It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, by Martha Thomases
My Wednesday ritual is pretty well set. I get up early enough to do a few hours of work, then go uptown to volunteer. On my way, I stop at Forbidden Planet so I can pick up the new comics. Since I live in Manhattan, I have my choice of several excellent comic shops. Forbidden Planet is near the 6 train, so that’s where I go (also, excellent service, friendly staff, and loads of prose books along with the comics). I can usually read at least one comic while I ride the train, and sometimes, another one in the playground near the hospital. After my stint is done, I ride home, do some more work, and curl up with the rest of my pile.
This week, because it’s spring at last and the sun was out, I decided to take the 6 train all the way down to Bleecker Street instead of taking the F to West Fourth, so I could do the extra walking in my own neighborhood instead of walking through the black pit of hell that is the lower level of the West Fourth Street Station. Everything is blooming early this year – magnolia trees, daffodils, forsythia, the strawberries on my terrace that reliably bear fruit on Arthur’s birthday – so there is color everywhere. Even Frosty Myers’ wall is back where it belongs, in soothing blues. I realize all this mass transit talk is boring to those of you with cars, but it’s all part of the minutiae of New York that makes this kind of urban living its own micro-organism.
For some reason, I find it difficult to read comics on the F train. The ride is shorter, and the consequences of missing my stop are more annoying. The 6 train stops often, and, if I should miss my stop, I’m only a few blocks out of my way. As I settled into my seat, I pulled out the new issue of The Spirit by my pals Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones, with art by Paul Smith, whom I haven’t seen in over a decade but who was really cute at the time. People got on and off the train, listened to music on their iPods, gossiped about work or school, but I didn’t pay much attention. I was enjoying Paris as seen by Denny Colt.
“You’re reading comics?” said the person sitting next to me. I turned to see a man with long frizzy hair. His hair was a shade that was unnaturally even in tone (a consistently dark red), so I assumed it was dyed. He was slight and slim, I guess in his early to mid-fifties.
“Yes,” I said. I turned it over to show him the cover.
“Before you and I were born,” I explained, “this comic was given away in Sunday newspapers.”
“I used to know the lead animator on Spider-Man,” he said. “Do you know him? A guy named Norman.”
My look must have told him that I didn’t know this person.
“He worked with that guy, you know, the famous one. The god of comics,” he said.
“That depends on your denomination.” He was trying to impress me, but it wasn’t going to work. As his target, I would have been more vulnerable if I didn’t know that comic books didn’t require an “animator.”
I decided to make a guess. “Stan Lee?”
“That’s it. Norman lives in the penthouse of the Chelsea Hotel. I stayed there when I came to New York for the first time.” He paused, waiting for me to ask him more. Instead, I put my comic back in my bag. “I got here in 1985, with Bowie.”
“It was a different city then,” I said, and stood up. It was my stop. “Take it easy.”
It had been a very long time since a stranger had tried to impress me, on the subway or anyplace else.
Martha Thomases, Media Goddess of ComicMix, has been reading comics in the subway since before 1985.