Rob Kelly - Maybe it was Vince's story just previous that got me thinking about this story, which is a less than cheery one concerning my love of comics.
Most of the stories I've related here have been good, if not nearly mythologically glorious, stories about my love of comics. But of course anyone who read comics as a kid before the mid-90s has at least one memory when they were made to feel really, really bad because of their hobby, and for whatever reason this one popped back into my head, having escaped a deep, dark corner of my mind where unpleasant memories reside.
In 1985, I started attending high school. Normally that's terrifying enough, but as an avid comic book reader, I felt like I had an extra level of terror--having to keep my #1 interest totally, completely secret, lest I be discovered to be Cherry Hill East's #1 Nerd, and be in for four straight years of torment.
Part of the benefit of going to a new school of course is most people don't know you, so you can present to them whatever image you'd like to project. And for the most part, I was able to just keep my head down and mouth shut, so instead of gaining a reputation for being a nerd, I went pretty much unnoticed. Which is what I wanted.
Except that anonymity disappeared when I was on the school bus. Since the bus of course picked up kids from my neighborhood, they knew me, and continued to carry all the petty and mean hostilities with them to the new school.
Case in point, there was one particular kid--let's call him Dickie Dickerson--who seemed to make it his goal in life to torment me. I would sit near the front, and he would yell out insults at me from the back, mostly about my comic book collection (I don't even remember how he knew about that, probably info gathered from his pact with Satan).
Of course, I was mortified to have my comic book hobby be revealed to a bus full of kids, many of whom I didn't know (since our bus now picked up kids outside of our neighborhood). I felt my closely contained secret would spread into the high school, and I'd be done for.
To make matters worse, I had made a new friend--let's call him Nerdy Nerderson--who had just started reading comics, and, like anyone who has just discovered something they love--could not stop talking about them, even on the bus!
As I as tried to just keep my head down and not develop an ulcer, here was this kid talking out loud, for all to hear, about the newest Batman and Daredevil and who is this Martian Manhunter guy...
I wanted to die.
One day, I got back on the bus, there was only one kid on before me--Dickie Dickerson. I tried not to make eye contact and sat in my seat, knowing what was coming.
"Hey Bob," his whiny, mean little voice carried up the bus towards me. "Do you collect comics?"
He knew the answer to this, he just wanted torment me. I waited for a moment, and said: "No."
I have never quite forgiven myself for this moment.
Sure, I was just a kid and it I was just trying to make a Faustian bargain where, maybe if I gave the correct answer, Dickie would leave me alone.
But I knew he wouldn't. And I felt like I should've, in that moment, turned around and said "Yes I do, you stupid little f**k. Jealous I can read?"
But I didn't--I caved. And instead of being proud over the thing that was the single most important thing in my life, I threw my comics under the metaphorical bus (while being on a bus--oh, the irony!) just to make myself a little more palatable for this member of the Hitler Youth, Cherry Hill Chapter.
Two thoughts occur to me as I write all this out--first, I have to thank Hollywood, whose desire for blockbuster tentpole franchises have made Batman, Spider-Man, Hellboy, and The X-Men movie stars, and now comics reading has escaped the horrible little ghetto they occupied for so long.
Also, while we don't have kids of our own, they are all around--various nephews, nieces, and children of friends. And I tell everyone of these kids when its appropriate that if you find something you really like--whether it be Star Wars, Legos, comics, anything--then enjoy it to the fullest, and never, never ever be ashamed of it.