Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Grumpy Old Man

            I am not 50 years old. I won’t be until May of 2015. To be honest, my age isn’t really a concern for me. When I look in the mirror, I don’t spend much time trying to find the man that I was. Thanks to good genetics, I look pretty much the same as I did before. Sure, there are slight wrinkles, some early signs of deterioration, but they almost always hide beneath my elastic-like skin. To look at me, you would not think I am almost half a century old. I like to think that it is my personal energy, my underlying aura that acts with my biology to mask my state of maturity. I still look young and I still feel young and not just at heart. I have survived thus far and so, apparently, has my epidermis.

            Growing older torments so very many people. Billion dollar industries are based entirely on anti-aging products. Looking younger has become the new way to feel younger. It is understandable for a person to get old, just not to look old. I have a friend in San Francisco who spent more money last year on plastic surgery than I have on an entire lifetime of cosmetic rejuvenation and quick fixes. It is not a sin to say I look far better than he does, even after all that work. Being a lawyer has its financial benefits for him, I suppose, but it seems just silly to waste that much money on something so inevitable. He spends so much time running away from getting older that he has missed the experience of what it is to age. I do not believe that he will go gracefully.
            I embrace growing old. I am a lucky man to be here, let alone to be so intact during the process. My life is a gift. It is just a bonus that the package has held up so well. It makes me happy to know I still look good. It pleases me that I do not look my age. I will admit that it feels rather nice to have someone compliment me on my appearance. It is not vanity to agree wholeheartedly with their observation. Someone stoking the ego never lasts very long anyway. My overall look and a youthful presence hide nothing but a number. I even have moments when some have found me wanting for a youthful glow. The car dealer who asked if I was my partner’s father was testament to the law of perspective. The teenager who guessed my age at 54 cemented this reality. Having nieces and nephews in their 30s makes it all the more inescapable. When adolescents call me “Sir,” I tend to cringe. The eye of the beholder can be a cruel fiend.
            I am prepared for the date that I become quinquagenarian. It is really not that far away. It is out there, drifting, lingering, waiting to make its claim. My time is more than half over. One day soon I will be 50. I find it hard to believe I even made it this far. It is almost freeing to not even care. I hardly ever think about what it means to be my age. I guess when you try to commit suicide like I did, and you awake to a brand new day, like I did, the rest of your time on earth becomes much like icing on a cake. Even after almost 20 years, I still recognize how much of a blessing life can be and that my time here must be treasured. Every day I am thankful to have one more day. Not a moment passes by that I wouldn’t like to kick and stretch and kick. I’m almost 50, 50 years old.

            The ravages of time seem to damage so many and spare so few. It is no wonder we fight so hard to stay young. We want to look good, we want to feel good, but most of all, we want to stay good. We will spare no expense, and endure endless torture, all for the luxury of pretending we are younger than we really are. Time marches on and we refuse to accept it. Its passage is but a reminder that death approaches. We try to deny this is so. We tell ourselves that this process of concealment is better, so much easier than it would be surrendering to the truth. We deflect our fear with potions and procedures and somehow we convince ourselves that looking the part makes it real. We are often not ready to admit that the end is closer than the start.
            I have no intention of living my life in this manner. I refuse to spend the time I have left trying to trick people into thinking I’m so much younger than I really am. It just seems so pathetic. I don’t see the point. You can try to fight it, but you’ve already lost and you can never win. This is easy for me to say at this point, considering, but I don’t understand all the bother. I have always looked forward to getting old. I think I have earned the right to hope so. I will let nature take its course. I am not going to fight it. Time is fleeting. My days are numbered. It is coming for me. No shit.
            Personally, I would love the chance to be a grumpy old man. I can see myself sitting on a park bench having a smoke. I am not as young as I used to be. Life has sketched out its traces on my face and hands. I appear as quite the curmudgeon. I have reason to be. I have outlived anyone of importance to me. For the first time in my life, I am completely alone. It doesn’t matter. Soon it will come for me and take me to them. I will see them all again. I can barely recognize myself within him. He is a stranger, but I know him well. He has been beaten, he has been broken, but unlike the rest, he made it this far. It appears he ran the good race.
            I quietly approach, uncertain and unsure. I have so many questions to ask myself, if only in my own mind. I want so much to understand. I wonder if it was worth it, would it have been better to go like the rest? Are these dog days good days or are they bad days? Are they happy days or sad days? I touch him on the shoulder and he sees me just fine. He grumbles like an old man would. We sit and we talk and he lets me in on his dirty little secrets. There are tricks of the trade one uses when surviving god.
            I now can see myself within him. I was there all along.  My eyes, my features, my soul, they are intact, unspoiled by the constant pull of degeneration. As the end of our encounter approaches, when the time has come, I am granted one question above all others. He knows that I know what he will do. I don’t have to think about it, it has always been there, all along. “In all your life,” I asked myself, “what lessons have stayed with you the most?” He looked at me, then at himself, and he smiled every so slightly. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a black and silver cigarette case. It was the very one I myself had in my pocket. He opened the seam, plucked one from its resting place and lit it with a matchstick rather than a lighter. He paused in his thinking so I asked him again. “What lessons did you learn from life?” He growled ever so slightly and took a big haul off his cancer stick. Predictably, he replied, “This and that.”    

