The sun beats down and it is hot, unbearably hot, I swing around and check the mirror. The dust is rising from the roadbed and about half way back the side of the train it sort of just disappears into a brown cloud. The warning bell on the back wall of the cab of the locomotive goes off, and I assume it is the oldest locomotive in the consist, about three back, most likely overheating.
It is going to be a long, hot day on the Oklahoma prairie today, that is for sure. Running thru the small farm town of Crescent, the sign on the bank reads 106* and the sweat runs down the back of my neck into the small of my back and all I can think of is, “hellava way to make a living, I should have went to school.” There is no wind, no relief and the rail in front of me stretches out like a long snake to the horizon and a little beyond. Dust and dirt so thick you could cut it with a knife, and heat that often made you want to lie down and die.
A great many days of my career (such as it was) were spent just like that.
Times such as this are now just a faded memory in my mind, they often still serve to remind me of how hard it was to make a living on some days. I fondly think of walking into the house, the cool air hitting me like a sweet song at the front door. Walking down the hallway and into the kitchen to fetch me a cool beer for the freezer, a soak in a tub full of tepid water and sweet release, after toweling off, a half-frozen beer and some quiet. My reward for making it thru another long day.
This sounds like a plan to me, but it is to no avail.
The wife looks at me and says, “the boy has gotten some more money, he wants to go to the comic book store.” So I say, “Listen, I am tired, it was a long hot trip and I don’t need any comic book store.” She then says, “I have to fix dinner, I was counting on you to do this for me.” Most of the time, it was Mom and the boy, occassionally I would do the duties and drive him around.
At the age of eight or ten, I don’t exactly remember when, the kid started collecting comic books. I don’t mean he started reading them, he started collecting them. We would go to one of many comic book stores and there he would work his magic. He would go thru the stacks of comic books, gather up a handful, walk up to the owner, and at a young age, work the art of the deal.
Sometimes he did well and other times, not so good, but it was interesting watching this youngster doing his thing.
Having done his research beforehand, he would make his decisions. He would make his purchase, and then we would drive home. He would explain to me in great detail the positive aspects of ownership and what each publication had to offer, what made it unique, why it was that it caught his fancy. At home, he would not read them, they were far “too precious and valuable to do that Dad, that would spoil them!” He would gingerly take the books and place them inside a plastic bag and store them away in a box.
This went on for several years, numerous boxes were filled and summarily filed away to the obscurity of a closet or a shelf in the garage. Over the years, he continued to sporadically add to the collection. But after high school, came college, and after college came romance and love, then first thing you know … A family.
Over the years we (his mother and I) sat on the old books and boxes like a mother hen on her brood. We became the caretakers and administrators of the forgotten hobby of youth. One day I finally said, “Load all of ‘em up and take them down to HIS house, I am sick of storing them and moving it all.” So we loaded it all up and took them to HIS house and HE became the caretaker of the project or hobby. Which is only right, he was the creator of it all it to begin with.
Let us fast-forward to the present, the boy, the proverbial baby of the family, the last one outta the chute … will be forty years old on May 18th. Time has a way of slipping by and the years rack up and give new meaning to us all. Coincidentally, that is quite a long time on a comic book collection too.
After delivering the numerous boxes to him down in Houston … I never gave it much thought after that, until recently I had not even considered their existence at all.
Over the holidays they came up for the annual pilgrimage home and during the conversation he looked at his mother and said, “Hey Mom, y’know all those old comic books you saved for me in the boxes?” And his mother replied, “Oh yeah, I remember them, why?”
He smiled real big, and telegraphed the answer almost before he said it, “We put one on E-Bay in an auction and sold it this week.”
She said, “You sold them all on E-Bay?” and he replied, “Naw, just one. We only sold the one comic book, guess what it brought?”
She said, “I dunno, whadya get for it?”
And he said “Five thousand dollars Mom.”
Incredible, one book, I never dreamed of that amount of money for a comic book. Some times life just slaps you upside the head just to get your attention. When I came home from Viet Nam, I asked my mother “Where are all my comic books?” and she answered without so much as looking up by saying …. “They all went to the landfill a long time ago.”
I could have been a millionaire.