Heroland Issue 2: The Dork Knight Returns
Posted on November 20, 2013
By: Michael Hempen
Brought to you by Cous’n Hemp’n Entertainment
Cous’n Hemp’n Entertainment: Ain’t nuddin’ wrong wit dat!
Issue 2: The Dork Knight Returns
Sex in the Age of Comic Books
After Lee and Nancy were complicit in ripping me off, I was homeless and sleeping in my car. With no family and no possessions, I could either wallow in self pity, or get a job. With nothing else to do with my time, I spent all of it filling out applications. I wanted, needed to do anything to keep my mind off of my loss. After a few weeks of searching I was hired at a convenience store; Always Open. It was a boring overnight shift in which I was eventually fired for stealing lottery tickets. Next was Clark Gas station where I was fired after a few months for stealing cigarettes. I just didn’t give a fuck anymore. In my mind the law had failed me; hell…it had shoved its fist up my ass. If Lee could get away with stealing something that meant so much to me, I figured that I could steal whatever the fuck I wanted. My mother refused to talk to me still and the deep feeling of rejection, isolation, and stupidity at being ripped off seeped into my conscience like rainwater on a sandy beach. The nice boy I had always tried to be was replaced by an unrecognizable homeless deviant as the values that comic books had taught were pushed aside. In my mind I was now at war with Lee, but what I didn’t realize was that instead of fighting him, I was slowly morphing into him.
Over the next year I took showers at friend’s houses and motels, but I still slept in my car while bouncing from job to job until I was hired at Red Lobster. This place was different, not just because I started getting laid for the first time by a 36 year old red headed waitress, but because I actually liked my fellow employees.
Now that I didn’t have comic books clouding my vision, getting laid took a priority in my life. I was 17 and full of sexual desire, so on Valentine’s day in 1991, when I saw a beautiful red headed waitress who worked with me, dressed in a little heart outfit? I knew I had to fuck her, or at least try. Besides, I was sick of furiously pumping off in the back seat of my car to “Omaha: The Cat Dancer” porn comics. Diane was wearing a sexy lingerie type outfit, the front of which was a giant pink heart that covered her beautiful breasteses. When she came into work that night, I asked “You going on a date with a senator tonight?” and after we closed I found myself getting my first blow job in the front seat of my car. THIS…this took the edge off. Diane had me coming out of my shell and the depression and loss I had been feeling turned into a constant desire for sex.
It was a perfect storm of knee trembling fuck-dom. Diane was at her sexual peek, I was at MY sexual peek, she wasn’t shy and I was a willing student. I got my first ‘road head’ from her, first ‘back seat of a Buick Regal’ sex, first ‘work’ sex, and first ‘neighbor called the cops’ sex. She taught me a lot.
I spent a lot of time with Diane in her trailer (Yes, of course she lived in a trailer) but although she invited me to move in with her, I couldn’t. Diane had a daughter and she adopted junk yard dogs that the pound was going to put down because they were too mean. There were a few times when I had to punch one of those dogs in the face as it attacked my leg or came after me with hatred in its eyes. Whenever we fucked in her trailer, she’d leave her bedroom door open and these red eyed, hellish, gnarling, drooling, beasts would froth and growl at me as I was fucking her. I’d ask her to close her door, but in the heat of passion she’d tell me to ignore them. Looking back on it, I think she got off on that somehow. To each her own I guess. My point being that to this day…I can fuck through any distraction.
At some point while I was with Diane, I felt good enough to start collecting again. I called Joe at the shop and told him I was interested in starting my collection over from the beginning. Joe was elated to hear from me and told me to come into Heroland right away, he had something to tell me, but he wanted to do it in person.
When I went in to see Joe, he introduced me to Heroland’s newest employee: Paul. Paul was an older guy in his forties and he was a friend of Joes. Paul shook my hand and told me that he was sorry for my loss. Joe told me that EVERYONE in the comic book world had heard how Lee ripped me off. Some of the other shop owners had even started a collection to help me restart my collection. Hero comics had been banned from attending conventions and Lee couldn’t get a table anywhere. Joe didn’t mind that at all because he hated driving that death truck and working conventions every fucking weekend. It seemed that Lee was losing money left and right and now, over a year after he ripped me off…he was looking to sell the comic shop. Joe couldn’t get a hold of me because nobody knew where I was staying, but it turned out that I had exacted my revenge on Lee without even knowing that I’d done it. AND I was getting laid. Everything was coming up roses.
