Friday, September 09, 2005

Moving Day, Conclusion

Dave hit the water.

Waning sunlight caught the spray from his plunge. There were colors: blue, green, brown, red.

With the crack of flesh striking water (and what else?), sweat broke on my forehead and lip, I shivered -- and then Dave was gone, out of sight.


To make a long story short, Joe Kubert scanned my meager portfolio and the single copy of Abyss and said, “You’re just the kind of student we’re looking for. Can you start this fall?”

Thus, moving day approached, and I rushed to it.

Now, the leap from Vermont to Dover, NJ was a big move indeed. Culturally, I knew I was in for some seismic shocks, but I had no idea how many, or how primal those could be.

For instance, I had lived all my life looking people in the eyes. In my native state, it’s a human thing, not a confrontational stance: the eyes are the person, more often than not, the means of initial contact. But as my first couple of trips to Manhattan had taught me, looking other people in the eyes as we did at home was either an affront or an invitation in the Big Apple -- eyes darted away, afraid, or locked with your own, suddenly hungry. There seemed no median between those reactions, and both startled me. In NYC, making eye contact was a threat to some -- during my first-ever trip to NYC in ‘74, the look of naked fear that distorted one Manhattan woman’s face walking past me after I’d made eye contact really jolted me to the core. It was an open door to others -- primarily, circa the late ‘70s, crazies, Moonies, or religious fanatics (both of the latter were particularly thick in urban areas at that time). Having already skirted Moonies more than once in Port Authority, I had no desire to offer those kinds of inadvertent invitations. But it was part and parcel of my upbringing, who I was, who I am... and I was heartbroken, during my first walk in downtown Dover, to see the same unspoken “eye contact rules of conduct” applied in NJ. Joe Kubert and his family were atypical of Dover’s population when it came to casual eye contact -- sigh.

But moving day is inevitably a physical exercise, a displacement and reorientation of home, heart, and, uh, one’s shit.

First, let’s talk about moving one’s shit. Specifically, in this case, my shit.

As I mentioned, my parents had sold our Colbyville home and store on Route 100, and when I moved to NJ, they were moving to North Port, Florida (my sister Kathie was going with them, too, though her own stint in the military overlapped this period -- ah, this is my story, not Kathie’s, so suffice to say we were all leaving Colbyville and Vermont).

During my two years at JSC, I had compacted most of my belongings into the tiny dorm room I shared with not one but two roommates my freshman year. My sketchbooks, comics & comix and records were essentials, of course, and had come with me. But beyond that, I had been free to leave the rest of my life in my bedroom in Colbyville: my books, a huge library of movie-related tomes and clip files, my art, furniture, drawing table, odds and ends. That was no longer an option. There would be nowhere to stash my stuff any longer -- all that could come with me would be all that would fit in a tiny Carriage House room (the Baker Mansion Carriage House was, at that time, the only ‘dorm space’ available at the Kubert School) which would be shared with someone else.

Since leaving home to attend JSC, I had prided myself on traveling with no more than I could carry in one ragged old Scout backpack, keeping my clothes and necessities to a minimum (this was a practice I maintained for years, until I married and we had children). With the imminent move to Dover, NJ and my new life as a budding cartoonist, I now worked to strip my worldly goods to the bare minimum. This occupied much of the remaining summer of ‘76, and resulted in some pretty bizarre scenes.

See, I had a lot of shit. For one thing, I had enough books on film to donate to not one, but three libraries, including UVM and JSC... and still had to leave some behind in four boxes on the floor of my JSC summer dorm, hoping someone who gave a shit would find them. Ditto my one-drawer file cabinet full of newspaper and Variety clippings on horror and exploitation films of the era, which I’ve no doubt ended up in the Johnson land fill. I sold as many of my LPs as I could to friends and JSC students that summer, breaking up my massive jazz and soundtrack record collection. On my last day at JSC, I still ended up hauling the last of it -- five boxes! -- to a sweaty fat man somewhere in the Northeast Kingdom who gave me five dollars for the lot, take it or leave it. There went my original releases by Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Danny Zeitlin, Cannonball Adderly, Jerry Goldsmith, and much, much more. It sucked, but there were no options. Only those few I couldn’t live without (though of course, I could) went with me to my new life and much tighter accommodations at the Kubert School.

