August 30th, 2008

The Zombie


August 29 -  Bear with me.  This is going to be a long one.  I will admit that there were other, possibly contributory issues behind my growing disenchantment with my year at The Joe Kubert School.  I like to believe that I made my decisions based on facts and principles, but I can't ignore the thought that I may have also been influenced, at least a little, by what was happening to me away from class.  Yes, I suppose it's time to talk about...sigh...the fight.  To set the stage, I have to tell you that I was very cash poor in those days (and all days since, come to think of it).  Oh, I started out OK, with about a thousand extra dollars in a new, miserably confusing New Jersey bank account.  In the first couple of weeks of my 1984-1985 school year, I felt like a millionaire!  I went with guys to the area comic book shops, book fairs, and even antiques malls.  I spent money on my every whim.  I always got a good deal, but I was still buying lots more stuff than I really needed...especially since that thousand bucks was nonreplenishable.  It is a fact of life at The Kubert School that most students can't hold a job while keeping up with heavy classwork, so my only "income" throughout the rest of the year would be the - and it seems ridiculous now - thirty-five dollars a month sent from my folks back in Wisconsin.  And even that was often mysteriously diverted to the local Dead Letter Office as "undeliverable," even though sent to the correct address by priority mail (that happened at least twice!  Many thanks to Bill Golliher for driving me down to the far-off office to claim my mail!).  Today, thirty-five bucks seems incredibly meager, but, at the time, that was a reasonable, if small, amount to supplement my thousand dollar nest-egg...except, well, of course that was gone within weeks.  Oh, I had a Moliere book from the 1600's (!), a first edition of John Carter, Warlord of Mars, a vintage Grumpy figurine from Disney's Snow White, and an ornate antique sword in scabbard, but no more money.  My parents weren't exactly poor, but thirty-five bucks a month - and payment of all of my phone calls via a method used back then to assign charges to any account - was about all they could afford.  Eventually, I was eating nothing but Ramen noodles and toothpaste spread on crackers stolen from the Travelers Diner.  Years later, when I first heard the phrase "Freshman Fifteen," I laughed out loud.  During my "Freshman" year, I lost nearly forty pounds!  Look at that skinny kid I was when I began school, then imagine him losing that much weight.  Not healthy. 

Yikes!  Just check out this creepy, ominous self-portrait drawn
for caricature class.  Get that kid a sandwich...and a smile!

I was working on assignments at all hours, sleeping less than three hours a day (sometimes as little as twenty minutes), and eating so poorly that, were I a prisoner, it would have been considered abuse.  I eventually realized that I was sleepwalking, too!  I don't want to leave you with the impression that it was The Bataan Death March or anything, though.  I still had fun, and made many good friends.  My basement sanctum eventually filled with other Mansion students, each asking me if it was OK to set up down there.  I didn't mind at all.  The more the merrier.  Joining me in my L-shaped office space were Chuck Marchegiano, Bill Golliher, and (I think) Chris LaForce.  With a little shuffling of the free-standing shelving, we were able to fabricate "cubicles" for some privacy. 

That's my little corner!  Virtually all of that stuff was amongst the crap
I found when I cleaned out the basement (including Mr. Peanut).

The large room through the door behind the stairs became, in spite of my hopes, more study space, occupied by...well, "the cool kids."  In high school, I had been a greasy, nerdy, geeky dork.  Far from being cool, my friends an I were at the lowest end of the social scale.  I had thought that, once I was enrolled in a college
devoted to geekiness, I would finally find myself in the majority.  That was not exactly the case.  Before long, students in The Mansion began to fall into cliques.  For a while, that was OK.  Then, The Mansion itself began to turn us against each other.  The old building was never meant to house that many people, and the strain began to show almost immediately.  At first, the failings were minor.  Some were even questionable, verified by second year students as having been in disrepair before we ever came. 

This note was once posted at The Mansion.