I started the slow process of piecing my collection back together. Since Lee spent all of his time at the warehouse and rarely came into the store, I went into Heroland every week to buy new issues and a few back issues. The hard part about doing this was that as I went through Lee’s back issue bins, I would come across hundreds of comic books with the ‘MH’ in the top right corner that I’d written on them in military school. As collections change hands so much in the comic book world, you can STILL find comic books from the 80’s, to this day, with my initial on the top right corner.
Paul didn’t work at Heroland too often, but when he did I was happy to see him. He could be just as funny as Joe, but Paul was more outgoing and jovial. He could make sly backhanded comments at the expense of anyone and anything and I loved his speech pattern which I have great fun mimicking to this day. Paul sounded like Adam Carolla, but funnier. He would gladly give me advice about fucking a woman 20 years older than me, we’d talk about what an asshole Lee was, and we’d talk about life in general. Diane would sometimes come into Heroland with me and whenever she did Paul would pull me aside with that child like smile of his and whisper “is her favorite bird the SWALLOW?” or “Does she like PEARL NECKLACES?”. He was like a 40 year old teenager himself. There was no subject off limits to Paul, and I loved those frank and open conversations we’d have which always ended in near tears from laughter. I recognized Paul as a consummate bullshit artist, much like Lee, but Paul was likeable and had a great personality.
When Lee heard that I’d been shopping at his store again, he told Joe to offer me a job.
A Dork’s Welcome
Since I was still sleeping in my car, I took Lee up on his job offer. Truth be told, I couldn’t believe he made the offer in the first place. Joe told me why, that Lee almost HAD to do it to get himself back in the game, but I was still dumbstruck. I already had the job at Red Lobster, and I had the sexual self confidence of George Clooney at an Oscar party, so I made some demands of my own to Lee. He wouldn’t give me my collection back…that ship had sailed, but I wanted to be paid in cash AND comic books every week. It wasn’t a lot, but that coupled with my plan to steal as many of my books back as possible, felt like a start.
Unfortunately, Lee didn’t have much call for me to work in the shop. I mostly just ran conventions on the weekends with one of his employees named Stan. Stan was only a few years older than me and had an interesting history of his own. He had the distinction of having been the youngest man ever to work at the Chicago Stock Exchange. Incredibly smart, Stan was one of those genius kids who graduated high school at 14 and college at 18. I never knew much about his parents or his upbringing, but he was VERY good with money and a fantastic sales man.
After agreeing to my terms, Lee made a few phone calls to tell the people who ran the conventions and other store owners that I was back working for him and all had been forgiven. I even had to talk to a few of them myself to confirm this truth. Lee was welcomed back at the conventions and I went with Stan on the weekends.
The first show I went to with Stan was at a Ramada in Crestwood. It was a small convention center with local comic book dealers and no celebrities. We parked Lee’s bread truck of doom outside the front entrance and Stan and I loaded up the dolly with a bunch of boxes to bring in so we could start setting up our table. Stan held the door open for me and as I backed in, pulling the dolly, a hushed silence fell over the room. The sound of tinkling ceramic coffee cups, forks clinking on dishes, and sporadic murmuring came to a halt as soon as I was in the door. I turned around and all eyes were on me. There was a moment of utter unease. I didn’t know what to think. I had only heard about my celebrity status in the comic book world through Joe, and frankly I didn’t pay it much thought.
Stan and I looked at each other and then back to the crowd. There were about 50 shop owners in the convention center and no customers yet as it was only 8AM and the show didn’t start until 10. I knew them all, and without blinking I nodded at the crowd and uncomfortably moved forward. As I passed by the first group of people, they patted me on the shoulder and welcomed me back. When I moved through the second group of comic book store owners who were huddled together, the first group began to clap. Then the second as I passed them and so on until the entire room was lit up with thunderous applause as people welcomed me back into the fold.
