A man walks in with aroma of retired debate club arrogance. He walks over to the back issues, side stepping the CLOSED sign blocking the only reasonable path.
"Sorry," I say, "that section is closed."
"Oh, no. Really? Why?"
"I'm putting away this week's books." I say.
"That's okay. I want to look at your Iron Man and Captain Americas." which are the comics behind me when I work at the computer, in the open portion of the store.
"Sure." I say, handing him the stack.
"Are these prices firm?" He asks. "I like to haggle."
"They are." I say. "You can discuss prices with the owner but he prices them at the lower end of the spectrum because, like me, he doesn't like to haggle."
"You can't knock off, like," he swats at the book, not in a damaging way, "five bucks on this."
"Nope They're not my books to knock money off of."
He makes a face. "See, I go on Ebay, and I see these books starting at ninety-nine cents."
I make a face. "They're probably reprints. This is a fifty year old book. I can't imagine they'd start the bidding at under twenty bucks."
"They go up to eighty or ninety before I give up. I don't have that kind of money for a comic. I read them for the-- mind if I open this?" he asks.
"I read them for the stories. I'm not one of those.." he pulls the comic out of the bag, flips it open to a page, and sticks his nose All The Way In to the binding, loudly sniffing "people who buy the books for the money, I" flips to another page, sticks his nose in, and sniffs loudly "I like them for the stories."
Today is never going to end.
"Have you considered getting the collections, then? They're sturdier, you get more story."
He stops mid-sniff to shake his head disapprovingly at me.
"You kids" I'm a kid now! "trying to tell me how to collect things. I've been collecting since I was a kid" back before humans knew how to control fire, back when they viewed women as property and not people, so you know, any point in history up to this point, "I know more about collecting than you" who work in a store that specializes in the thing that I collect "could ever know. Sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiifffff."
"See this one has a tear, so you should knock off a few bucks. That's how they do it on EBay. But I don't like to order from there, you never know when they smell like mildew."
"True." I say. "The thing is, the owner *has* knocked off a few bucks. He's a certified expert on grading comics. I'm not. It's why I don't haggle. But he's been working for this store for almost as long as I've been alive. And he's owned it for over twenty years."
"The Black guy?" he, of course, asks.
"One of them." I say.
"Glasses and a paunch?"
I inhale. But not deeply. Not like I'm sniffing for mildew. "Sure. So he knows all about pricing. He's one of the foremost experts in the country." This might be hyperbole. Who can quantify that skill?
"This one has a little tear in the corner, though."
I nod my head. "I know. He knows, too. If it didn't have the little tear, it would be more expensive."
"I think I could find this for ninety-nine cents on EBay."
"Then you should get it there." I say, reaching for the pile.
He says, "You're a tough negotiator."
"I'm not, though. I don't have the authority to negotiate, as these aren't my books, and this is not my store."
He pulls one of the issues back. "Alright. I'll get this one."
"That's twenty dollars, please."
He gives me a twenty that smells of mildew enough that I don't have to put it up to my nose.
"Can I have a bag?"
"Sure thing." I say. "But I have to charge you for it. It's Cambridge law."
"Oh yea. I keep forgetting that. It's a dime, right?"
"It starts at a dime." I explicitly lie. "But can go up to about three dollars depending on the quality of the bag. Ours are a quarter." you asshole.
An Erudite Man enters the store. "Well, isn't this just perfection. You work here, correct?"
EM: "My daughter is a graphic novelist."
Not Yet A Graphic Novelist: "No. No. I'm a children's author who is thinking of getting into graphic novels."
EM: "Yes. Well." He gives me the eyeroll. "If, let's say, I was a person who read real literature and thought graphic novels were just a failed rebranding of comic books to intimidate adults into foolishly investing their money in comics until they died. What would you say to me?"
Me: "I would say you sounded so convinced in your argument that it would be a waste of my time to try and convince you otherwise."
EM: "Oh, I like you."
EM: "Gun to your head, what's the best graphic novel in the store."
I look to my left.
Me: "Daytripper. It's a book by two Brazilian twin brothers. I don't want to spoil the joy of reading it, so I'll just say that it's a story about family focusing on a young man whose father is a famous novelist, but he writes obituaries and is trying to find his voice as a writer."
NYAGN: "Oh wow."
EM: "That was spectacular. I grew up in Brazil, where I was a journalist in a newspaper. I didn't write the obituaries, but one of my mates did."
NYAGN flips through the book. "I'l definitely be getting this."
We discuss different art styles, what she's looking for, and she mentions that she's in town to have a surprise conversation with an author she particularly likes, who happens to be a subscriber at our store.
EM: "You seem very well informed. About comics and literature. Do you know anything about poetry."
This is not going to end well.
Me: "Yes, I have spent a great deal of time working in the Cambridge area poetry scene."
