When you were young, you imagined your future self. Bold, handsome, golden-eyed. Emulating the heroes in your comic books, you became someone special. Perhaps you found the cure for cancer or discovered a brand-new element. Maybe you flew into space and counted yourself among the lucky few to set foot on a planet other than your own. You walked into the wind, breaking fresh ground, in touch with the breathing of the world.
Your parents talked about the tall power in your words. Maybe you become a writer of importance. A bearer of a new language, electric in its clarity. You inspire a world of readers, their hearts churning at the unguessed wonders of your next pages.
Maybe an actor of great substance? Words flowing easily from your lips into the hungry ears of a rapt audience? Their applause thunderous as the curtain falls. You can see the glitter in their eyes from the stage. “Brilliant!” they say. “Wondrous.”
Long avenues lay ahead of you. The destination hidden, the treasure inevitable. No fear. No hesitation. Life is waiting. Ready? Set? Run!
Ten years ago, if you’d told me I was destined to become a salesman, I’d have laughed myself silly. I still laugh on occasion, but for other reasons entirely. It’s all about what you’re selling, isn’t it? Actors sell you stories. Writers sell you stories. I suppose I do the same.
I’ve been asked what I love most about my chosen profession. It’s simply this. There’s nothing bad about what I do. Comics are good. Reading is good. Imagination is beyond the definition of good. I don’t have to lie about the stories I sell. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I don’t have to steal to make a buck. I buy it. I put it out on the shelves. You see it. You buy it. You take it home. And best of all, you come back in and we get to talk about it!
I enjoy coming to work. I enjoy the folks I work with. I enjoy the people who walk my floor. It’s a simple life, rich with surprises.
You’re still young, but now you begin to feel the hum of your youth meeting the foothills of manhood. You recklessly pour your future into a glass and drink deep, tilting your future into it. It’s what the world asks of you. How can you deny it?
Like everyone, I’ve worn many different hats. I’ve had scores of jobs, most of which weren’t of the comic-book store variety. And I held one profession more closely than retailing for quite a long time before letting go of it altogether. Not an easy task, but one I never regret. I don’t for a second question the choices I made that got me here. Writing this at my keyboard late at night, soon to sleep and wake and go to my store and open its doors again. Gifts not to be taken for granted.
I’ve seen many versions of myself over the years. Until recently, those versions had bushels of hair, perfect eyesight and not a hint of a waist. Needless to say, it’s a confusing time for me. Hairless or no, I’ve always struggled to see myself as something more than who I used to be. It seems only yesterday that I fell out of that tree and cracked my knee almost in half. Just last week that Allison Wilcox let me put my hand under her sweater. Did that lovely young lady across the dinner table just call me “dad”? What the hell is a “mortgage” anyway?!
You enter years of anger. Of frustration and unease. You should be happy, but your success breeds only resentment. You want more, but more of what? You look to others for a sense of validation that your path is sound and find yourself forever within a mile of their accomplishments while losing sight of your own. These are the summers of ego. Sometimes vibrant, sometimes bruised and always driven by hard bargains.
Another season beckons. Your youth remains intact, but your legs feel a slight ache in them. Soon you’ll realize this isn’t a sprint, but a marathon.
If you asked me how a person knows they love something, I’d probably tell you this. The things you love the most are the things you think the most about. Contrary to what I’ve written in these columns, comic books and my store land nowhere near the top of that list for me. Because when I watch my daughter and the woman I love quietly reading, the warm California sand beneath their feet as the waves come in, both of them giggling, both beautiful beyond description, I don’t for a second think about funny books.
When I was a boy, I escaped into the world of comic books because I was unhappy with the world around me. I escaped into a world I could understand. A world that was my own, where there were rules I understood. It was a kind of disappearing act. These days, I can read a comic, talk on the phone and help solve the math equation all at the same time. The real and the imagined, blended into one ball of controlled chaos.
You scratch your head in amusement. It’s an improbable journey that’s led you here, from the second hand of the clock to the first. The twists and turns were vast. The choices innumerable. Your life, your beliefs, rearranged. The past not held onto, just a wake left behind.
You’ve begun to enjoy the soft stars and the easy wind. This is the time of instinct. The time when experience takes hold and informs your vision of the world around you. Youthful exuberance has, by no means, been left behind. There are beautiful mistakes still to be made and rough lessons still to be learned. But maturity has taken root in your heart. And your spirit is the better for it. One day, time will swallow you whole. But you’re blind to that far distant future. And that kind of dark is the best kind there is.
I did the closing the other night at my store. My neighborhood gets quiet, but always buzzes with some kind of life. I like to turn the lights off, stand in the window and watch the cars crawl by. Across the street, a Whole Foods is being built. A new Pizza place has opened. Another five story apartment building is going up. I see my reflection in the glass. Like my surroundings, I’m forever building, growing, changing. I feel the strong roots beneath my feet and feel the comfort and wonder in their consistency.
Next week is our time to give thanks. For what was, what is and what will be. So here’s my nickels worth for this year.
May we all find ourselves shaking hands with our full, rich lives and may we all be comforted by one day saying, “This is enough. I need nothing else.”