I've heard all the condescending remarks about comics fans. Nerds. Geeks. Dweebs. Lonely guys who use comics as a substitute for social interaction.
And it's no more valid than any other stereotype.
In the thirty-four years I've owned Dr. No's, I've been lucky enough to get to know many people. I've seen couples fall in love... propose... get married. I've seen men and women become proud parents, sharing their joy with us. I've seen readers become writers and artists in their own right. I've seen parents bring in kids who grow up over the years, become parents on their own, and bring in their own kids, continuing the cycle. I've seen people go through school, embark on a career, and become successful. And I've seen so many smiles, so many customers who truly love comics, who leave here every week even happier than they were when they arrived.
And I've seen sadness. As those kids grow up to become adults, their parents have also grown older. Sometimes age can be cruel. Heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke, infection... I've watched once-healthy parents struggle against all of these and so much more as age has taken away the vitality that we all take for granted when we're younger.
Today I was visited by a customer I've known since he was a boy, when his Dad or his Mom would bring him in to pick up his comics week after week. We'd chat, and I got to know them. Sometimes they'd stop by looking for books for their son; sometimes they'd just stop by to say hello.
Over the past couple of years, it was obvious that his father was struggling. The smile was there, but sometimes the sparkle in his eyes was missing, replaced with anxiety and apprehension... and confusion. His son verified what I had suspected—his father was suffering from Alzheimer's.
After that, the visits were less frequent, and all too brief when they did occur. His father quit coming in by himself; when he did come in with someone else, he was more withdrawn. The clever, gregarious man I remember was now taciturn and hesitant.
Today, I found out that this kind, remarkable man was in hospice. His son stopped by to say hello, picking up a few comics to offer him some momentary escape from the solemnest of days.
As he told me about his father, I could still vividly see those cheery visits, hear those joking conversations, remember the days when we all thought life would go on forever.
This afternoon, I stopped by the hospice to say hello one more time. I wanted tell him how much I enjoyed those visits over the years, how much I admired the love and understanding he showed his son, how much I hated the cruel hand that life had dealt him.
I couldn't get out all the words I wanted to say to him. I was able to thank him for his friendship, to express my regrets for what he was going through.
As I saw this good man struggling with the final cruelties of an illness for which there is no cure, I was reminded once again that so many of the people I see every day aren't just customers. They're friends who I have been lucky enough to get to know, people with whom I've been able to share joys and sorrows. I may not know them well, but my life has been made better by the moments when it intersected with theirs.
Those moments are really all that matters, aren't they?