August 31st, 2008

The Zombie

The End

August 30 -  When we last saw our hero... Seriously, though, it's pretty important that you've read at least the previous entry before you continue with this one.  This post is about....GULP...the end.  So, called to see Big Joe himself in the morning, I had a few hours to think about the fight, and all that had led up to it.  Of course, the idea of sitting across from Mr. Kubert in that boardroom style office did not thrill me, but I was ultimately relieved.  "Finally!  Joe will put an end to the bullying!  He'll make things right.  I won't be a victim anymore."  The thought of Papa Kubert petting my head while cooing "Everything's going to be OK now" comforted me as I fell asleep.  With the dawn, I had settled down, had my list of incidents prepared, and was ready to face the situation.  I trudged in to the school's secretarial office, and found myself solemnly seated next to Christopher...and one of his sycophantic acolytes?  What was that guy doing here?  I hadn't even thought about bringing a friendly witness.  Ohgod...did I have enough time to run down the hall and grab Bill or Chuck or...nope.  Too late.  We were ushered in to Joe's office.  Now, I tried to tell you a few days ago about what an impressive, imposing figure Joe Kubert was on a good day.  This was not a good day.  His face furrowed in a Sgt. Rock scowl, Joe began by saying "In all my years of running this school, I've never had to deal with anything like this."  Great.  Another "first" for me.  "Which one of you slashed the artwork?"  Uh, well, I guess I did.  "And whose artwork was it?"  Chris raised his hand.  Joe turned to the other guy and asked "Then, who are you?"  He said "I'm the guy who broke into his room and wrote on his sword."  WHAT?!  Yes, Chris was innocent of that, at least.  I had just assumed that the same guy who was pushing me around was the one who'd done the damage, but, as it turned out, I had victimized a mostly innocent man.  The shock hadn't even sunk in before Joe turned back to me and growled "This is very serious, John.  You have terrorized a fellow student, threatened him with a weapon, and, worst of all, you have destroyed his artwork.  I consider that to be the lowest act possible.  A fight is one thing, but to attack a man's art?  That's inexcusable."  And it is, especially when framed like that.  Joe continued by saying "I hate to do this, John, but I am putting you on probation.  Any more fighting out of you and you'll be expelled.  Now, I want you all to shake hands and put this behind you."  Trembling and stunned, I shook Chris's hand, even managing to apologize.  The evil smirk on his face made my neck freeze.  He'd gotten out of any blame in the situation, which apparently had emboldened him.  So, that was it?  We filed out of the office.  My head was spinning.  So, the bullying would continue?  He'd already beaten me up without consequence.  What would Chris, or one of the other "cool kids," do to me now?  I was visibly shaken, so the sweet office gal, Tracey, asked me "Are you going to be OK?" 


A caricature I drew of Tracey back in the day.