I made a lot of money that day and in the weeks to come helping other dealers. They all gave me deep discounts on comic books as I slowly built my collection back up. Every day I was at a convention, someone would invite me out to lunch with them and talk to me about what an asshole Lee was. Many of the dealers I knew invited me to work for them, but I turned them all down. Not out of a sense of loyalty to Lee, never that, but out of loyalty to Joe, and Paul, and even Stan who I’d just met. Plus Heroland Comics was close to Red Lobster, and the back parking lot there was about the only place where the cops didn’t harass me for sleeping in my car.
The Death of Superman
As much as I liked working the conventions, I still enjoyed just being in the shop. When I wasn’t working at Red Lobster or fucking Diane, I spent all of my time there. Since Lee was never there I could hang out and bullshit with Joe, Stan, and sometimes Paul.
On Wednesdays, Stan and I would pick up the comics from Diamond Distributors. Back then, Diamond was the hub of ALL comic book stores in Illinois. I think they ship things out through FedEx now, but if you owned a comic book store in the 90’s and wanted to have the new comics available for your customers on Wednesday? You had to drive all the way out to fucking Oak Brook early Wednesday morning to pick that shit up. That job fell to Stan and me.
There had been rumblings in the industry for a few months that DC was going to be killing off Superman in the February 1992 issue of Superman #75. We all knew that this was going to be a big issue, but every comic book dealer had been fooled in the past with events like this. DC or Marvel would announce a BIG event, the dealers would buy a bazilliondy copies of said event, and then the event would suck, nobody would buy it, and they’d be stuck with a shitload of books that didn’t sell. Because of this, nobody in the industry took “The Death of Superman” ploy overly serious. But still, just in case, Joe had ordered 500 copies along with the regular new books for Stan and me to pick up that Wednesday morning.
Joe was always off on Wednesday and Paul couldn’t work on Wednesdays, so Stan and I would run the store by ourselves. We’d pick up the books at Diamond at around 7AM, grab some breakfast, and then get to the store by 830, unload, put out the new books, and open at 9. Stan and I didn’t watch the news and we didn’t listen to the radio, so we had NO idea what to expect when we got to the store.
There was a line so long, outside of Heroland comics when we got there, that Sam Kinison couldn’t have snorted it. The line wrapped around the store and down the side street. There must have been over 200 people waiting for us to open. Stan drove by the front of the store slowly and we both stared out of the passenger side window with our mouths agape. There were people with sleeping bags near the door, which told us that they’d probably spent the night there. He drove us around the back and we quietly brought our stock in through the back door.
The instant I opened the door, we heard the phone ringing and ringing. Stan picked it up. It was Joe. Joe gave us instructions that NOBODY was to get more than one copy of Superman 75. He told us to keep 50 issues on the side for him and keep 200 issues in the back room. We were to put NONE out on display because if he was right…they were gonna be worth A LOT of money in about an hour and people would be fighting and kicking to get one off the stand. Apparently, “The Death of Superman” was all over the news. Everyone in the world wanted a copy of this comic book, even people who never bought a comic book in their life.
We put out the other comic books and did what Joe told us to do with Superman 75. We let the people in and soon the store was packed with businessmen, housewives, children, and comic book geeks alike. The air in the store became stale as we were all just breathing in each other’s breath. The windows fogged up quickly and the cacophony of angry customers swelled as we told them only ONE issue each. At $1.25, Stan and I sold about 50 issues in those first 10 minutes, when the phone began to ring again. I picked it up this time and it was Joe again; “Start selling them for 20 dollars” he said. I didn’t argue with him. I hung up, told Stan what he said, and we told the crowd the price had just gone up. They wanted them even more. We sold 5 more issues when Stan took the initiative and started selling them at thirty apiece; people kept buying. I raised it to fifty…and they kept selling. Stan was in his element, with giddy laughter, he told me that it was just like being at the stock exchange.
We had now sold about a hundred and fifty issues and there was so much money in the cash register that Stan and I had to start using a big ass box to throw it in. About 40 minutes into the frenzy, the phone rang again. I picked it up and Joe said “Go 25 dollars now”, I told him that we’d sold nearly 40 of them at 50. Joe started cheering on the phone and I had to take it away from my ear lest I go deaf. “Fuck it.” He said, “Go with 100”. We did and sold another 20 at that price, then Stan raised it to 150, I raised HIS raise to 250…and they kept buying them.
