"Postcards" Part 5: Tom Beland's "Time"

Jason Rodriguez here, editor of Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, a graphic anthology coming June 26 th from Villard Books featuring 16 stories of passion, wanting, loss, and tranquility inspired by used postcards.

And you thought yesterday was a treat. Today, our last day on CBR, we're going to start off by sharing with you Tom Beland's "Time." A little background, first - I had Tom on my list from day one. Never met him, never talked to him, but I loved True Story, Swear to God and I knew I wanted Tom in Postcards. I got a couple of guys signed on first - Phil Hester, Josh Fialkov, Stuart Moore - a good group of people - and then I just wrote Tom. Used the email address right off of his website. He called me up later that day to say he was interested.

He used a Valentine postcard that was sent on February 13th, 1914, from a secret admirer to a Myrtle Bullis of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It reads:

"Dearest Myrtle

Now don't get brain fever trying to guess who this is from. Just think of applecake & lemon slice & you've got it."

He turned out a great story. The kind of story that moves you, while summing up the purpose of this anthology. A postcard represents a moment in someone's life. And, in some cases, it could even represent the most important moment. I think Tom's story captures that feeling well. So, without further ado, for your reading pleasure: "Time."

This postcard inspired Tom Beland's story, "Time"

Jason: You took a very interesting approach to your postcard. As a secret admirer card, it potentially symbolizes the beginning of something big. You assumed that something big did, indeed, happen and you fast-forwarded sixty, seventy years to the end of it. Takes us through your thought process - what inspired that decision?

Tom: I looked at the postcard and knew right away it was going to be about someone's relationship. The trick is, who is in the relationship and what angle does it take?

I think the less you put into the thought-process the better. In my case, I just let it go for a day or two and then I was in a restaurant in San Juan and saw this old couple having dessert. He ordered the chocolate dish and, when it arrived, he moved his dish towards her a bit, even though she ordered a dessert too. It was the way he knew this woman... that she was going to sample his dessert, like she always has.

Lily and I are the same way. No matter what we order, we sample each other's plate, just out of habit.

But then I looked at the place we were eating. This restaurant is a place we visit at least three times a month. It's the type of place where we never get menus. They see us come in and they know what our appetizers will be, what we drink and what we usually order. The owners usually sit with us and sometimes I'll walk into the kitchen to watch the chefs do their thing. It quit being a building or a place to us -- the restaurant has become a personality, or a friend in our lives. If I live to be as old as this man, I'd keep going there to eat, because of the attachment we have to the place. And God forbid, if one of us weren't around anymore, it would mean just that much more.

At the time I was writing this story, Lily and I had just gone through our divorce. We still talked every day, but it was difficult to hear about her going to that place and seeing the owners and wait staff without me. It was as physical as it was emotional.

So, I decided the restaurant would be the star, in a way. He enjoys the waitress knowing his name because it was a part of the charm of going there with his wife no matter what the place had evolved into. When you're with someone, you end up sharing those types of joys. When one person is gone, you cling to whatever memories bring that joy out in you. In this case, this is what he's done for years.

After all his friends have passed on, and after his wife has passed on, this restaurant is the one friend left in his life. That feeling he had with his wife is still alive when he's welcomed by name by the waitress. It's not a fancy place, it's comfortable. That's a huge difference. This place has been the sole source of support and love since his wife has left.

But now the man, well, he's just tired. Tired of days passing with no one to share them with. It's like watching your favorite movie alone, rather than that one person who shared your love of that film. There are no more moments you can turn to that person and say Here's my favorite part!! It's just -- you. It's how I felt without my wife. All the things that made me a person were left on an island. It was such a solitary time in my life, even though I had a job, family and friends -- inside, I was just barren.

So, I knew it would be the restaurant.   I knew he'd be alone. The tricky thing was, he knows he's going to die and he's just ready for it. He's squeezed every drop he could out of life and it's time for him to go. Not by suicide, not by battling some lengthy disease, but by simply knowing it's his time. I didn't want you feeling sorry for this man, I want you to understand him.

The card is what he gave his wife after meeting her decades ago, when this restaurant was nothing more than a diner. He's in love right from the start and he left the card to begin a love affair. As time goes by, your relationship goes through many changes -- as the restaurant does. But regardless of what it evolves, it's loved. Just like they have.

Leaving this card behind, on the same table he's dined with his wife forever, it lets the world know that something profound happened here. It was ground zero of a romance. It's the highest tribute he can pay to the place. He spends his last day on earth celebrating his life, quietly, to himself.