EM: "Do you know" name I've never heard of.
Me: "No." I look up the name on the computer. "They are quite dead. And have been since before I moved here."
EM: "Gun to your head. Favorite living American poet."
Me: "Patricia Smith."
EM: "I've never heard of her."
I give him a quick rundown, and tell him to start with Blood Dazzler.
EM: "Do you know Sharon Olds?"
Me: "Not personally, but I love her work, and saw her read once, many years ago."
EM: "Seamus Heaney."
Me: "I'm familiar with him, but I don't know him. He wasn't precisely local."
EM: "Of course, of course."
I return to talking with NYAGN about her influences, and different graphic novel categories.
EM approaches me with a book. The Cantab Anthology, which sits on the front counter.
EM: "Are you Adam Stone?"
Me: "I am."
EM: "I read one of the Patricia Smith poems, and then one of yours. What makes this poetry and not prose?"
Me: "A local legend name Jack McCarthy once said that if you wrote or performed something that everyone agreed was poetry, then anything you write thereafter can be considered poetry." (I'm aware this is not the precise quote.)
EM: "But this is just formatting, then. And repetition. Hemingway used repetition. Would you call that poetry?"
Me: "I'm not a big Hemingway fan, so no."
EM: "So how is this" yeup "Drunken Conversations At Hampshire College poetry, and not just prose with line breaks?"
NYAGN: "What classifies anything in the 21st century? Do you have anything from the mid-seventies? That's when I'm setting the book, so I'm curious as to what comics looked like in that era." She says, saving her father from violent stink eye.
We continue talking about 70s art, and a Very Drunk Cantabrigian comes in.
EM, to me: "Is there a second hand clothing store nearby?"
Me: "The best option in Cambridge is The Garment District."
Very Drunk Cantabrigian: "And how."
EM: "How would we get there?"
VDG: "Take the fucken bus."
EM: "Um. Yes. Is there another way?"
VDG: "You could drive, but parking sucks."
EM: "That's fine, we haven't got a car. Could we walk?"
VDG: "Hoooooo. Could you walk? Can you?"
While VDG gives Horrible Directions, NYAGN and I talk about shipping comics to the UK. She ends up buying "Daytripper" and Guy Delisle's "Pyongyang". She and her father leave, taking down my info.
VDG: "I want a copy of the In The Wind 40th Anniversary Edition."
Me: "I don't know what that is."
VDG: "This isn't a place I could get it."
VDG: "It's a motorcycle magazine."
Me: "Ah. Yea, we don't have that."
VDG: "I know. I know. But where would I get it."
Me: "The Coop is the most likely place to have it."
VDG: "Of course! My mother used to work there fifty years ago. 'Til the towers went down. Then she started making butter soup and she sold my house to the communists."
VDG: "Right on the coast of Oregon, they got her to give half the house to the city to secure her legacy. And then Helen....you know Helen?"
VDG: "Sure you do. She works over at...over at...uhh...Charlie's."
Me: "Oh sure, Helen." No idea.
VDG: "She kicks me out all the time. I don't think she knows that Cheny was behind the towers. People blaming Bush. Barabara was a lovely woman. I never met her, but what a lady. If any of those boys ever did wrong. KRAK! Melania, if Trump ever goes nuts..."
VDG: "Think she'd...KRAK!...him? Helen never hit me or nothing, but you know."
VDG: "They called Barbara The Iron Lady."
Me: "Good old Barbara Thatcher."
VDG: "Get those communists....KRAK!"
Me: "Indeed. Well, I've got to close the store for my lunch hour. You should get to the Coop to get your magazine."
VDG: "What? Oh! The Coop. My mother used to work there."
VDG: "But rent got so expensive."
Me: "Uh huh. See you later."
VDG: "I'm always getting kicked out of places. Thanks for not using your foot."
Random Claude: "Who do you think was the best Flash Gordon writer?"
Me: "I don't read or have any interest in Flash Gordon comics, so I'm not the right person to ask."
RC cracks his knuckles and begins to tell me which 1940s writers of a comic book strip I have just told him that I don't care about, I should be boning up on if I want to be taken seriously as a "comics aficionado".
Spoiler alert: I don't ever Ever ever Ever want to be a "comics aficionado".
One of my favorite customers came in, and we were talking about wordless comic books, his problems with Marvel (not right wing ranting, just "I am tired of characters coming back from the dead." Which is a legit stance), why he loves Valiant comics, etc.
In the middle of a conversation about Chris Claremont, his phone rang.
Favorite Customer: "Yea. Yea. I'm in the comic book store. Ok. Wait. Say that again? What? How would I even do that? Think. Think for a second. How would I have driven Both Cars to the comic store? Do I drive one a block, get out, and then drive the other one two blocks, then get out and get the other car, and drive that one two blocks? It doesn't even make sense." He then took his phone out of the store to continue the conversation.