At this point we had about 30 issues left. Stan told me that we should buy 10 issues each, at cover price, and then sell them and keep the money. I had NO problem with that. We each threw 12.50 in the cash box, and jacked up the price to 500 dollars. By 10AM we were sold out of 250 copies of Superman 75 and Stan and I had made Lee around ten thousand dollars…in a fucking hour. Joe couldn’t believe that we’d sold 10 of them for 500 each (we actually sold 30 at that price, but 20 of them were ours). His gratitude poured over us from the phone and he told us to sell the remaining 200 copies while there was blood in the water.
We got about 20 more people to pay 500 for an issue, but ultimately as the crowd started to die down and the frenzy subsided, we had to drop the price back down to around 250. It was the biggest sales day in Lee’s history, and it was made possible partly by the guy who he ripped off. But Stan and I both walked out of our three dollar and 75 cent an hour job with a cool five grand each that night, plus a few issues of Superman 75 for ourselves to sell later in case the price went up even more over the next few days.
Joe told Lee about our initiatives in raising the price and Lee was SO thankful he bought us each a gyro…no fries or drink of course…AND we had to go pick it up…and bring him back 3 gyros, a fry and a drink. God did I hate that cheap fat smelly fuck.
Think what you will about what Stan and I did, but know that TECHNICALLY we didn’t steal a thing. We paid for the issues we sold and had we stayed on the path that Joe put us on we wouldn’t have made Lee half as much as we did. I never considered that a part of my revenge on Lee…but it was a good start.
The Origin of Guy Gardner
In March of 1968, DC comics introduced a new character named Guy Gardner in Green Lantern issue 59. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, DC turned Guy Garner into a parody of the ultra-macho “red-blooded American male.” I loved the character and collected The Justice League comics just because of him. Whether he was starting a fight with Batman, taking super hero chicks on a date to a porn theater like in Taxi Driver, or generally being made a fool of because of his buzz cut hairdo, Guy Gardner was a hysterical character and I wanted his first appearance.
Because I was young and dumb and full of cum, I’d spent most of the five grand I made off of the Death of Superman by taking Diane out to nice dinners and expensive hotels. Although I was still working at Red Lobster, I took a few weekends off to hang out with Diane, leaving Stan to work the conventions by himself. On one of these weekends, I went to a convention just to shop around for a GL 59. When I came into the hall, I went to Stan and offered to watch the Heroland table for a bit so he could go get something to eat. He came back with hot dogs for us both and we sat down to bullshit as people perused Lee’s stock for back issues.
I told him what I was there for and he told me that Lee had recently bought a collection with GL 59 in it. He looked through a box under the table and pulled it out…200 dollars. I told him “Fuck that, that shit’s worth 100, maybe 50 in that condition”, to which Stan replied “eh, gimme 10 and it’s yours.” I gave him 10 bucks and left the con a happy man. Sure I knew Stan was pocketing the money, but did I give a shit if someone was ripping Lee off?
A few days later when I went into Heroland, Joe and Paul asked me to go into the back room with them. They told me that they knew Stan had sold me the GL 59 for only 10 bucks and they needed it back as evidence to have him arrested. “Bullshit” I said. “Why would you even think that?” They told me that a guy who worked at the warehouse had noticed it wasn’t in Lee’s ‘Expensive issues’ box when Stan brought it back from the convention. This guy was in charge of inventorying Lee’s collection to keep it filled when it went out to cons. Plus, Stan had only made about 75 dollars at the convention, but when the guy at the warehouse went back through the inventory…there was about 700 dollars worth of merchandise missing. Because he and Stan are friends, when he asked Stan about the book, Stan TOLD him that he sold it to me for 10 dollars. This guy told Lee and now Lee wanted to have Stan prosecuted for stealing.
Wow, I thought. First of all how shitty is it that Stan’s friend at the warehouse told on his ass? Second, if I gave up the comic and Stan got busted…he’d talk about The Death of Superman comics to the cops. Third, I didn’t wanna lose my GL 59. As I stood there not knowing what to say…Paul piped up with “We’ll give you back the GL 59 after the cops see it.” Ok, that’s one fear assuaged.