Whatever the case, the school administration passed the costs of refitting and repair on to us.  Even if I had that kind of extra money, this seemed patently unfair.  Why were we paying rent if
all upkeep also came out of our pockets?  Then, as I was drinking a nice, tall glass of tap water (the only beverage I could afford), I realized that it was a milky yellow.  Yup.  The sewer had backed up into the pipes.  All "water," including showers, had become horrible, contaminated sewage.  While the toilets still worked, the smell of them alone was indescribable.  When we reported this, Joe told us that repairs were immanent...after which several days passed without any sign of a plumber.  Joe suggested that we use the showers at the nearby Carriage House in the meantime.  That proposed it's own problems, as the students there already had a hard time coordinating shower times.  Besides, if we were paying for it, we wanted it now.  We even offered to contract plumbers ourselves (why make Joe do it?  We had to pay one way or another).  This was met with angry denouncements.  "It will get done, just be patient."  And so, we were...for the first week.  After that, we began a protest.  Basically, we refused to bathe.  No more crawling over to The Carriage House at 3:00AM to get a shower before school.  Remember, there were no girls to impress, just other smelly guys (OK, there were four girls, but this was a stand of principle, dang it).  Weeks passed, and we stinking, grouchy protesters began to feel the adverse effects of our non-actions, both physically (we were all pretty sick) and mentally (we were all, uh...pretty sick).  Eventually, for whatever reason, "the cool kids" began to harass me.  First it was snickering and snubbing, then actual threats.  Later, the ersatz leader of "the cool kids," Chris Knowles, "accidentally" shoved me into the wall as we passed on the stairs. 

In a bit of forshadowing, I drew this self-portrait for another
assignment.  Ironically, in that exact same spot where
I drew myself sitting, Chris would shove me over. 

Then, the next day after school, I came home, tired, stanky, and sick, to find that my room had been broken into!  Prepared to fight off a burglar, I cautiously entered, only to find that
someone had used black Sharpie to scrawl "THE GAY BLADE" on my antique sword.  I went ballistic.  I had spent all of my life being bullied, and I wasn't going to put up with it anymore.  I grabbed the evidence and stormed downstairs to the basement to confront my tormentor.  When I found Chris's drawing area, he wasn't there.  "The coward," I thought.  Angry and clearly not thinking straight, I used the sword to stab one of Chris's drawings posted on a bulletin board behind his desk.  I know that's not cool.  In fact, it's probably grounds for arrest, but it's what I did, and I can't run away from it (although I will say that my aim was terrible and the puncture was mostly in the margin outside the artwork itself...not that that really matters in the long run).  Somewhat sated, and now even more exhausted, I went back to my room and fell asleep...leaving the sword in my own workspace.  Later, I woke up to the wild thrashing sounds of Chris shouting and cursing (two stories below).  OK, OK...I thought I'd better go confess what I'd done and try to talk things out.  I first went to my little corner...and got no further.  Chris burst into the room, screamed "YOU" and then pounced on me!  Thwack!  His first punch threw my glasses to the wall.  Thwack!  I tried to talk, to reason, but...THWACK!  His next blow nearly clipped Chuck!  That made the situation crystal clear; this wasn't a misunderstanding.  This was a fight!  I shouted "THAT'S IT" as I shoved Chris out into the stairway area, away from my friends.  The two of us tussled and clawed, with Chris clearly having the upper hand.  I'd never been in a fight before, so I was happy to just constrain Chris's fists, rather than try to land any of my own.  Eventually, poor Don, the pseudo-R.A., pulled us apart.  The fight abated, but the trouble was just beginning.  The next day, we had to go to the "principal's office" to face Joe Kubert himself.  I'll leave the story there until later, but I have to give you a little update on the fight itself.  Years later, Chris and I met again at the Chicago Comicon.  He had felt as terrible about his actions as I had been of mine.  We even had a couple of groaning laughs about it all.  Both of us were embarrassed and apologetic.  Chris is a wonderfully warm, generous, and talented person with whom I'm so happy to have made my peace.  We're good now.  In 1985, though?  Not so much.  More in the next post.  For now, here's your Joe Kubert School Alumni of The Day for -  the 28th - Joe Moore, and the 29th -
Ben Ruiz!