It would be nice if, now that I’m in my mid-50s, I could stop worrying about whether or not I’m popular. Sensible people get over this in junior high, average people stop in high school, and only a few truly insecure carry it through to college. Grown-ups, who have jobs and responsibilities and hobbies, rarely let such thoughts cross their minds.
And then there’s me.
One of the most exciting things about this political year is the way outsiders have been welcomed, especially by Democrats. The leading contenders for the nomination are a black man and a woman, both of whom are decidedly wonky in their approach to politics. A Latino man ran a great campaign, and is assumed to be on the short list of possible vice-presidential candidates.
This is exciting, and for reasons far beyond the political (although, if this trend means the war will be over and people can stop getting blown up so frequently, and maybe in this country we can have health insurance, that would be great).
Mostly, I can spend ignore these insecurities that have lingered for decades. When I can’t, I try to use my experience for good. By relating to outsiders, I find common cause with racial, ethnic and other minorities who are not always invited to society’s metaphorical proms.
Even as a pre-teen, I knew this was a problem. I knew that, as a Jew, my people had spent millennia being excluded from polite society, as well as most professions and the right to own land. There was a time when I refused to join a Jewish sorority (why they had sororities for kids in middle school, I have no idea) because I said it was ridiculous for Jews to form societies just for the purpose of excluding other Jews. Thus, I revealed my ignorance of Jewish history, and centuries of jockeying for position among Jews from Germany, Russia and Spain.
I moved to New York at the height of the punk movement, and headed to CBGBs like it was Mecca. I met a lot of people who were truly cool, and always felt a little bit too straight and a little bit too fat to feel like one of the cool kids (which, since it was punk, meant I fit in perfectly).
And, at the same time, the direct market was taking off, and there were the first comic book specialty stores. One of my proudest possessions was a card from Forbidden Planet, which meant I was a professional and entitled to a discount. Keith Richards had one! Unfortunately, my wallet was stolen, and I never got it replaced.
Forbidden Planet was cool, but it wasn’t the closest store. There was a hole-in-the-wall close by, a small space with a few racks and lots of long boxes. I’d go there for my weekly fix. I thought, hey, I’m an adult woman. I write for the Village Voice. I write for the National Lampoon. I write for Spy. I don’t have to prove anything to these guys.
They thought differently. As I brought my stack of mostly DC Comics to the front, to pay for them, the clerk behind the counter would often scoff at my purchases. It didn’t matter that I bought other things – by reading Superman, I proved myself to be a troglodyte with no taste. To him, I wasn’t one of the cool kids.
My son has a group of friends who go to Jim Hanley’s Universe in Manhattan every Wednesday. They call themselves The Nerd Avengers. They buy comics, then go somewhere to drink and discuss.
It’s a funny idea, and I might find it fun. However, my son says he doesn’t like to go because they decry his taste in comics. They say he doesn’t know what’s good. Now, being my son, he’s been reading comics since he was 18 months old. He would read passages from The World Encyclopedia of Comics
like an Orthodox Jew reading his daily Torah portion. He knew Julie Schwartz and Archie Goodwin and Lou Stathis. Kyle Baker, Denny O’Neil and Howard Cruse came to his Bar Mitzvah, and Frank Miller sent a gift. He slept in Neil Gaiman’s basement. We don’t have the same taste – that would be creepy – but he knows his stuff.
I’m indignant on his behalf, but he doesn’t care. He must get that from his father’s side of the family.
Martha Thomases, ComicMix Media Goddess, is looking forward to her 40th High School Reunion in 2011.