You could see that Joe was uncomfortable in this situation. He hated the fact that this guy from the warehouse dumped this on his lap, because not only did he LIKE Stan, but Joe had hired him. Joe and I looked at each other knowingly, not wanting to give up one of our own…but also knowing that you can’t put the milk back in the bottle once it was spilled.
I gave Paul the comic and later that evening when Stan came into work, Lee was waiting for him with the cops. You would have thought Stan had fucked a kid the way Lee was carrying on and making a spectacle. “YOU SON OF BITCH! YOU STEAL FROM ME? YOU’RE LUCKY I DODN’T KILL YOU!” Stan was in tears as the cops led him out while Lee screamed and cursed him through the door. Paul, Joe, and I just stood at the back of the store in stoic silence as we were powerless to help our fallen brother, while at the same time disgusted with the irony of Lee calling anyone a thief. Later that night I asked Joe who this guy was at the warehouse who ratted out Stan. Joe said “His name is Jim.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my first encounter with this Jim from the warehouse, and it would not be my last.
Paul didn’t give me that Green Lantern 59 back until years later, maybe 2001. He had it signed by the artist who created Green Lantern; Marty Nodell. Mr. Nodell was 86 years old when he stayed at Paul’s House for a weekend while he was in town signing autographs at a convention. Paul STILL had the exact issue of GL 59 that I’d given him in ’92. Because we’ve become close over the years, he asked Mr. Nodell to sign the issue and then he gave it to me as a birthday gift. Marty Nodell, the creator of Green Lantern passed away in 2006. R.I.P.
Grey Jim and Diane
The problem with getting my own apartment wasn’t in the fact that I didn’t have a job; it was the fact that you need first month, last month, and a security deposit to move in. I was a kid making what, 300 bucks a week at best? It’s hard to save money when you’re sleeping in your car, especially in the winter time. Sure it SOUNDS good on paper, if you sleep in your car you have no overhead, it should be EASY to save up 1800 dollars to get an apartment. Fuck you. I DID have about 1200 bucks left from my Death of Superman fund, but I was now 18 with NO credit, so even when I filled out the credit apps for apartments I was turned down.
I was staying at Diane’s trailer 3 or 4 nights a week, but toward the end of 1991, Grey Jim would be the first of my friends to get his own apartment. Before he moved in he invited me to sleep on his couch and help me to save money so I could get my own place; maybe even in the same building so we could be close. Whereas I was obsessed with comic books, Grey Jim was obsessed with working out. At nearly 20, Jim was a hulking figure at the peak of physical condition. He wasn’t just thin, he was built. Grey Jim was called that because he’d had grey hair since he was young. It was a genetic thing and his father had always had grey hair as well. When I met him in high school, he was constantly being bullied because of his hair. Bullies like to pick on people who were different, and this was a truth that I knew only too well. We became fast friends and to cope with the bullying, Grey Jim began working out. Now, 3 years after we’d met he had huge muscular arms, 6 pack abs, and big strong man titties.
Not only was Grey Jim the first of us to get an apartment, he was also, unfortunately, the first one of us who’s mother had passed away. Grey Jim’s mother was a wonderful woman who would harass my mother to no end, calling and yelling at her to take me back in while I was living in my car. She would have taken me in herself, but she had a new husband and 2 little kids to contend with besides Grey Jim. So when she passed, rather than live with his step father, Grey Jim struck out and got his own place.The very night Jim moved into his new apartment, he threw a party. I took Diane to the event and apparently, while I was outside smoking with some other friends, Diane approached Jim and told him that she wanted to fuck him. Jim, being the good friend that he is, told her ‘no fucking way’. He explained to her that he wouldn’t touch her because she was dating his best friend. Taking this as a hint, Diane promptly went outside and told me that we were through.
Just like that, my incredible year long sex capade was over. I did everything you’re not supposed to do. I cried. I begged. I pleaded; all for nothing. Diane went back inside and fucked Grey Jim. Grey Jim is a GREAT friend, seriously he’s like a brother to me, but we were young and he was only a man. The worst part of this story was that since I’d already done everything you’re not supposed to do, I went a step further.