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.”
 (Mark Twain, American author)





Sally O’Malley (Saturday Night Live)




Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Empty Handed


            I bought my first comic book in the summer of 1970. I had just turned 5 years old. I had yet to be exposed to superheroes like the Green Hornet and Batman, at least I had not retained any sense of these early icons for idolatry. Television and books had yet to influence me in this regard. I saw it sitting rather pretty. I thought it had been placed there just for me, lazing among its friends at the tuck shop next to the Dominion grocery store where my family bought supplies each week. It was not the medium that first grabbed my attention. At home, Archie and Disney Comics had introduced me to the art form, but I had not been indoctrinated by the superhero genre.
            The half dollar in change that I had left from my birthday money was more than enough to welcome it into the fold. Back in that day, the 15 pennies I paid was a lot of money, especially in the clutches of a kindergartener. I remember approaching the glossy volume like it was glory. A giant green monster and a man with wings battled over something, I was sure. On the rest of the front cover, other characters seemed to have their own unique powers. A man made of ice and some guy shooting beams from his eyes provoked an instant delight. Other kids stood around reading their choices so I quickly grabbed mine before it was taken. My Father nodded in approval and pointed me to the front counter. I did not look inside; I would savour the anticipation until I got back home. As if it was scripture, I carried it on both hands and carefully slid it up onto the counter. To this day, that’s the best 15 cents I ever spent.    
            The fresh and crisp pages of X-men, issue #66, did not disappoint me. The very next day, I ventured with my Mom to a closer merchant that I knew had many more of this new treasure to covet. I broke open my piggy bank. I checked in the couch. I gathered as many pennies and nickels and dimes as I possibly could. I even managed to obtain a few quarters from the floor of my Dad’s automobile. Each gain in hard, cold cash manifested greater accumulation and brought me greater pleasure. Rather quickly, the box I stashed in the bedroom closet filled to overflow. When the price went up, I asked for more allowance. I started hunting for back issues. When they proved too costly, at the time, I expanded the titles that I purchased and started to collect the adventures of new characters. While a few stray DC Comics found their way into my collection, I was a Marvel fan through and through. Right from the beginning. I still am.  
            Time only added fuel to the fire. I cut grass to buy more. I returned pop bottles in exchange for mutant gratification. I even had a newspaper route one summer. It wasn’t my forte; I lived for comic books and superheroes. I even tried to be one once, but that’s a story for another time. With more structured employment came the back issues. My primary focus was the X-men, but I occasionally dabbled in Spider-man, Marvel Team-Up and even the Avengers. I got much pleasure from complete sets. The story mattered more than the value. I didn’t care much about condition, as long as I could read it. I even had a very poor copy of X-men issue #2 (it was all I could afford).
            Boxes became comic book crates with each treasure sealed in a glossy cover and acid free backing. During my attempt at becoming an Early Childcare Worker (what was I thinking?), I used to buy comics off the kids who brought them in to read throughout the day. I’ll admit I did not always pay fair market value. I established a healthy relationship with a  local comic vendor and my collection grew and grew.  When my late partner was alive, we collected our loves together. I focused on X-men titles and he focused on his baseball cards. We would make trips together just to discover additions we needed. Finding something you want, when you don’t expect to, can be somewhat divine. We thrived on the joy in collecting, so no matter what, we always walked away from each vendor, each secret place, quite pleased. There was a thrill in the hunt for both of us. A thrill that died when he did. 


