next to the Post Office, the Drug Store. Baber’s Drug Store. Inside, the air was warm and redolent with the odd mixture of vanilla soda and sulfur. The classic granite counter with the huge mirror behind it sat just to the right. In the back, the pharmacy. It wouldn’t be much compared to today’s pharmacy. Small and intimate with only a few over the counter medications and a few drugs used by the town’s 525 residents.

I spent many a hot, summer day on Main Street in Saline, Louisiana. The Calico Cafe had been through so many permutations, no one could remember the name of the cafe just a few months before. In the summer of 1966, it was a red checkered tablecloth cafe with burgers and hot dogs and apple pie. Enloe’s Grocery was stacked floor to ceiling with stale sundries. In the butcher’s refrigerated meat counter, greenish slabs of beef drew the occasional fly.

The hardware store was more of a museum. Upright radios from the forties still carried sales tickets. Phonographs from the fifties shown with a sheen of newness. The most demanded items were farm related as this town was the heart of watermelon production in Louisiana. But, Baber’s Drugs was about to forever alter my future.

I liked Batman and Superman and Green Lantern. I had read some of DC comics since I was ten. I had one dollar in allowance and my father and mother had come back to their home town for the weekend from the big city of Shreveport. We stayed in my grandparent’s huge, hulking, sagging house. It was gray with nondescript peeling pain and sagging steps. The inside was dank and smelled of old sweat and dirt. The Formica floors were worn through to the wooden floors and each room reached twenty feet into the air with a long, dangling bare bulb as the only light. My Granddaddy had enclosed the back porch to make another bedroom and this is where I stayed. My bed was old and lumpy with a moldy, stale set of sheets and a quilt. There was one window and I would open the window and lay across the bed with my face pressed to the screen to catch a cool breeze. My grandparents had no air conditioning and only one fan in the entire three bedroom house.

I would look out through that rusted screen through the dangling Wisteria vines at the street that ran along the side of the house. I was bored. It was a short five block walk to downtown. Yeah, we called it downtown. Saline wasn’t much but it was a town. I would wander around the grocery gagging at the rotting meat in the cooler. Once I had eaten a burger at the Calico Cafe and found a pebble in the meat. The hardware store had nothing to interest a young boy. So, I ended up in Baber’s Drug Store.

The soda fountain had long ago been disconnected from water and drains. It was more show than substance. Mr. Baber and a few of his friend sat around a card table playing 42 with stained white dominoes. I wandered around the shelves filled with soap and shampoo and women’s stuff and combs and aspirin. I was bored some more. Until I spotted the comic book rack. It was about four by four feet and sat at angle. I studied the selections. The only DC Comics were comics I already had. What was left? Archie? No thanks! Marvel Comics? What was Marvel Comics?

I picked up a copy of a comic with the title “Fantastic Four”. The cover was intriguing with three blue clad heroes and one man that looked like he was made out of red, crumbled bricks. I remember opening the comic and reading some of the words. This comic was VERY different from DC Comics. I felt like I was intruding on some story that was far too adult for me. The characters, the dialogue, the drawing was, well, advanced. But, I was fascinated. I studied the rest of the comics. Some guy named Spider-Man. Some character called Iron Man. A green guy called the Hulk. And, a group of heroes called the Avengers. Each comic was 12 cents. That meant I could buy 8 comics and still have enough for tax.

I put the Fantastic Four back and just stood there. What was I going to do? These comics were too mature for me; too dark; too edgy. But, I was eleven now. I had hair growing in my armpits, and, well, elsewhere. I had grown a couple of inches just in the last two months. I was growing up. I was becoming a teenager. Maybe it was time to put Batman and Superman aside and try something more, well, advanced. I took out my dollar and studied it. It was my only money for a whole week. If I spent it now, I would get nothing for another week.

I chose 8 comics and plopped the dollar on the counter. Mr. Baber gave me two cents back. I hurried back down the street toward my grandparents’ house. The sky was dark and dusky and a humid window was blowing the fine sandy soil of Saline down the street. I ran as the first drops of rain hit my face and made it into the house just as the bottom fell out.

I stretched out across my bed, face pressed into the cool rain filled air from the window and I shuffled through the comics. First, I read the Fantastic Four comic. Instantly, I was mesmerized; transported across time and space to a magical realm. My face grew warm and my heart quickened at the story of Ben Grimm, the Thing, allowing his blind girlfriend to enter a shattered laboratory where something had formed in the midst of an experiment gone wrong. I gasped as she found the man at the center of the story, now transformed into a super being of terrible ego and energy. I turned the pages faster as she reached out and touched the man’s face. Anyone else would have been blinded. And, then the story ended. To Be Continued . . .

 Oh my soul! I was hooked. I read through the Spider-Man. The poor teenage boy had such, the only word I can think of now, angst. Hated by the police. Hated by his enemies. Misunderstood by his girlfriend. Was this what I had to look forward to as a teenager? Turns out that comic was eerily prophetic. Only, I never developed Spidey powers. But the rest of Peter Parker’s troubled life was mirrored by own (except for the police). I went through all of the comics. The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Daredevil, X-Men, and finally, the Avengers.

I spent hours on that bed, the rain filled air cool on my face transported to the inner reaches of my imagination. The innocent, fun filled stories of DC Comics disappeared from my memory. This is where I wanted to be from now on. These were my kind of heroes; flawed, imperfect, but striving to always do what was right and what was good. I became a fanatic for Marvel Comics and collected them for the next 7 years. I spent every spare cent on comics and when my allowance was doubled to two dollars, I was able to expand my Marvel universe.

Now, I am seeing my dreams and my imaginations brought to life. When I sat through the first Spiderman, I had tears on my face. I loved Daredevil in spite of the critics’ harsh words and really loved the Fantastic Four. The critics panned it as too campy. But, comics are campy. How many of us talk our way through conflict with corny sarcastic remarks and sounds like “thwipp” or “katanyow”? And, when I heard Ironman was coming to the theaters followed by my all time favorite, Captain America I saw my boyhood dreams come true.

And now, I get to stretch out on that bed again, face pressed into the cool outside world of imagination and watch as the “Avengers Assemble” cry brings all of my heroes together. You can keep your Man of Steel. You can go brood over that depressing Dark Knight. You can throw yellow paint on Green Lantern. My heroes have arrived and I can’t wait to join the ranks of the Avengers and see real super heroes in action.

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