One of the comedic low points came when a group of my Johnson cronies and I made a run to Montreal and bought as much Maximus Super as we could afford -- and get across the border with -- and brought ‘em back to our room in Governors Hall to savor an afternoon of drinking and schmoozing. At that time, Maximus had a much higher alcohol content than any beer sold in the US, so this was a treat, even for a relative non-drinker like myself.

Now, I knew my parents were planning a family ‘moving day’ auction at the Colbyville house. What I didn’t know was that Dad had chosen that very day for the setup of the tent for the auction: a huge, circus-sized tent, with a central pole, pitched in our driveway. Without prior arrangement or announcement, Dad showed up at JSC and marched into Governors to collect his son, who was by that time fairly tanked on Maximus. To the high hilarity of my drinking buddies, I trundled off with Pop for the 45 minute drive to Colbyville to take my place in the tent assembly. I was in no shape to hold an outsized elongated center pole steady, but there I was, teetering like a stewed sailor and weathering whatever cussing was flung my way as I held onto that pole for dear life, fighting gravity and vertigo until the job was done.

The auction was one signpost of the move; my farewell to JSC was another.

To be honest, I don’t recall the final hour at my family home in Colbyville, but I do remember my farewell to Johnson, my first home-away-from-home. I took a last lingering look at my Governors room -- coincidentally, the same room Joe Mangelynx and I met in my first day at JSC in ‘74, the room we shared with a third roommate that first semester away from home -- sighed at the orphaned boxes of books and that damned one-drawer file, and walked away from JSC for good.

Once I was at the Kubert School, I found myself in a new community that felt more like home than any I can remember since childhood. For the first time in my life, I was among people who were into everything -- and I do mean everything -- I was into. We lived, breathed, ate, shit, slept, talked and drew comics from our first day onward.

I’d left home -- two homes -- to find home. What’s the old saying? “We are born into the families we grow up with; we make the families we choose to be part of.” I had made many fast and lasting friends at Johnson, by happenstance of being tossed together in the half-basement of Governors Hall (the ‘subfloor,’ hence our adopted moniker ‘The Subhumans’), and by the gravitational pull of shared interests and at-first-undefinable emotional ties.

But those of us who came together at the Kubert School, Year One were there because of communal interests. We were a pioneer brood, the first Kubies, and it was all a new adventure, unlike any anyone had ever had before: for Joe and Muriel, for our instructors, for every one of us. Rick Veitch often tells me this time of year how a special feeling washes over him -- how seminal that September of ‘76 was for all of us -- and I reply, “ya, I know what you mean.” Whether the experience proved good, bad, or ugly, we were all exploring something fresh, new and experimental. I was lucky to be part of it, and am forever thankful for everyone and everything that brought me there at that unique time.

There’s some debts you never repay (I’ll save that long list for my bio page). But I owe something special to Dave Booz.

I don’t know if I would have made the leap of faith I did into the Kubert School and the unknown of a future as a cartoonist without Dave’s leap from the ledge as a touchstone in my life.

Both were potentially dumb moves -- either could have resulted in disaster. I saw classmates crash & burn at Kubert School, just as I had at JSC, and any one of ‘em could have been me (unlike Dave, I, at least, had a safety net, a place to go other than down, should the worse happen). But in my case, it turned out to be the right move at the right time.

In a heartbeat, it was over.

Dave broke the surface of the water on the rebound, tossing water and hair out of his face. He spat and spouted and then turned and grinned like a rock star up at Mangelynx and I.

“Hey, what’re you pussies waiting for?”

The red I had glimpsed was the rust-red of the round-edged rocks at the base of the pool Dave had kicked up. He was fine; the pool was shallow -- about four and a half feet deep -- but deep enough to jump into, even from 20 feet above. As long as you kept your legs tucked and ready to spring off the rocky bottom, it was easy pie.

With great relief, Joe and I made the jump, one at a time. Dave didn’t just stay clear; without hesitation, he began negotiating the crawl down over the ledges from that pool to the larger swimming area below. We scrabbled over the rocks like crabs, grinning and laughing and stoned with the whole experience. Thanks to Dave, we were soon drying off and heading back to the dorms within the hour.

Sometimes, somebody just has to make the leap.

You screw up your courage, you give up the only footing you know --

-- and you jump.

(To Dan, to Maia, and to everyone at CCS, Year One.)

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