Jason: There seems to be a lot of your personal story wrapped up in this. Your character talks quite a bit about the "strangers" in his diner and his town. The people who move in and after a couple of years call themselves locals. You lived the majority of your life in Napa and now you're sort of a stranger in a strange land over in Puerto Rico. When you were writing the main character's narration, did you sort of see yourself as one part "real" local and one part "new" local?

Tom: Ummmm, no, actually when I wrote this, I had moved back to Napa and it was a very weird feeling. I was looking forward to moving back to my hometown, back to family and friends and the town I knew so well. But, when I got there, it was surreal. I didn't feel that feeling you get when you belong somewhere. Nothing felt familiar. I'd go to the places I used to hang out and everyone I knew there had long since moved on.

My friends were always busy. One had a family, which was natural to be busy. Another though, was just going on in life and whenever I tried to get together with him, it would never be possible. It was weird all the way around. Joe was always busy with work and his kids and we'd get together as much as we could.

The worst thing for me was going to the local bookstores to see if they were carrying my books. I'd go into each one and say, Do you carry TSSTG? and they'd say, Never heard of it. When I'd tell them it takes place in Napa and that there were scenes of Napa all over the place and it was nominated for six Einsers, they'd say Wow! That's pretty cool! and then -- nothing. If it wasn't so Larry David funny, I'd be suicidal over it. They all have a graphic novel section and yet I couldn't get my book on those shelves. Unbelievable.

The local newspaper, the Napa Register -- ugh.   I was working across the aisle from the entertainment editor and when she heard about what I was doing in comics, she did nothing. No interview. Just a question as to why in the world I was working there. Worst job, worst editors for bosses, no matter how hard you try, it didn't matter. That job was hell and Lily kept me trying even though she also felt it was a horrible place to work.

The other problem was that Joe and my sister Susan both began divorcing their spouses... nearly the same time. I had divorced, but there was nothing bitter about it and Lily and I were talking every day.   So, I couldn't relate to the bitterness their divorces were mired in. I just never felt comfortable in that town anymore.

The only thing that felt familiar was San Juan. It was the greatest lesson I've ever learned. San Juan had all the characters that were unique and special to me. There were family members that I feel closer today with than I do now with those in Napa. I mean... everyone here in PR has children and jobs, but we always seem to be able to get together and talk or watch sports or dine with. Today, whenever I call someone in Napa it's Hey, gotta go, let's talk soon. People stateside have no clue about relaxing -- that's what I learned.

I've yet to have a positive memory of Napa. I'm shocked to be saying that, but it's true.

So, for me, I could relate to how this character felt. There were new people in his setting who had no clue about the history of the diner. This place was monumental to his life and the room was filled with strangers who couldn't give a shit one way or another.   Since losing the love of his life, this guy had been wandering through that life lost. When he realizes it's okay to leave and never return, that page was drawn the day Lily and I talked everything out and I was moving back. Napa, just like the man's diner, had run its course.

I've never looked back at Napa, since then. Not one day. It became a town that makes booze, filled by white people who bitch about Mexicans. That's all Napa is [laughs]. I'm not sure what all the hype is about, other than it has hillsides, but even those hillsides are being ripped apart to plant vineyards. I mean, Jesus, folks, calm down, already [laughs]. I learned what a jewel Puerto Rico is -- the people give me more love and appreciation for my work in comics than Napa ever did in 35 years. That's not talking bitter; it's just how it is.

And Lily, jeeze,   I can't even begin to explain what she means to me. The internet doesn't have the space for me to type it. I took it for granted and never again. Never again, man. If she dies before I do, as what happened to my character, I don't know if I could go on for as long as he did. I'd be lost.

I wanted the reader to be glad for him to be leaving this world, to be reconnected with someone who was so vital to his life. I think it should be celebrated, if that sounds weird.

Jason: No, that doesn't sound weird at all. I feel the same way about Brooklyn that you feel about Napa, and I can't even begin to tell you how whatever city I'm in feels like home as long as Robin's with me. Thanks for the time - this was great.

And that's all, folks. Thanks to all of the creators who contributed and thanks to Jonah Weiland for giving us this soapbox. If you liked what you saw, on CBR or on the website, please go to your retailer today and ask them to order you a copy of the book. If your retailer plans on stocking the book, let us know and we'll put them on The List. There are flyers on the promote page you can print out and bring to them. Alright, I'm taking off - I'll see you all around the internet. Feel free to send me a postcard if you'd like - I love getting them - and some of you will even get postcards back from creators in the book:

Jason Rodriguez

PO Box 17851

Arlington, VA 22216-7851

PS - The weather here is so nice. You'd love it.

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