Sunday, June 15, 2008

Childish Things: Pt. 2--Home Sweet Home

Randi and I have been married almost three years. Before that we had been living together for about a year and a half. I am 36 years old, but, as noted, I had never completely given up on “my stuff.” I didn’t even like some of “my stuff” I was just used to it because it was mine, and it was … stuff. It was stuff I had grown comfortable having in my life, even if it was totally getting in the way of my life and the life I had to plan for.

One example: my “Hungry Monster” hand-held video game. Hungry Monster was a Pac-Man knockoff made by the Tandy Corp. in the early 1980s, when Pac-Man was likened to a god. It took four AA batteries, and featured what was basically a small M&M-looking creature that had to eat dots as it ran around a digital maze as four ghosts chased it. Hungry Monster could eat one of four special dots to turn the tables on the unwitting ghosts, and eat them, the end. It was also incredibly loud, and there was no volume control. After clearing a board, like Pac-Man, there was a short intermission where in Act 1 a ghost chased the Hungry Monster across the screen. Then the super-powered Hungry Monster would return, having off-screen eaten one of the “special” dots to chase the ghost. I think you get the picture.

I had received Hungry Monster in third grade, when I was eight years old. In predictable fashion my mother took a piece of medical tape and wrote DAVID SERCHUK on it in black ink, so that any thieves would have to take the trouble of peeling of a small bit of tape before they could make off with their booty and eliminate their chances of being caught.

Hungry Monster had a tiny joystick to manipulate the action, and, like its namesake hero, absolutely destroyed batteries. I remember buying through a new set of four when I first got the game, and it needed a new set in about an hour. Not long after that I put it away and forgot about it.

For about 23 years.

My Mom sold her home in 2006, by which I mean my home. It was the house I grew up in, and though my travels have taken me far and wide and I haven’t spent more than the occasional night there since I was 22, I was saddened by the upcoming sale. Not by the sale itself, my Mom got a good price, and the house needed too much work, but for the memories. Despite some unhappy times, it was mostly a home of positive associations, and, more importantly, it also satisfied my psychic idea of home. Meaning: Home, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

I always knew that somewhere in the world, no matter what I did, or how badly I messed up, there was a bed for me, and, better still, it was my bed in my room. Sure, it was a twin bed, and I haven’t willingly slept in one of those since junior year in college, but it was mine. The room, of course, was also a shrine to me. My fruitless attempts at art hung on the wall, my games sat in the closet, my old issues of Dynamite! Magazine rested in a rack, also in the closet. Wedged between the old issues of Dynamite! were also my adolescent collections of “adult magazines” that most teenage boys have. Eventually the collection of adult magazines became so thick that the magazine pile kind of looked a Dynamite!-porn-Dynamite! sandwich, and a Dagwood sandwich at that. But my Mom, bless her, never called me out on it, saving us both lots of pointless embarrassment. (The top of the sandwich, by the way, was always a Dynamite! magazine that featured Scott Baio, in his full Chachi regalia. Yeah, that’s kind of weird.)

There was other good stuff in the magazine pile too, though. Lots of old Mad magazines, from when it was not only for kids, but also for adults with juvenile imaginations. You know, the good old days. These were inherited from my older brother. One really sophisticated cover was a parody of the movie poster for “The Sting” and instead of Paul Newman and Robert Redford burning the money one of the guys was Richard Nixon, and he was burning a tape. I’m sorry, would a kid’s magazine feature anything so smart today? I kind of doubt it. Wait a second, do kids even read magazines today? I also kind of doubt it.

All of this is kind of a pre-amble to say that I had a lot of dross to sort through before the house was sold. I am a pack rat by nature, so I went to it with a heavy heart, but also a sense of adventure.

The house was a split-level, so a lot of goodies were stored in our downstairs backroom, the least-used room in the entire house. It had once been a guest room, but in recent decades had become a moldering place to store comic books, old clothes, and my father’s photography equipment.

Mind you, my father was gone for almost 25 years at this point, but there was still a collection of old lenses, proofs and cameras in the back closet. No one knew what to do with any of this stuff. I gave my Dad the old proofs, which seemed to mostly date back to the 1950s, from before he knew my mom. They were mostly shots from upstate New York, of he and his friends in the summer, all looking young, healthy and happy. I couldn’t, in good conscience, throw them away. So I took the box and handed it over to him. He seemed glad to have the proofs, but I don’t think he’s actually looked at them yet.

As for the old 110 mm cameras, and lenses for 35 mm cameras and the rest, I hadn't a clue. Throwing it out, again, seemed wrong. I made a list of items, and saw what this stuff fetched on Ebay. To my disappointment, despite its ancient nature, the answer was, almost nothing. I was amazed. There were all these neat items, lenses and the like, that I thought, for sure, would yield a bounty, but past Ebay auctions told a different story. So I left them there. My Mom hired a scavenger service to come and take the items, which they did in due time.

My biggest regret is that I found a decades old roll of half finished 110 mm film while rooting around. I thought two things: this film surely is ruined by now, and where would I find anyone to develop 110 film? So I left it, too. Only later did I realize that it had to be worth a shot. The 110 cameras were for us kids, and those photos were either taken by me or my sister way back when. If they yielded even a few vintage family photos it would’ve been worth it. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.

This left my comic books. I had 300 of them, and they were neatly stacked on the floor of the back room, waiting, as they had been since 1986 when I pretty much stopped collecting them. Sure, over there years I picked up the occasional book here and there, but the great romance I’d had was over.