Since Grey Jim had JUST moved in that very day. He had yet to buy curtains. While other friends were outside telling me what was happening, I went to the bedroom window and SAW them fucking. (I don’t even think Jim knows I did that). It felt like my fucking heart Wile E. Coyote’d off a cliff.
One of the unfortunate side effects of a great break up is IMAGINING your ex with another person. This feeling can hit you anytime, anywhere, and when it does it seems like the sun is falling on top of you all over again. Actually SEEING it is about a million times worse. I wish that feeling on nobody.
Interesting post script to this story, not even a month after moving into his new apartment, Grey Jim had to break his lease and move into Diane’s trailer after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. He had to spend all of his time taking care of her through her sickness. So in a way…I dodged a bullet there. Gotta find the good in the bad right? (See you all in hell!)
This event caused a rift between Grey Jim and I for a long time. I forgave him eventually and we went back to being the best of friends, as is usually the case. It was winter time and now I no longer had the prospect of sleeping on Jim’s couch, I couldn’t stay at Diane’s 3-4 nights a week any longer, and I had to quit Red Lobster because I couldn’t stand seeing Diane anymore. I started spending all of my time at Heroland.
Finally, in December of that year, I broke down and went crawling back to my mother. I begged her to let me move back in. I couldn’t take the cold of sleeping in the cramped back seat of my car while parked behind Heroland anymore. The worst part about sleeping in your car in the winter time is the piss. That’s right, I said the piss. The kind of piss you have to take in the middle of the night while shivering under your coat on a cold fake leather back seat with your knees pushed up under your chin is UN-fucking-bearable. It hits you instantly and with such ferocity that you barely have enough time to reach up to the front cup holder and grab the Big Gulp cup from earlier in the day. Not only that but EVERYONE who’s been in that situation will tell you…yeah, you will eventually accidentally drink that piss. However I WILL say that when you finally DO take that cold car sleep piss? It feels better than the BEST orgasm you’ll ever have.
That being said, I was embarrassed, frightened, and alone again, so I went crawling back to mom. She told me that she’d rented my room out to a lady from work, but because it was the holidays she’d let me crash on the couch for a few nights.
I’ll never forget that first night back at my mom’s condo. I was laying on the big L-shaped couch that she’d had since I was a kid, the quilted comforter covering me as my thoughts filled with warmth. The condo was all decked out with Christmas lights and the snow clung to the glass balcony door in front of me. As beautiful a scene as it was, I felt like a stranger in my own living room. The surroundings were all familiar to me, but they felt miles away and no longer mine. I lay there contemplating the uncertainty of my future under the soft glow of red, green, and orange Christmas lights deep into the night…when the phone rang suddenly snapping me back to the moment. I looked at the clock on the wall and it read ‘3:00AM’. Who the fuck was this? I answered the phone with a quiet ‘hello?’, and I immediately recognized the callers voice when he answered back; it was Paul.
Paul told me that he needed my help and asked me to pick him up at his house in Lemont. Always knowing what to say to get someone to do something for him, he told me that I was the only person he could trust. The reality was that it was 3 in the fucking morning and I was the only person young and dumb enough to go all the way to Lemont for him. I did as he asked, leaving the warmth of my mother’s condo for my cold ass car and drove 45 minutes to pick up Paul.
I’d known Paul for over a year at that point, but only as the guy from the comic book store. I liked Paul, but we weren’t close. Truth be told, I was excited at the prospect of doing a favor for him. Paul is one of those guys that you WANT to be your friend. He makes you feel a level of comfort around him that most people aren’t capable of projecting. I didn’t yet know what he wanted, but I was included and that was good enough for me.
When I pulled up to Paul’s house, he came out and got into my car. He told me where to go and on the way he explained to me why he needed my help.
Paul was a married man with 2 kids. Thin and handsome, like many of the people in this story, he didn’t look like you’d expect of someone who collected comic books. Apparently, several months before, he and his wife took in a beautiful 18 year old Polish foreign exchange student named Anna. Paul had been fucking around with Anna behind his wife’s back and although she didn’t know for sure, she felt something was up and kicked her out. Paul got Anna an apartment a few miles away and was fucking her every chance he got. This particular night Anna was very upset about something or other and Paul needed to comfort her, however he couldn’t leave his house because his wife would hear the garage door opening and his car leaving…so he called me.
