Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twenty-Four)

I'm not really sure why Phil Patterson and I quit spending so much time together. Phil had been my comic book buddy for a couple of years, as well as my Beatles buddy, but as time passed, we somehow ended up moving in different directions. I suspect that's a normal part of growing up, and it seems to happen so gradually that there is no moment of transition.

Phil and I still spent some time playing together and talking comics--and in particular, we spent time hanging out at the city water tower that was constructed just a hundred yards or so from his house. It was a great place for playing--surrounded by piles of sand and gravel (part of the construction, I suspect--and was close enough to walk to, but far enough to be out of sight from Phil's mother. We spent a lot of time there, climbing the sandpiles, sitting in the shade of the tower, sometimes playing on the adjacent railroad tracks.

But as my friendship with Phil began to wane, I found myself spending time with John Ball, a schoolmate whose interest in comics was underscored by his proximity to the stores where I bought my books.

A brief Rome geography lesson: the main thoroughfare in West Rome is Shorter Avenue, and most neighborhood streets branch off that. John's family lived in the first house on Shorter Avenue, directly behind the Dairy Queen and only two hundred feet from Hill's Grocery, Couch's Grocery, and Candler's Drugs--the three places I've already mentioned as prime stops on my weekly comic book treks. I lived on Marchmont, which was about a quarter mile further down Paris Drive, so John was not only geographically closer to me than Phil, but he lived on my "comics route." I'd often see John and his brother Jimmy out in their yard when I was walking to the various stores to see what comics had come in; they'd see me when I was coming back with books, and I'd stop to show them what I had found. Gradually, it became a habit to stop at John's house on my way to the store and see if he wanted to go with me; eventually, he and I began spending time at one another's house.

John lived in a much older rental house. By today's standards, it would be considered almost run-down, but we never thought anything about it. To a ten year old, a house was a house was a house... it didn't matter that it didn't look new or well maintained. I remember there were things about it that were particularly fun: next to the Dairy Queen was a small putt-putt golf course, and we could walk over there and play miniature golf in the spring and summer evenings for a very small admission charge. We were supposed to play one round of eighteen holes, but we'd often replay the first seventeen holes 2 or 3 times before letting our ball drop into the collection box at the eighteenth hole.

John and I liked the same comics, including an growing interest in Marvel Comics, which had become the number one publisher in the field as far as I was concerned. While I didn't have every Marvel superhero comic, I had at least read every Marvel superhero comic; I actually knew every nuance of Marvel history, and had memorized all those details. John was similarly obsessed with Marvel, so we would spend hours discussing favorite stories, best and worst villains, artists we like and artists we didn't like... all the things that kids love to discuss.

John and I also had one more thing in common: we both had younger sisters who were almost exactly the same age. My sister, Kimberly, and his sister, Cathy, were always trying to get into our rooms and go through our comics and records, so we shared a lot of sister complaints with one another... the sort of thing that ten-year-old boys love to do when they feel put upon by the burden of dealing with a three-year-old sister. (Ironically, Kim and Cathy would become friends later on, shortly after John's family saved up enough to buy a house on Beverly Drive, one block further down Paris than Marchmont.)

The one interest that John didn't seem to share with me, however, was a desire to create comics. I loved to attempt to draw my own comics; John would make occasional attempts at it, but his interest was marginal at best. He preferred to read other people's stories to making up his own, while I was convinced that I had a whole world of superheroes in my head that, once put on paper, would surpass anything that Marvel or DC had to offer. I created character after character of imitative design and dubious originality, and John would show a polite interest in what I was doing, but I could tell that he didn't feel the creative urge like I did.

I think that was why our comic book friendship was relatively short-lived. We had common interests, but not common passions, and that was destined to take each of us in different directions in just over a year.


Taphophile said...

Cliff, where was Hill's Grocery? I graduated West Rome in '75 and grew up two blocks behind the Burger King on Shorter. I know Couch's and Candler's well, but I have no recollection of a Hill's Grocery. I'm stumped!!

cliff said...

Hill's was almost directly across the street from the West Rome Post Office (which was adjacent to Candler's and Couch's). To call it a grocery was a misnomer, even though that's what the sign said; it was an old, somewhat run-down wooden building, dark and poorly stocked, that probably offered less than the average convenience store does today. It seemed to be in decline at the time we moved to West Rome in 1962, and I suspect that it was out of business by the early 1970s. And since it was on the other side of Shorter Avenue, with no light or crosswalk nearby, my parents weren't too happy with me walking over there very frequently. Like all children, though, I was oblivious to traffic danger and presumed I had the invulnerability that went hand in hand with exuberant youth, so I dismissed their concerns and wandered over there frequently in search of the 11 cent comic and the 23 cent annual (since Hill's stamped their comics with a 1 cent or 2 cent discount), and generally added a packaged pecan pie or a fried apple pie to complete my purchase.