Odds are you don't spend a lot of time at your local comic shop (LCS if you want to use the parlance) so it may surprise you to know that such an establishment can sometimes attract an unusual sort of fellow, a free-thinker, a march-to-the-beat-of-a-different-drummer.
I was at my favorite store on Friday, picking up my weekly funnybooks and joking around with the owner Greg. The store was empty but for us when a guy walked in and stood at attention in front of the cash register. His hair was oiled back and he sported a fuzzy mustache and a denimy shirt. I'm going to call him Saint Ricky.
"Can I help you find something?" Greg asked.
"Two things," Ricky said. "The movie theater [across the way] wanted me to give you this."
He handed over a roll of posters for the movie Salt (ask me about that movie sometime. There's a part where Angelina Jolie disguises herself as a man. It's ridiculous).
"Cool, thanks," Greg said.
Ricky took a deep breath. "Also, more importantly, I have a question..."
I thought he was going to ask for a donation or try to sell some cologne or preach some weird religion. Instead he asked Greg how much a certain comic might be worth. This kind of thing happens all the time. From his description I knew it was this one issue from the '90s, which is pretty much worthless. In the '90s comics were marketed not for their stories but as "collectibles." People bought them by the sackful thinking they were going to be investments. But of course nothing that's contrived and designed to be an investment (er, except for maybe stocks and Roth IRAs) is actually going to pay off. Comics in the '90s were overprinted and issues that were much sought after in 1991 are now worth less than the cover price. Literally less than the paper they're printed on.
Greg was diplomatic, said he'd have to see it before being able to determine it's so-called worth, but implied that Ricky shouldn't get his hopes up. These moments always feel awkward to me but you know, whatever.
"I have another question," Ricky said. "What did you guys think of the girl in the Ghost Rider movie?"
Neither Greg nor I had seen it.
"Well whoever she is, she's a stone cold fox! I have another question. What do you guys think of Lucy Liu? I think she's a stone cold fox. What about Drew Barrymore? Isn't she annoying when she talks? When she keeps her mouth shut though, she's a stone cold fox."
"You know what movie you would like?" I said. "Charlie's Angels."
"Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle. Lucy Liu fits into a tiny box. It's only this big. I thought Halle Berry was great as Catwoman."
When he said that about Halle Berry, Greg and I shared a startled glance as we knew that Ricky was a different kind of cat.
"Yeah. I used to own a comic-book shop. They were making pornos in there. I had security cameras, and they were screwing on the counter, screwing on the back issue bin, screwing everywhere."
"You were the owner? Where were you when this was going on?" I asked.
"I was watching at home."
I wasn't trying to goad him on, and in fact I was trying to engage him as minimally as possible, but I didn't want to leave either. I don't remember how but Facebook was brought up.
"I have to keep my Facebook account private because I can't let anyone see who I'm friends with. Zac Effron, Vanessa Hudgens..." He listed a bunch of other names I'd never heard of. "I'm friends with all of them because I wrote the music for High School Musical, High School Musical 2, and High School Musical 3. Let me ask you something. How do you think I know all the music when I don't even own the DVDs? It's because I wrote all the songs. Disney wants you to think that Miley Cyrus wrote them but do you think she's ever picked up a guitar? My girlfriend doesn't even watch those movies. I'm a third-degree Shaolin black-belt. My girlfriend is a fourth-degree. She can kick my ass."
"Well," I said, "She's only one degree higher than you so she can only barely kick your ass right?"
"No. I never hit a woman. THAT's where I draw the line. Last night we got in a fight and she broke my toe. Hey, do you mind if I ask how you got those scars? I could show you some scars. I'm covered in needle scars. All over my body. Feel my muscles."
He held out his arm, flexing as hard as he could. I declined.
"I was born with these muscles. See my calf?" he lifted his pant leg and flexed. "I was born with these calves. I am a result of genetic experiments conducted by the government."
I asked when that happened. He said "I don't know, my memory has been wiped. But my uncle, he's a colonel at a military base in Nevada. And that's all I'm allowed to say about that."
"Is it Area 51?" I asked.
"We have to stop talking about this right now. But did you know that you could hit me with a baseball bat as hard as you could, right to the head, and it wouldn't even affect me? I wouldn't be allowed to hit you back though. I'd go straight to jail. My body is registered with the government as a lethal weapon. If I even touched you I'd go to jail for attempted murder. If I killed you, I'd go to jail for murder. Can I have this pen? Can I have any of these pens? Do you have any pens that I can have? Do YOU have a pen I could have?"
We tried to ignore him.
"I'm fluent in nine different languages. Hola, que pasa? Bonjour, je m'appelle Francais. Sprechen sie deutch? Hey, how do you drown a Puerto Rican?"
"I really don't want to know the answer to this one."
"Tape a bag of crack to the bottom of the toilet."
"Not cool man, my wife is Puerto Rican." I don't have any kind of wife but he doesn't know that. That's why you don't tell racist jokes to strangers or ever.
Then he took his shirt off. Just unbuttoned it and took it right off. He had a bunch of weird tattoos that looked like they weren't done by a professional. He pointed out a small scar near his shoulder.
"My ex-wife was Puerto Rican. She did that to me. Stabbed me right there. All I did was ask what was for dinner and she stabbed me. So I know all about Puerto Rican women, buddy."
Somehow he started talking about drums and casually mentioned "My coven just bought me a new drum kit."
"Yeah I'm wickan," he said with a "duh" kind of attitude. After an hour of just the three of us in the store a nice girl walked in, of Asian-American persuasion. She was carrying a brown paper bag having walked over from the nearby liquor store.
"What are you?" he said to her.
"What are you?"
"What do you mean?"
"What. country. are. you. from?"
"No I mean where are you from."
"No I mean your parents."
"Your heritage! What is your heritage?!"
"I guess uh.. Taiwanese."
"Oh cool. So you're buying some anime comics then?"
"I'm buying Spider-man!"
Poor girl had no idea what she walked into.
"You came from the liquor store? Let me ask you, does that liquor store carry sauvignon blanc?" he pronounced it "sauweeyah blaaaanh" like a real Frenchman. "It's a type of wine. I was just wondering if they carried it. Not because I'm gay though."
Then it was time for more jokes.
"What do Michael Jackson and Wal-Mart have in common? Boys clothes half off. What do Michael Jackson, a Catholic Priest, and Wal-Mart have in common? Boys clothes half off."
He mentioned that he was going to go see a movie. In his hometown in Arizona they don't have a movie theater, so he comes up here to see movies then goes back and tells everyone about them. I love this. That the closest movie theater to this town in Arizona is in Salt Lake City. I picture him riding in and every citizen gathering round the dusty town square while he tells tales of distant lands, where city-folk gather together and eat of popped corn and gaze upon the giant screen where the pictures move, where a handsome man named Leo has dreams within dreams within dreams.
The reason he mentioned this is because he could do the same thing for us. He could come back after his movie ended to tell us all about the film Vampires Suck. We all said we'd seen it.
I feel like I'm really only scratching the surface here. It's hard to convey how bizarre this encounter really was and surely I didn't do it justice. After he left Greg and I sat in silence, trying to comprehend what had just happened, unable to put the words together. Probably you had to be there. You had to see his icy stare. You had to see the karate moves he was busting out all over the store, knocking things over and fumbling with found objects. Still. It was a day to remember.
If it sounds like I'm making fun of this guy... well I am. I hope I don't sound mean though. Obviously the fellow is mentally ill in some way. I don't feel bad though because really, he's way happier with his life than I am with mine.