I was floored that Paul would make me explicit in this deceit, but I would find out that deceit is only reconcilable in your mind when you’re just on one side of it. However, that night I felt important and I was only too happy to help him out. Paul and I became close friends after that. In my desire to be a part of a group, I was always jealous of him and Joe’s friendship and this favor made me feel like more of an equal than an outsider in it. A few days later Paul came to me with a proposal; If I babysat his kids for him at his house, and drove Anna around wherever she wanted to go, WHEN ever she wanted to go, and drove him to and from her apartment…I could live in the guest room of his house. Paul brought me over for dinner that night where I met his wife, and she loved me. She was excited to have me stay with them and they made me feel like I was part of the family, I was explicit in intrigue, and I had a place to stay. Although getting to know Paul better made him a father figure in my life…my conscience would get the better of me.
So, in this situation I was acting as a go between, allowing Paul to cheat on his wife. However, it turned out that I liked his wife WAY more than I liked his girlfriend. Paul and Joe became more reliant on me back at Heroland Comics, but they hired Anna on to replace Stan. The two of us were like cats and dogs. Sure Anna was hot, but her constant narcissism and complaining got under my skin like nothing ever has. I dubbed her “The Polish Princess” and threw that term at her like dogshit on a living room window whenever she pissed me off. Anna is the reason why I will NEVER date a woman with an accent; I don’t care how hot they are.
On the other hand, Paul’s wife was like June Cleaver. Taking care of the kids, cleaning the house, she had a job at a bank, and she NEVER complained. While getting to know her, I found out that Paul and his wife had had another son who passed away suddenly in his youth; He would have been around my age. THIS was the reason why Paul’s wife was so nice to me and after I found that out…I felt like a steaming pile of horse shit. Other than being crushed under the weight of my own conscience, living with Paul, his wife, and his 2 kids was great. They had a huge house; Paul had a great comic book collection which he let me go through whenever I wanted. His son and daughter loved me and I’d stay up late into the night playing video games with them, but every nicety and joyous occasion just obliterated me with guilt at what I was doing. I felt that I was more responsible for the level of Paul’s betrayal than Paul himself. The stress was killing me.
During my time at Paul’s house, Lee fired Joe for something Joe probably didn’t do. Lee had no proof, but Lee was suspicious of everybody. He was a consummate conspiracy theorist and thought that everyone was out to get him. Now that I’m older, I can see that he felt this way because of the skullduggery he perpetrated on others, the constant thought of retribution and fate taking a chunk out of his ass was driving him madder than usual. With Joe gone from the shop, Paul took over the daily running and management of it. Lee paid him a handsome salary, and Paul became a mentor to me as well as a father figure, showing me how to run the business from ordering, to paying bills, to bullshitting customers to make more money.
Paul and I became closer as he realized that I was a trustworthy cohort in his adultery. We went to work together every morning, and came home together every night. When my car finally threw a rod, Paul let me use his car whenever I wanted. We’d sit up late into the night watching bootleg comic book movies that he got from producers he knew from working on movie sets that were filmed in Chicago, and sometimes he’d even take me with him to watch the filming. There was one night though, when Paul, his family, and I popped in a video cassette that had been given to Paul from one of the customers at Heroland, which was not what we thought it was going to be.
The Doggy Movie
Every comic book store has regular customers and one of Heroland’s regulars was a man named Glenn. Glenn was a lowlife who never had any money, but he’d always come into the shop with a box full of toys or old comics to trade for the new issues of whatever he collected. Sometimes, Paul and I would even go to Glenn’s house to make the trades. Paul was just like that with his customers, he’d go out of his way to make a good deal, and sometimes Glenn had some stuff that was expensive in its collectability. On this particular occasion, Glenn brought in a box and Paul looked through the junk. There were various McDonald’s toys, open action figures, and a video cassette. None of it was worth that much, but neither were the 10 comics that Glenn wanted to trade for, so without being very interested with what was in the box, Paul handed Glenn his comics and we all went on with our day.
