Saturday, December 6, 2008

Vincent Bartilucci - 1988

sg Vincent Bartilucci - Here's another one for the "Hey, Young Adults! Comics!" file.

It's 1988 and I'm in the midst of my Dance Club Years. I live on Long Island which has about a million of these places. Many of them are former discos that have traded in their Donna Summer and Bee Gees records for Depeche Mode and Bow Wow Wow singles. They've got names like Spit, Spize, The Loop, Thrush, and Paris NY. Y'know, cool 80's type names.

My friends and I spend most of our nights at these establishments because, well, that's where the girls are. Sure, we enjoy hanging out together. And we all dig the music they play in the clubs. But we could just congregate in a parking lot with a boom-box and save ourselves a cover charge, right? Why don't we? The girls!

At least, that's the allure of clubbing for me. Y'see, I've uncovered a profound, life-altering truth about the fundamental nature of the universe--girls who frequent dance clubs like to dance. So important is this notion that I think it bears repeating. Girls who frequent dance clubs like to dance.

And I'm a really good dancer.

You don't have to take my word for it. Ask anyone. I mean, I get compliments from complete strangers, no foolin'. So, when my friends and I get to a club, I hit the floor immediately and, before you know it, I'm dancing with some beautiful girl who doesn't realize how out of my league she really is. Suddenly she isn't paying attention to tall, dark, and handsome nursing his beer over in the corner. She's paying attention to me. New Wave music, Vinnie's great leveler!

Anyway, my friends and I usually travel to and from the clubs together but occasionally we all take our own vehicles and meet up at our destination. That's why I'm driving home solo from a night at Spize as our story finally begins.

It's between two and three in the morning, and there is no one else on Hempstead Turnpike as my car runs out of gas. My car runs out of gas because I'm an idiot. It's another one of those profound truths--if your gas gauge works and you still run out of gas you're an idiot.

I knew I needed gas on the way to Spize. But I also needed money for the cover charge and to get a drink or two so I unwisely chose to push my luck. Now, I'm stuck on the 'Pike cursing a blue streak and trying to decide in which direction to walk to find the nearest gas station. I don't know what I'm going to do when I reach that nearest gas station,mind you. I have no gas can and there's only about two bucks in my wallet.

As I'm standing next to my car kicking myself for being such a dope, a pick-up truck passes by. I watch as it makes a u-turn up ahead, swings around to pass me again, and pulls over to stop three or four yards in front of me. The truck is hauling a couple of pieces of landscaping equipment in its cargo bed blocking the back windshield of the cab and preventing me from seeing how many occupants are inside. No one gets out of the truck for a few seconds giving me time to consider the possibilities. The occupant of the pick-up could very well be a Good Samaritan seeking to help a stranded motorist. And that'd be wonderful. But what if he's not a Good Samaritan? What if he's a jerk looking for trouble? Heck, what if he's two jerks?

And this is why the intro 'bout the dance clubs is important--I'm coming home from a New Wave club and I'm dressed accordingly. I've got on high boots, tight jeans, and a leather motorcycle jacket over a ripped t-shirt, all in shades of black. A silver cross dangles from my left ear and black eyeliner rings my eyes.

Yeah, I'm that guy.

I look, at best, kind of freaky and at worst...well, you know. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that someone (or someones) might pull over to administer a beating to me just because of the way I look.

I weigh my options. All the dancing means I'm in the best shape of my life. But I'm still kind of a little guy and I know nothing about how to fight. It's shocking, really. Years of reading comic books have taught me nothing of any real value in the self-defense department. Except maybe to never turn my back on the Red Skull.

I decide that if more than one person gets out of the truck, I'll have to run for it.

The driver side door of the pick-up opens and a man gets out. He's tall, in his early thirties, and looks as if he probably wouldn't need any assistance beating me senseless, thank you very much. But I stand my ground, trying not to look frightened as I split my attention between the approaching man and the pick-up's passenger side door. I'm ready to bolt if I see the passenger door open.

He must sense my unease because he looks me right in the eye and smiles a broad, genuinely friendly smile that completely disarms me. He asks me what's wrong with my car and I sheepishly admit that I was dumb enough to let it run out of gas. He walks back to his truck and pulls a gas can out of the cargo area. Without a word, he empties the gas can into my tank then returns it to his pick-up.

I reach into my back pocket and pull out my wallet. Luckily, pick-up truck guy doesn't call my bluff. Instead, he hands me a little booklet, wider than it is tall. "Just promise me you'll read this," he says.

I thank him and promise to read the booklet. He gets into his pick-up truck and I get into my car, tossing the booklet onto the passenger seat in the process. He waits there to make sure that my car starts and, when it does, he drives off. I drive home, wash my face, brush my teeth, and hit the sack.

A couple of days later, I remember my promise to pick-up truck guy. I retrieve the booklet from under the passenger seat of my car where it has fallen only to discover that it's a comic book. A weird, poorly drawn, vaguely sinister looking comic book, but a comic book nonetheless.

And, would you look at that, it says I'm going to Hell! Fun!

The booklet is just one of hundreds of cartoon tracts published by Jack Chick and his company, Chick Publications. But I don't know that yet. All I know is that a complete stranger helped me out of a jam and all he asked in return was that I read a comic book.

So, I read it. It's an amazingly unsettling experience. The gist of this little cartoon screed it is that the Roman Catholic Church is actively working to pervert the true teachings of Christ. Therefore, all who call themselves Catholics and follow the teachings of Holy Mother Church are destined for Hell. Been a good person? Doesn't matter, you're going to Hell. Fed the hungry and clothed the naked? That's nice--you’re still going to Hell. Selflessly championed the cause of every single downtrodden segment of society? You guessed it, Hell!

I'm 21, just shy of 22 and I've read comic books my whole life. Comic stories have made me laugh, cry, cheer, rant, and hide shivering under my blankets. But I don't think I truly understood the power of graphic story-telling until reading this tract. The art is amateurish and the "story" is insane. But my skin is crawling and I've got a really sour taste in my mouth. All thanks to this little comic book.

I finish the comic--I promised, after all-- and toss it in the trash. But the whole incident plays on my mind for days. The more I think about it the more questions I've got. Did pick-up truck guy give me that tract because he saw the rosary beads hanging from my rear view mirror? Or did he give it to me because of the way I was dressed and it was just a "happy" coincidence that I was a follower of the religion it denounced? Is that how he spends his days, handing out packets of fear and intolerance disguised as crappy little comic books to unsuspecting people? And why do I feel guilty for having thrown the wretched thing out?

Eventually my skins stops crawling and I lose the bad after taste. But that comic book still exerts some crazy power over me because...

It's 2008 and I'm writing up a story for Rob Kelly's Hey, Kids, Comics! Site. It's about a little cartoon tract published by Chick Publications. I read it only once twenty years ago and I don't remember the title. I visit the Chick Publications web-site to try to find the title and maybe reread it to give my memory a little goose. I don't find the info I'm looking for because I only get through a few of the things before I have to leave the site.

Y'see, my skin is crawling and I've got a really sour taste in my mouth.

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