As Chris and the other guy disappeared down the dark hallway, I turned back to her and just began bawling.  Like a baby.  Tears were
shooting off of me.  But, I was terrified!  She kindly guided me back to a chair, then demanded that Joe talk to me again.  She helped me back into Joe's office, where he was understandably befuddled by my blubbering.  Tracey coaxed me to talk about it.  Choking back tears, I unloaded all of it; the harassment, the stairway shoving, the threat still waiting back at The Mansion.  I told him how, while my actions were not right, they were the act of a desperate person who'd just had enough of being a victim.  Flustered, Joe was compelled to calm me down.  His face changed to one of concern as he assured me that he finally fully understood the situation and would deal with it.  It was, without a doubt, the absolute lowest point of my life.  I was sick, starving, exhausted, smelly, had lost the respect of my hero, and, worst of all, had lost the last vestige of my self-respect.  Plus, I had cried in front of a pretty girl.  Ugh.  Somehow, I was able to screw myself together enough to slink into class.  Everyone there knew what had happened (well, except for the crying), but no-one said anything about it to me.  While my classmates might have merely been too uncomfortable to talk about it, the fact that they politely allowed me the dignity to just blend back into the crowd was greatly appreciated.  After that, the aggravating circumstances actually improved.  Plumbers restored fresh water to The Mansion.  With showers and clean water to drink, my health improved.  Chris must have gotten word that Joe had his eye on him because he and I never had a problem after that.  I think that my sleepwalking stopped (of course, I can't be sure, but the signs, like waking up with no clothes on - or even near - me after going to bed clothed, stopped).  I even got a new roommate, Charlie Nappa.  Class assignments began to focus more on creative projects rather than tedious repetition or copying.  On the surface, things actually seemed to be better.  That's why I feel that my ultimate decision to leave was based on facts and principles, rather than all of the craziness that preceded it.  In fact, after my first roommate Dave had split, I had become the go-to guy for disgruntled students.  Time and time again, I argued that leaving was a bad option.  I extolled the virtues and advantages of "just being here."  I didn't disagree with their complaints, necessarily, but I - who was on probation for fighting - was a strong proponent of the Joe Kubert School.  Still, I had my own doubts.  Dave was definitely right about the teachers owing us some teaching, and that wasn't exactly what we got.  I remembered an interview with Stephen Bissette I'd read.  In it, he said something to the effect of "I enjoyed the kind of education I got at The Kubert School.  The learning wasn't so much handed to me as it was something I had to pursue."  Apparently, it had always been the case that the school was what students made of it, so I had intended to make the most of it.  But.  But over and over again, as the year progressed, the school's inadequacies, coupled with ever-increasing and suspect surprise surcharges, began to weigh heavily on me.  The shared cost of the sewer/water repairs alone was fifty bucks per Mansion student, which would have worked out to something like an unlikely five-hundred dollars per hour in plumber's charges.  It began to feel like there was no problem, real or questionable, which couldn't be solved by charging us for it.  Broke and disillusioned, I had already come to the conclusion that I literally couldn't afford, on any level, to return for a second year.  Unless a long-lost millionaire relative gifted me the seven thousand dollars for another "go-round," 1985 was going to be my last year at the JKS.  Then, we got our second trimester report cards.  Rumor had it that students who'd gotten a grade lower than a C were also issued a fifty dollar charge.  For each less-than-C!  Remember, we had ten different classes, so it was possible to have been charged a lot of money.  I couldn't believe it.  Fifty bucks?  For what?  First, I sought out a student who had gotten a D in a class.  Sure enough, there was his fifty dollar bill for it.  I went immediately to Joe.  He admitted that it was a new policy, and that the fifty was a make-up charge, to cover the cost of the extra work that teachers would need to do to bring that student's grade back up.  So, OK.  I left Joe's office and rushed down to the teachers' lounge.  I found both Hy and Jane, both of whom had given out D grades to some students, both of whom had no idea that their grading would result in charges, and both of whom said that there was no "make-up" about the grades.  Their D's were going to be D's, and that was all there was to it as far as they were concerned.  Hearing this - hearing it first hand from all of the people involved - brought into focus the inevitable course my life was about to take.  Although I hadn't gotten anything lower than a B on my report card, it didn't matter.  If it wasn't fifty bucks charged for a low grade, it would be something else.  They would continue to squeeze money out of us for the rest of the year.  I was way beyond broke, already planning to be done with school in a month or so, and just weary of defending what had become indefensible.  So I quit.  That's it.  I just quit.  Straw?  Meet the camel's back.  Freed, I wandered the halls saying goodbye.  I asked everyone to draw in my over-sized sketchbook (seen in Dan Lietha's hands in my class photos), including my teachers.  Milt even drew a beautiful caricature of me.  I putzed around, going into every "off-limits" room I could find, including the gymnasium, the theater, classrooms, whatever.  I was done.  But I still lived on Kubert School property.  Oops.  I should have thought that one through.  That night, as I began purchasing train and plane tickets, word reached me that Joe wanted me to do an exit interview.  Sure.  Whatever.  The next day, I carefully placed my belongings into the closet in Bill Golliher's room.  What wouldn't fit, or I couldn't ship home, I gave away.  I gave away my bike (which I rode to my first day of high school), my fridge, my plants, my pillows, and my food (what little there was).  I fully expected that the "exit interview" was a ploy to keep me occupied while they threw me out of The Mansion.  I was right.  While I was at the school, people came to toss my crap out into the yard.  My friends all claimed that I had taken everything to my Uncle's house, and that I had already moved out.  Ha.  Meanwhile, I'd found myself facing Tracey, not Joe.  Joe wasn't available.  Oh, he was clearly in the next room, listening with the door open, but he wasn't available.  Tracey asked me if it was true that I was quitting.  I said, with a tone of acceptance in my voice, "I guess so."  She was nearly in tears.  "I am supposed to ask you, for the record, why are you leaving?"  Looking at her, my hero from earlier in the year, while she trembled with emotion, I just couldn't get into it.  And what did it matter?  Knowing full well that Joe would hear, I could only muster "I guess I just thought that this was a place that would teach me how to draw.  And it's not."  With that, I thanked her, said my goodbyes to her and the other office gals, and left The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc., forever.  On my way out, I had the impulse to slide down the prominent stone banister next to the steep front steps. 



Zzzzwisshh!  That was fun...but the friction also burned a hole in the seat of my pants!  "How perfect," I thought.  "How perfect." 


It took several days to actually get home.  Along the way, I lost that wonderful sketchbook in the trunk of a cab, and was seventy dollars short of having plane fare (apparently, they could increase rates back then, even if you had a reservation, if you didn't make that reservation with a credit card - thanks, again, to Bill Golliher for coming to my rescue).  On the flight to Chicago, our plane hit oxygen-mask-deploying turbulence, inducing screams of "We're gonna die" from some of the passengers.  After we landed safely, I had to spend that evening in the O'Hare airport guarding my remaining worldly possessions while I waited for a morning bus.  The bus took me to Madison, where my Grandpa Fry picked me up.  When he saw me, the startled look of concern on his face told me that my ordeal was evident.  The next day, my folks came and drove me home.  Not a word was spoken as we drove that hour or so.  For the next full year, I didn't draw anything.  At all.  I was so, ugh...just disappointed with every single thing in which I had once believed that I just couldn't bring myself to do that which had, before this, been my only refuge when things were bad.  Instead, I just wallowed in thought.  If I wasn't going to be the hotshot young comic book artist who graduated from The Joe Kubert School, I had to figure out just who the heck I was...if I was anything at all anymore.  More on that tomorrow (now that's a lousy "cliffhanger").  Here, though, is your Joe Kubert School Alum of The Day -  Kim DeMulder!