That night when Paul and I went back to his house, we sat in the living room with his daughter, son, and wife after eating a nice dinner. Paul put the box from Glenn on the floor in front of him and started rifling through it. He pulled out the cassette that said: “Doggy Movie” and popped it in the VCR thinking it was a cartoon or something. The tape began to play for maybe a second before Paul jumped up and shut the TV off, telling his kids to go to bed; what we saw in that second was a glimpse of a dog fucking a woman.
Paul’s wife shuffled the kids off to bed, and then he turned the tape back on. I mean…you almost HAVE to watch something like that. The creepiness of what we watched didn’t come from the fact that the dog kept jumping off the woman to bark near the window and then lazily saunter back to start fucking her again, it didn’t come from the fact that there was a circle of guys surrounding her as the dog fucked her, it didn’t even come from the fact that they cheered the dog on as his big pink Rottweiler dick pumped her vag…in fact, that was all kind of funny. No, the TRULY creepy aspect of this video came from the fact that it was filmed in Glenn’s garage. We’d been there; we knew what it looked like. We came to the conclusion that there isn’t enough money in the world to convince a woman to fuck a dog. She was ON something and that’s what they paid her in to fuck this dog. Only addiction can make someone do some fucked up shit like that. Paul took the tape out of the VCR after we’d laughed about its content and speculated over its origin for a while. He ripped the tape out of the cassette and destroyed it. Needless to say, Glenn was not welcomed back into the store after that.
After living with Paul for a little over a year, my friend Scott got his own apartment not far from my mother’s condo. He invited me to sign the lease with him in order to build my credit (or to improve his) and I moved in. Not long after that, I fell in love for the first time with Jackie, who I would be with from ’94-’98. There was some drama in which Jackie got kicked out of HER house for going to South Carolina with me and as my situation with Scott became untenable, my mother invited Jackie and I to come live with her. She kicked her roommate out and at 21, I moved back home.
I kept my job at the comic book store and continued to feud with Anna. Anna would always threaten to have Paul fire me, but Paul mostly stayed out of our dislike of each other. By that point the father figure/son figure bond was too deep for him to choose sides in Anna and my fights.
Now that I was back at my mother’s condo, I started ripping off Lee more and more. Lee never went to Heroland any longer, opting instead to run his businesses from his warehouse in Orland Park. So, unbeknownst to both Paul AND Lee…I was stealing every comic book I could get my hands on. I didn’t even care what they were. Before leaving at night, I’d take the trash out after loading it with 2 giant handfuls of whatever comics I could grab from the stacks and boxes in the back room, and then come back for them later in the night after Paul was long gone for the evening. I didn’t consider this stealing from Paul although I felt awful about deceiving him, but from Lee. After all, Lee had taken everything from me.
However, that all stopped when Paul decided to buy Heroland Comics. Lee was entrenched in his warehouse business which was apparently doing very well. He sold comic books through mail order and made comic book boards and boxes which he shipped all over the country. Because Lee no longer paid much attention to the shop, and Paul was already running it like an owner, he offered to buy it from Lee and because Lee was losing money hand over fist, he sold it to Paul for next to nothing.
Heroland was not Paul’s main job. In his forties with 2 kids, a wife, and a house, it would be hard to bankroll all that as a comic book store manager. Paul worked as, and still does, a teamster, as I said, setting up conventions and car shows at McCormick Place in Chicago, but sometimes working on movie sets downtown. Since comic books were his hobby, Paul decided to buy the shop, and whenever he had to work his regular job, which was only a few days a week, I would run Heroland comics for him.
Not long after Paul bought Heroland comics from Lee, I got my first REAL job at Waldenbooks and left the employment of the comic book store. Since Jackie was living with me, she took it upon herself to start cleaning up my life. She encouraged me to get my GED and take the ACT, and she went shopping with me for clothes so I could go out and find a real job. After all, as much as Paul relied on me, I wasn’t making that much money at the shop, and Jackie wanted us to move out of my mother’s condo and get our own apartment.
I would still go Heroland to shop, visit with Paul, and occasionally help out when he had to work downtown. And one sunny afternoon, not long after I started working at Waldenbooks, Paul introduced me to the man, the enigma, the riddle, the legend known as…Action Jim.