THE OLD MAN AND THE PREVIEWS
There was a time... a time, well, yonder. Thataway. Back there.
A time when the calendar fell between November and December. A time nottoo cold, back there, back east where we lived, and we lived like men.Men wearing flannel shirts rolled up past the elbows and untiedTimberlands, sure, cold men, hungry men, but honest still and mennonetheless.
And back then it was easy to get liquor because a good bottle of KountryKwencher only cost a dollar ninety-eight and we could often find twobucks in change in the cushions of the leopard skin-patterned couch thatwas bequeathed us and it was a short walk to the package store, a shortwalk when drunk even or hungover from the night before because we weremen and the drinking age was but eighteen.
And Kountry Kwencher is a dollar ninety-eight even now, many yearslater, which I often note ruefully but not without a small amount ofnostalgia for that rose-colored liquid that tastes so soothingly, Iremember well, so soothingly of apples and faintly of jasmine andstronger still of unleaded gasoline, often I note as I trundle along theaisle vainly searching for Ranch-flavored Wheat Thins and unchippedbottles of good Islay Dew.
But back then we would wait until a brisk autumn day would turn tobitter night and a threatened rainstorm would turn to snow and we woulddrink to warm ourselves and go out into the storm and look for trouble,not to get in but to help out, trouble of the automotive kind. The kindwhere a car's tires happy, once, to grip the road and the asphalt, andthe stones with the white-knuckled grip of gravity once let slip and toslide into tree or street sign or embankment, content to slide offshoulder's gentle curve and wait, wait, perhaps one tire spinning idly,beckoningly, morosely in the air, wait for us, us unshaven, unkempt,largely untutored louts who stopped going to class once it started tosnow and the one hundred and ninety-eight pennies were found and roamedthe streets carrying our lengths of rope and flashlights and bottles ofBoone's Farm looking to right a Detroit wrong.
And thus we did once, back then, back when Reagan, addled, stoopedReagan ran on and on amidst even those Contra-indications warning usall, heralding in fact for those who could pay attention but not us, notus, watching as we did the L.A. Law and the MTV but not the CNNthat we came upon a carload of girls, what luck! a carload ofgirls with hazards on and blinking, winking into the night waitingto be rescued but perhaps by none such as we but hardy men we were andearnest and rough-hewn yes but charming in the way a squad of men arewhen it's cold outside and your car's in a ditch and they have by now ahalf-empty bottle of Kountry Kwencher. Make friends we did, lifting thecar and scooping dirt for traction and the rocking, rocking back andforth to free the car and right the good steel on its way, it's preciouscargo on its way, smelling as it did of baby powder and New Englandsleet.
And that's how my friend Sully knocked up Joanne.
But that, the old man said, as he collected his purchases, is a talebest told another day; and so he left as brusquely as he had arrived,the only difference being of course the slight spring in his step thatthe monthly arrival of Previews provided him, as well as thelight blue bag full of comics, lightest sky blue, the color of promiseskept within, of publication schedules adhered to and of the lure ofcomics to come.
Yes, the old man thought, as he hung up his coat, the coat his wife hadbought him for one of his many birthdays past; the coat that alwaysfaintly smelled of gardenias from the vase in the hall, rugged, a coatthat had a well-lived life, a coat that he'd spent more time in than intheir quaint house by the sea.
Yes, he thought again, as he pulled out the copy of Previews fromthe sack, there are those who hold this catalog, noble catalog with itslistings and its essays and, yes, even its garish ads, those who holdthis catalog in contempt, or worse, disdain. For doing its job rathertoo well, bravely, stoutly arranging the month's offerings in row uponheadstrong row, alphabetically by publisher.
And this month, this week, this day, the very hour, he held his catalogin his hands as he sat down with his pepperoni and his cheese and hisbottle of Red Stripe, amber Red Stripe to gaze upon the contents of thecatalog within. He shook his head, sadly, not with the contempt ordisdain that others have, but rather wearily, ruefully, really, thatthis sort of thing was necessary; in a perfect world, a world that is sovery close to perfect, with his wife and his spacesuits and his house bythe sea, the world would shine just ever so much more brightly if hecould go into a comic store and just browse the racks and have there bea deep stock of all the books he wanted to buy.
But this is not to be and the Previews is necessary and so hefaithfully preorders each month. It's not so bad he thinks as he turnsthe pages past the digitally-created cheesecake shots and the statuesand the Gene Roddenberry action figures and the lunchboxes and themaquettes and the boobs and the guns and the mutants until he gets tothe good stuff. After all, that's the stuff that will be on theracks, although it is a rare thing for him to want to get that stuff ashe is a reader of books, not a collector of the statues and the GeneRoddenberry action figures and the lunchboxes and the maquettes and theboobs and the guns and the mutants. He is all about the comics and thereal comics are past all that other stuff.
This month is as the past few and he finds he is only getting the tradepaperbacks and the original graphic novels. As he gets older, he findsthe comic books are eminently more satisfying with a discrete beginningand a middle and an end and as such he will be getting Mike Allred'sfourth volume of The Atomics, (DEC012083) as well as thecollected Colonia (DEC012101). He takes a black Sharpie, hisfaithful Sharpie, the one that smells of licorice and dirt, and makesthick black marks across the alternate gold foil number zeroes and theroyal blue covers and the nude cheerleader covers and the bleached artcovers as he goes along, for they offend his cranky albeit delicatesense of aesthetics.
He gets a Through the Habitrails (DEC012261) for hisbrother-in-law, who will enjoy the surreality of the corporate drone inan ever-changing landscape of cubicles and man-sized hamster cages. Thismay be the tenth or fifteenth copy he's bought, but this one speaks tomany of his friends, his friends, dear friends, who, unlike him, whohave to leave their homes by the sea and commute across the water tojobs within the city.
He laughs, briefly, to see an advertisement for Super Dooper GroovySpace Chicks #0 (DEC012400). laughs his hot fudge sundae laughbecause he has to admire the cheek of the title and of the art and ofthe ad copy which loudly proclaims that the book will ship in fullcolor, monthly, and yet the ad is in black-and-white as is the zeroissue itself. He may buy it anyway, just to put cash in the hands offolks who are so silly. "Don't Miss This One Baby" the copy reads,without punctuation, hallowed, over-used and strict punctuation,missing.
He never liked punctuation that much, anyway.
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While you can get your news about the funny books all over the Internet, I usually make it a point to let slip at least one bit of information at the Loose Cannon Message Board that I post nowhere else. This week, hop over and tell me what the old man missed. Personally, I think he's crackers for not mentioning the Memories of Outer Space hardcover from Humanoids (DEC012435), or the Alison Dare trade paperback (DEC012521), but what're ya gonna do? The guy talks about himself in second and third person rather too often for my taste.