Still, between 1983 and 1986 nothing inflamed me like the world of Marvel comic books. They were basically beefcake soap operas that catered by adolescents, but I didn’t know that then. My favorite books were pretty dorky in retrospect, Alpha Flight and Thor. I liked Thor because I was also a big fan of Norse mythology. And I just wrote perhaps the dorkiest sentence in human history. I enjoyed Alpha Flight because they were written and drawn by the great John Byrne, and presented a smart alternative to the X-Men. I never could really embrace the X-Men, for some reason. They had a great name, but they always seemed, to me, to feature boring, static, characters and situations. I also loved Spider-Man (he eventually supplanted Thor as my favorite) and the Fantastic Four, another Byrne book.

Mostly I was drawn not so much by the heroes themselves, as by the artists and writers who created them. Spider-Man, for most of my fandom, was afflicted with the artistry of John Romita Jr., workman-like at best. I kept reading because it was the infamous “black costume” era, and the story was fascinating, but the art was stilted.

Thor, on the other hand, benefited greatly from the writing and art of Walt Simonson. Simonson’s art was somewhat crude, but this was intentional, in order to make it resemble more closely old runes, and primitive art. He also was something of a plotting genius, relying heavily on the characters and plots of actual Norse mythology, which delighted dorks like me.
Simonson even presaged a major conflict (that eventually engulfed the entire Marvel universe) with the god of fire, Surter, a year in advance. A conflict that echoed what actually happened in the Norse myths. Simonson would hint, a page at a time, of this shadowy figure building a mighty sword, while legions of underlings watched. Every time this shadowy figure hit the sword on his fiery anvil one word rang out, chanted by all: “Doom!”

I mean, give me a break, that still gives me the chills.

The Fantastic Four was another passion. Like many of Marvel’s tent-pole franchises the FF had gone into a period of decline by the late 70s, early 80s, with forgettable art, and story lines. Byrne brought the tradition back, made you realize that, as its title long proclaimed, this was once again “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”

True, the FF was never Marvel’s most popular title. But they were still the greatest; they were the franchise from which all others came. Make sense? ‘Nuff said.

Clearly I had a place in my heart for these books even if, perhaps, not in my apartment. In either case I had to move them, because the house was sold and things had to go.

I boxed up the books, and brought them back to the apartment, along with a few other odds and ends: an American flag button-down shirt (for that SDS look), a book report I wrote in third grade called “The Galaxy” that had a smart black crepe-paper cover with neat, stenciled lettering (one of my few instances of inspired graphic design), Hungry Monster and a vinyl record, despite the fact that we don’t own a record player.

The plan was to sell the comics, made a few bucks and move on. That was in August 2006. It was now March 2008, and I hadn’t even sold one book. Instead the boxes of comics sat in the hallway, taking up way more space than you might think, and generally making me look, no matter how much I did or grew as a person, like a charter member of the Peter Pan club.

The matter was brought to head one day, as Randi looked through the things out front, and bumped her leg on a box of comics.

“We’re trying to make some room for the baby out here,” she said, frustrated.

“Yeah, I know. I’m the one getting rid of everything!”

“Oh really?” she asked. Then she rooted around in a bin, and found what she was looking for.

“Then why do we still have this?”

She held up Hungry Monster. I had promised to get rid of it two month ago, but I, uh, kind of forgot.

“Look, it’s vintage!” I said. “There’s this store in the ‘Village that sells old games like these for lots of money. Why should I just throw it away?”

We agreed to disagree on the Hungry Monster issue.

I felt justified, though. It was mine. And if some nostalgia-driven Gen X’er wanted to pay me $80 for it, why throw it away? And maybe, just maybe, it was still fun. Sure, it didn’t feature the sophisticated, if alienating, graphics of today’s games, but a good game is a good game. Maybe they got it right back then, even if the technology was simple. They had to use their imaginations!

To prove this I got it some new batteries, and fired it up. Damn thing lit up like a pinball machine! Let’s see if your X-Box does that in 2031! Then it played its loud, grating introductory music. As it did so I tried to smother it so as to not have another yet argument with my wife.

Then I started to play. Cleared one board! Right on! As a reward it played its intermission.

Then I started board two, and experienced still more of the same, only faster. Only instead of exciting me, I realized it was having the opposite effect. After a couple more minutes of this I then turned the Hungry Monster off, already bored off my ass.

Now with no reason to keep it other than the financial incentive I looked it up on Ebay, to see what I could get. With the original packaging, in mint condition, it was worth, maybe, $50. Without the box, like mine, maybe, $8.00.

Okay, I get it. I put it on the curb; New York, the great recycler sucked it up and it was gone. I hope whoever got it, though, kept on the tape that said DAVID SERCHUK, as my mother would have wished. I imagine some young kid picked it up, gave it a spin, and then quickly went back to playing Super Mario-Palooza, or whatever it is they do these days.

Still, this episode with the video game shed some light on my situation. I clearly didn’t need the game, and didn’t even enjoy it when I did play it. For that matter I hadn’t read any of my comic books in years, and didn’t really get that much out of it when I did. Why schlep heavy boxes of items I no longer loved, from place to place? Who am I doing this for … the me that used to be? That guy was gone, by 15 he’d moved onto music and, uh, “partying,” and comic books no longer measured up. Of course a lot of guys moved onto music, partying and comic books, but I was never that complex.

Now I had to take care of my comic books. I had made up my mind, and it was time. I put them on Craigslist.

1 comment:

Brookly Baby Uncle said...


You should have mentioned your brother Stu much more in the story as he was the first comic book dork in the family and also very pivotal to the story itself. You should have also bought Hulk #2, as your brother advised you to at the time. Always go with the wisdom of the older brother.

It's interesting that you remembered that the comic con was in the Roosevelt Hotek, though Isaac Asimov was not dressed in a COWBOY OUTFIT but a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches.