Nothing for this week I just dig this cover. And since there’s nothing for the week I’ll just reach into my bag of stories from the time I was a clerk at a comic book shop in the 90s to share with you all.
It was a typical sunny day in Los Angeles - though not a Wednesday - and I opened the shop with my usual perk sans the coffee buzz, looking every bit the dapper gent that I still am in my t-shirt and jeans. I had long hair then. A friend said I had a Lobo look going on.
On any other day there’s no one’s waiting outside to be let in, so I turned on the cash register, which was the only way we did business back then, and fired up the boom box to which I had an arsenal of cassette tapes just waiting to be blasted. The store was rectangular in dimension, 50' x 25' as I remember, the counter faced the opposite wall on the narrow side, and to my right was the only entrance to the store for both customer and employee alike. The sound from the radio filled every corner of the joint something beautiful. But before I could choose from any band to tickle my musical fancy, a customer walked in. He would not have stood out in a crowd. A guy of about 5'11", a beer belly, clothes even more plain than mine, an average looking face (if that), and a backpack.
He was an Average Joe.
Even with the backpack I didn’t get a sense that he would try anything stupid. As long as I had worked there by then, I had a developed sense for the thief (I’ve probably lost this gift by now) and he didn’t give off that vibe.
“Hi,” he said as he searched the comic bins.
“What’s up,” in my usual response.
“I haven’t been in a comic book store in a long time.”
“Well, here we are.”
He went silent then and tool off his backpack, unzipped it and reached inside for I don’t know what. He looked into it for some time. “I haven’t been here that long.” While I didn’t get a thief vibe from him, I did get something from this cat, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. With some people you just know.
I started saying something to the affect of “Welcome to L.A.” when he slipped off his shirt. Bare-chested, his areolas down to his belly button reminded me of the kids falling into the meat grinder in Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
He stuffed the shirt into his backpack, zipped it, slung it on and fell to the ground crawling on the floor.
“When I was in Viet Nam, we had to do a lot of crawling just so we wouldn’t take a bullet.”
From behind the counter, I was stuck. Part of me duty bound to stay with the ship no matter what and the other part wondering what the hell was going on with this guy. He crawled around the floor as I looked for something to use against him. Just in case. But there was nothing but a broom. He finally got up and opened the backpack and brought out the shirt and put it back on.
That backpack. That fucking backpack.
I was speechless. I mean, what would I say?
Then, just as the silence took over and any noise might set him off, another customer walked in. We both turned to looked at the third guy as he said Hi. Backpack man quickly put on his bag and walked out of the store. Just like that - He was gone.
The guy asked about a certain comic and I thought for minute, then asked him to wait as I went to the door and looked out to see if I could find Backpack Man. He was nowhere to be seen. The store was located a couple blocks from the USC campus but the police didn’t really do there job for the residents back then.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. But I did tell the owner about the incident and to provide me some kind of protection.
“You want a gun?”
“Fuck no! But give something like a bat.”
The next day as I opened up the store, there was an aluminum bat resting on its end against the counter.
I always wonder what the fuck else was in that bag.
Oh, yeah... What’s in your bag this week?