But now I have new rubrics for selfish people, and for climate change deniers.
"Man, that guy hates the environment so much, he drives TWO cars to work."
While my coworker gets to deal with the very nice botanist looking for comics involving plants, her...partner?..sidekick?..antagonistic wingman? comes to the counter and pretends to steal the sandwich I'm eating for lunch.
Fuckhead: "You've been working in comics for a long time, huh?"
FH: "What do you think about how Marvel is destroying comics with leftist politics?"
Me: "By destroying, you mean increasing sales and bringing more people into comics?"
FH: "Sure, sales, fine, whatever. But you're a purist like me, right?"
Me: "You want to keep reading the same stories with the same characters who never change over and over for forty years?"
FH: "No, but just making a character a woman or whatever" Reminder: 'or whatever' is a reference to when Captain America was Sam Wilson, who is Black, that is literally always what ugly ass middle age white guys with bad haircuts mean when they say 'or whatever', so if you ever hear an ugly ass middle age white guy say 'or whatever', kick him in the dick until he can't rape-roduce again. "it doesn't make the stories interesting, you know?"
Me: "Jason Aaron has been writing Thor for about a decade now. He wrote some kind of okay stories about Odinson Thor, but the most interesting part of his run was when Jane Foster became Thor. She was battling cancer, and every time she picked up the hammer and became Thor, it undid all of her chemotherapy. Eventually, it killed her, and now Odinson is Thor again."
FH: "That sounds really creative. But I see a lot of stories on websites about..."
Me: "Every person who writes articles about how diversity is ruining comics is too fucken stupid to think critically. Marvel has been 'pushing leftist politics' since they introduced the X-Men in 1963, since Steve Rogers punched Hitler in 1941. People who write about leftist politics destroying comics are moronic trolls with zero friends, and no concept of history. They don't read the books they bash, they just reminisce about how they imagined things were when they were kids and still had hopes that anyone would ever find them lovable. But those people don't have friends, and no matter how much money they spend on comics, no comic book store employee has ever liked them or wanted them in their store."
FH: "That's interesting. I guess I'll let you get back to eating your lunch."
I love checking out the way comic "fans" write reviews on Goodreads.
*****: "My fave!"
**** : "The art was good, but the story ended abruptly.
*** : "The story was ok, but it's not as good as Hellboy."
** : "Why are Nazis always the bad guys? This writer has no imagination. Also, the artist has no proper sense of biology."
* : "I was conceived on a Monday night in Newark. My father was drunk on Maker's Mark, even though he usually drank Jameson. My mother wore Chanel Number 5 and was wearing a sunflower in her hair. My parents divorced before I was born,though they both still pine for each other when the moon is in Saggitarius or when McDonald's puts the lobster roll back on the menu...
(8 pages pass)
...When I was five, I wanted a swingset, but my mother bought me a tire swing, which wasn't as frustrating as the way the artist in this book can't decide whether the robot's eyes are French Blue or Medium Parisian Blue. I mean a six year old can tell the difference, and I should know, when I was six, my teacher said that my ability to distinguish colors was the only positive thing about me..." (etc. etc. ad infinitum)
Regular Customer: "One trope I've never understood is useless, young sidekicks. Jimmy Olson...Rick James..."
Me: "Rick James?"
RC: "The kid who helped out The Hulk."
Me: "Rick JONES. But now that I think about it, 'Gamma radiation is a hell of a drug.' is a great catchphrase. I would definitely read that book."
When I switch shifts with someone, it becomes increasingly clear that I've been slowly training people not to call and annoy me during my regular shifts. Everybody who calls today is part of the Lonely Asshole club, and they have fifty-five hundred questions about comic books that they've been misled to believe are important enough to waste my time on the phone.
Person On Phone: "Do you have the rest of the Mage trilogy?"
Me: "The rest of?"
PoP: "I was in the other day, and there are three parts of the story."
PoP: "So do you have it?"
Me: "What do you already have?"
PoP: "It's in a bag."
Me: "Uh huh. What's in a bag? And where is this bag?"
PoP: "I gave it to you yesterday."
Me: "Nope. I wasn't here yesterday. I don't know who you are, or what you're looking for."
PoP: "The rest of the Mage trilogy."
Me: "I can't help you find the rest of something if I don't know what you already have."
PoP: "I see. I had the guy put issues #11 #12 and #13 in a bag."
Me: "Ok. Well, I don't know how that factors into a trilogy. There were fourteen issues of the previous Mage series, and the current run is up to six."
PoP: "Not the reprints."
PoP: "Not the reprints."
Me: "What about the reprints?"
