Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Unending Fury

When I was a wee slip of a lad of about 15, I used to listen to Oldies 103, the local station that only played music of the 50s and early 60s. It was my weird form of rebellion against my parents; I was all about the Righteous Brothers and Sam the Sham while listened to The Black Crowes (Mom) and Hole (Dad). I spent most of my Sunday nights with Oldies 103. Now, Saturday nights were pretty packed for me, because that was not only Dungeons & Dragons night, but me and my friends usually watched Star Trek: The Next Generation before jumping into the game. Really, it was a nonstop rave of a Saturday night. But Sundays, I’d lock myself in my room and lay on my bed and read and re-read Stephen King novels, and listen to Oldies 103, at least until Doctor Demento came on and I really became a nerd stereotype. And because I was super alone and lonely, sometimes, just sometimes, I would call the station and pretend to be someone named Arnie, requesting a dedication to my girlfriend Christine.

Guys, I was referencing the love story about a boy and his car in the Stephen King novel Christine.

Back when I was developing my most basic ideas about what love and romance should be, the book Christine entranced me. Being a super mega gay in shy little straight boy clothes, I was very familiar with the idea of one-way desire. The concept of giving yourself over completely to the love/lust/need for someone else, especially if those feeling aren’t reciprocated, and especially if the outcome seems tragic – well, that fit right into my worldview. Look, I’m not saying I directly or consciously took the story about a kid obsessively in love with his car as an instruction manual for how I should approach love; I’m just saying that, looking back on things, it seems to have had more of an impact than one might first assume. I had crushes back then, of course I did. There was a boy who couldn’t love me back. And then some awful stuff happened, and, to my 16-year-old self, well. It was a tragedy.

You know, early on, I might have actually been more swayed by the movie than the book. It was like that in my early involvement with Stephen King. By 1990, when I was fifteen, of course I’d read both Misery and It, but it was the movie adaptations that had me running back, looking for depth and nuance the movies – perhaps by necessity – missed. The movie version of Christine really pushed up the weird romance angle; there’s one scene in which Arnie is inside Christine and he’s just leaning against her steering wheel, and there’s Johnny Ace playing “Pledging My Love,” and it’s fucked up, but it’s also darkly beautiful. Maybe even he knows how badly it’s going to end, but he can’t help but love her. It? Her.

In the past dozen years, I have read Christine more often than any other novel – seven times. There’s a constant refrain in the book: his unending fury. That’s what the novel has been, popping up whenever I need or want it. It’s not the best Stephen King novel (that might be The Shining. Or It. Or Bag of Bones. Or Dolores Claiborne. Look, there’s a lot.) and it’s not my favorite Stephen King novel (that would be It), but it’s the one I keep going back to, time and again. Why? Well, prosaically, it’s an easy novel to read. The characters have depth, but they’re not exactly complex. The storyline is fairly straightforward. A lot of King’s tropes – nostalgia, history, male friendships, the concept of a “bad place,” pretty girls with some agency who are nonetheless in peril – get touched on, but they’re not exactly delved into. It’s not a difficult read.

But: Christine gets me. Right in the feels. Now, over twenty years since graduating high school, I can still reach out and grab my ambivalent feelings toward growing up and becoming real to an outside world that didn’t have to care about me (and which often chose not to). I don’t know if the book resonates more because I actually can’t drive, but I have to think that has something to do with it, just as I relate to some of Bruce Springsteen’s most resonant work about cars and getting out. It’s not the best and it’s not my favorite, but I keep going back to Christine, because I love it, and I will always love it. Her? Yes.

And now? Well, now it’s on me forever. It’s my unending Fury.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

For the Love of Moose

One of my favorite tropes in stories – and it’s weird that it’s my favorite, because it doesn’t happen that often – is when bullies realize they suck and join up with the good guys, or at least acknowledge that the good guys are good guys. Like I said, you don’t see it often, but it crops up in some more intelligent fiction. Freaks & Geeks. The end of the Harry Potter books, where Dudley Dursley realizes he’s been an asshole for no reason and thanks Harry for saving his life. Rushmore, which is probably why it’s my favorite Wes Anderson movie.

And then there’s Moose. Marmaduke “Moose” Mason, the big dumb lunkhead of the Archie comics, whose inner rage isn’t all that inner and whose IQ can be measured in double digits. Massive, with a military-grade blonde crewcut, and always ready to beat on anyone who looks twice at his girlfriend Midge. He’s been around since the late 1940s, and his size and his anger have been fairly constant sources of intimidation.

Well, until sort of recently.

Dig a little deeper into Moose Mason, and you find a flawed, almost tragic figure who’s just trying to make life make sense. In one issue of Archie, we find out that Moose is dyslexic, which is why he always seemed so dumb. Later, he becomes fiercely protective of class nerd Dilton Doiley. Gradually, the Riverdale gang grew to accept him as one of their own, and he accepted them. It sounds all touchy-feely, and maybe it is. I just like it when bad guys become good guys.

Anyway, I got into Archie comics doing research for a book about Stephen King. He wrote an essay on Archie once and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Some way, some how, Archie became a focal point of my comic-loving life. I love it all: the goofy-funny main title (which I apparently livetweet, to the delight of my tens of readers!), the more serious and fascinating alternate future timelines book, Life With Archie. Zombie comic Afterlife With Archie. Betty & Veronica. I read it all. And while all the stories are good fun, it’s the Moose stories that always resonated most with me, especially in Life With Archie. In one storyline, future Moose becomes the janitor of Riverdale High; in another, he becomes Mayor. Such is fate.

There are plenty of iconic images I could have gotten tattooed to my body to showcase my love of Archie comics. There’s the famous Veronica/Archie/Betty sharing an ice cream soda picture. Anything with Jughead eating a hamburger. Even a harried-looking Mr. Weatherbee, perhaps wondering what that crazy Archie Andrews was up to this time.

But for me, it had to be Moose. Not only because of the bully-turned-buddy backstory, but also for more prurient reasons. Moose is a big dude. A big dude with a crewcut and a tiny little hat that bends up. Why is that hat so hot? Because sweet goddamn is that hat hot.

I brought my Moose concept to John as the sun went down, wanting Moose alone in a big spotlighted circle. I’m good with inked circles. “Blue inside,” I said, and John suggested we match the gradated blue on my Drive-By Truckers tattoo. Capital idea! “I’ll give him a little halo effect,” John said, because John reads my mind and gets what I need.

I knew it wouldn’t take long, but even I was astonished at how quick it was and how little it hurt. My comics-and-cartoons arm – previously only the domain of the Daredevil symbol and my big Baloo the Bear – now gets the anchor. When you have three in a theme, you can’t really go back. Robin Hood? Soon. Swamp Thing? Not yet.

Sometimes my tattoos have Meaning and Importance, something that resonates with my path in life or my relationship with my father or something equally profound. And sometimes I just get tattoos because I dig the idea, and they represent one of my many, many jams. This time, I got a little Moose in a little hat, I’m super happy with how it turned out, and everything’s Archie.