             I had not purchased a single comic since I left the hospital after Doug passed away. Hundreds of treasured books sat in their cardboard containers untouched. Although of great value, they were useless to me at this point. I couldn’t bear to even touch them, let alone read them again. The pain was too fresh and any memory held an immediate association with despair. I even started giving my comic books and some of Doug’s baseball cards away. What was would be all that ever would be. As the grief lessened, I started to come to life once again, but the craving to collect had fallen silent within me. I had no desire to put that much time and money into something which only brought the realization that everything is for naught. I had decided that nothing could bring me joy so I had no need of this long ago pleasure. I would never find happiness again, I just knew it. My world became dark and cold and the process of continuing on without Doug stole any want for anything at all. Willing to settle for nothing, that’s exactly what I got.   
            It’s true that fools rush in. Like some masochistic punishment, I tossed myself into what turned out to be even more destruction. I think unconsciously I was trying to save my new suitor, but after only four months of living together, I just couldn’t take him anymore. In an attempt to be adults, we decided to remain friends. We put great effort into fixing what was wrong between us. I made a conscious decision to trust him, leaving most of my belongings, including my comics, scattered about his home and at his mercy. More often than not, fools rush out. When I fled all that chaos, almost empty handed, I never looked back and just kept on running.
            I left all those boxes, all those years of collecting, in the corner of his basement, well knowing I would never see them again. Yes, I wish circumstance had been more favourable and I had been able to retrieve all the things I left behind, but at that time, just being free was worth any cost. The horror of losing my partner just a few years before ingrained in me how little time we have in life for possessions and artefacts. At what price contentment, happiness and sanity?
            I cringe when I think of all the things I failed to take with me, but most of all I desire to read all my comic books again. Just to see them sitting in their bindings and boxes had once given me great pleasure. So many treasures, both in value and in want, but I do not know what happened to them. Each one is completely lost to me. With the expansion of X-men comic books during the 1980s, a trend that spread to most other successful titles, it would be almost impossible to collect every issue like I had in the past. Over the next 15 years, while I managed to secure a few of the books I had given away, the reality was I stopped collecting altogether. A few here and a few there, purchased on impulse, did nothing to restore the love I once had for collecting comic books. The chase, the capture was no longer a pleasure.
            In the fall of 2012, I was browsing through the bookstore located just a few short blocks from the building where I live. Over the years, I have stopped in and would occasionally check out the box of comic back issues sold on commission. I had not once been tempted to examine, let alone purchase, even one of them. With Christmas just around the corner, I thought I might buy an issue or two as gifts for my brother’s children. I carefully selected a Batman edition and a X-men edition, each bold, bright and appealing, to my mind. As I skimmed through the box, looking for anything more outstanding, I came across an issue of The Micronauts, one of a complete comic set I had collected back in the early 80s. For the hell of it, I decided to take it home and read it.   


            I was sitting on the floor with my new comic books just the other day. For just a moment, I was 5 once again. It did not take much to restore my commitment. I started to dabble in my delight almost immediately after I bought that one issue. With no reasonable way to re-collect and update every title I used to amass, I have started collecting finite titles, such as the Guardians of the Galaxy, which were cancelled or distributed as a limited series. I do not plan on sinking a large investment into these books. Such things do not require great expense to be cherished. I am enjoying them simply for what they are. They are for my pleasure, not just some treasure.
            I am once again a hunter. Although the comics I now collect are rather obscure and more difficult to find in good condition, this only manages to drive me even more. There was always something to the discovery, about the hunt for something that you love, that meant more than any value. I always read my comics, a collector’s no-no. The tactile experience, that escape into a different reality, was always far too appealing for me to deny. It still is. There is still such joy I find in collecting them. A thrill in the hunt. My love is not one meant to merely gather treasure, but rather is for the simple pleasure the experience brings. I find myself holding these lesser known titles with as much favour as any of the pricy and more mainstream books I used to appreciate and accumulate. I want to enjoy them, not profit from them. It’s all about the delight, not the equity.
            The objects that we appraise throughout our lives don’t always pay off like we thought they would. Some are stolen, some are disregarded and some just fade away, lost to tomorrow and gone forever. In the mind, they may still hold much worth, but they are quite often buried. In most cases, long forgotten. Things change. Our priorities change and we change. It is not often that we find a lost love. Something once precious, that held great value, may lose its worth, but it does not need to lose its meaning. I forgot that when I collected in the past. Whether the expensive comics or the lesser grades, the truth is they all go into the same box.






X-men Issue #66, Micronauts Issue #1
Marvel Comics
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