PoP: "I don't want them. I have the paperbacks from thirty years ago. Those have got to be worth a fortune, huh?"
Me: "Probably not."
PoP: "Do you collect comics?"
PoP: "Well, if they're not worth anything, I should just give them away, huh?"
Me: "That would be very charitable of--"
Random Customer In Store: "EXCUSE ME. YOUR DOCTOR WHO. I NEED YOUR DOCTOR WHO."
Me (on phone): "Hold on a second."
I lead the person to the Doctor Who comic section.
RC: "NOT THE COMICS, GEESH! THE MAGAZINE. DOCTOR WHO THE MAGAZINE."
I lead them over to the--
RC: "HOW MUCH IS THIS? IT DOESN'T SAY HOW MUCH IT IS."
Me: "It's $11.99."
RC: "I REMEMBER WHEN THEY WERE ONLY FIVE DOLLARS."
Me: "Ah, the Good Old Days."
PoP: "I remember the good old days. How much are Watchmen issues worth?"
Me: "I have no idea."
RC: "CAN I PAY YOU FOR THESE?"
Me: "Sure thing. $11.99"
PoP: "They're only worth $11.99?"
Me: "No. Sorry, I'm talking to someone in the store. I don't know how much they're worth."
RC: "DIDN'T YOU SAY $11.99?"
RC gives me the money and leaves.
PoP: "Did you find the rest of the trilogy?"
Me: "I don't know what you mean by The Trilogy. There were fourteen issues of the 80s and 90s run. The current run is up to six issues."
PoP: "The trilogy is the original story."
Me: "Ok. Well, there were fourteen issues."
PoP: "The trilogy?"
Me: "I don't know anything about a trilogy. There were fourteen issues of the old run. There have been six issues of the new one."
PoP: "Are the new issues part of the trilogy?"
Me: "I have no idea. I can't find anything online about a trilogy."
PoP: "Do you know why they made him bald in the reprints?"
Me: "Huh? He's bald in the new series because it takes place thirty years later."
PoP: "They're not reprints?"
Me: "The New Ones? No. The New Issues aren't reprints. They're new."
Me: "Look, I have a ton of people in the store and--"
RC: "I ALREADY HAVE THIS BOOK. I ALREADY READ IT. YOU CHARGED ME FOR A BOOK I ALREADY READ."
PoP: "That person is very loud."
Me: "Very. I have to go."
PoP: "Can you look up how much the old Watchmen issues are worth? I bet it's a bunch."
Me: "Sorry, the internet is down. I have no way of looking it up." This is a lie.
RC: "YOU CAN'T GIVE ME MONEY BACK BECAUSE OF THE INTERNET?"
Me to PoP: "Goodbye."
Me to RC: "I was talking to the person on the phone."
RC: "HE WAS ON THE PHONE FOR A VERY LONG TIME."
Me: "Yes, he was. Here's your twelve dollars. You can keep the bonus penny."
RC: "BUT IT'S NOT MINE."
Me: "It's my gift to you. Now, if you'll excuse me--"
The phone rings.
Same Person On Phone: "I meant to ask. Are Cerberus comics worth anything?"
Me: "Nope. You should burn them if your heat ever goes out."
Me: "Yea. I have to go. Bye again."
If I ever meet this caller in-person, he's going to end up wearing this phone in a very uncomfortable way.
Random Loiterer: "Do you have a copy of Alan Moore's Lost Girls?"
Me: "Yea. It's over here."
RL: "Forty dollars? Is this the only format it comes in?"
RL: "Do you have any other suggestions for what to get my girlfriend? It's our first Christmas together?"
Phone rings. Ominously.
Random Caller: Hey, do you have the Fantastic Four comic?
Me: Sure, we have a bunch.
RC: The one with the first appearance of Black Panther.
Me: Ooooh. I don't know. Let me check.
RC: Is it cover price?
I laugh. Because that's fucken funny.
Me: Noooo. If we have it, it's way more than cover price.
Me: Because it's worth a lot more than cover price.
RC: Well, I was hoping to get it for cheap because I hear it's going to be valuable.
Me: You're about thirty years late to get it for cheap. Even a torn up copy is worth fifty bucks. If it's in good shape, it's over a grand.
RC: Well, I was looking to pay about--
Me: We don't have it. And nobody is going to have it for under a couple hundred dollars.
RC: That's a rip-off, you guys sh--
Me: Well, that's the price that it sells for. Sorry if it's not what you're looking for. You can get the same story in a couple of different collections that run about $20-$40 but they're not ever going to go up in value, they're just for reading. So if you want to just read the story, you can do that. But if you want it as a collectible for cheap, you're going to have to find someone who has absolutely no idea how valuable it is. It's possible but very, very, VERY unlikely.
RC: Where could I get it for about five bucks?
I hang up the phone.