As a kid, I loved to read comic books. Heck, I loved to read anything, from encyclopedias to phone book ads, to the back of cereal boxes. Most of all, I loved comic books. I’d browse through them at the corner store, and when I had a quarter (yes, comic books only cost 25 cents back in the mid-60s), I loved to take my time deciding which one I’d take home. How could you buy just one when there was so much to choose from? Batman or Superman? Marvel or DC? There were just so many, it was a struggle to choose just one, but that was all the money I had.
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but I’d earn a little bit from doing household chores or carrying groceries to the car. Some times, Grandma would slip me a quarter for being good when Mom wasn’t around, and occasionally, I’d find a coin in the car seats or on the sidewalk. With my new-found wealth, I’d make a beeline to the corner store for my next library acquisition.
I’d read them cover to cover – stories of adventure and imagination captivated me. I even loved reading the ads for X-Ray specs, Sea Monkeys and a Polaris nuclear sub that I could have in my own back yard! But I didn’t have enough money for all the comic books I wanted, how could I afford those luxuries? The answer was right there in the back of the comic book. I could get rich by selling seeds for the American Seed Company, or hawking newspapers for GRIT.
The two closest places for comic books were Snyder’s over by Riley Elementary school or Joe’s Market on North Street. I’d visit both stores as often as I had a bit of change to buy something. Choices were hard – candy or comic book? Wax lips or Wolverine? Most times, I only had enough to buy one or the other.
One day, I was in Joe’s Market and bought some Necco wafers. I can’t stand them now, but when I was 6 years old, they were the bomb. I walked by the comic book display, which was freshly stocked with the latest issues, hot off the presses. Iron Man, Green Lantern, Spiderman….the titles were so tempting….
….and with temptation, there came a point where I broke down and yielded to the lure of forbidden fruit. As I paid for the Necco wafers (which I think were 10 cents at the time), Joe, the storekeeper, turned away and didn’t see me quickly swipe a copy of Namor, the Sea-Mariner and slip it under my jacket.
With a rush of excitement, I sprinted home to gulp down my candy and sample my ill-gotten gains. I had never done anything so bold and brazen before. I felt an electric tingle down my spine as I read through every page of the comic book. I was ‘getting away’ with it, just like a comic-book villain.
Mom was happy to see me reading, but she also kept a close watch over us….and she always seemed to notice when something was amiss, whether it was muddy shoes in the house, a new rip in school clothes….or something that was new in the house….like a comic book.
Mom looked over my shoulder, and said, “Is that a new comic book?”
I replied, excitedly. “Yeah! It’s the new Sub-Mariner!”
Mom followed up with “When did you get it?”
“It just came in today!” I said, proud of my timely acquisition.
Mom paused, then said, “Where did you get the money to buy it?”
“Ummmmmmmmm” was all I could think of to say, as I stalled for time to come up with a believable answer.
Mom’s interrogation seemed to go on forever, but it didn’t take long for her to arrive at the truth. “You STOLE it?” She said, the color draining from her face. “Um, uh…I ‘borrowed’ it.” Mom stood, hands on her hips, aghast at what she had learned about her son.
“You’re going to take that back RIGHT NOW and return it!”
I knew she wasn’t kidding. I took the comic book back to Joe’s Market. The 3 blocks seemed like a death march, with the store still seeming like it never got any closer, but the comic book weighing more with every step. I opened the door, jingling the bell, and Joe looked at me over the counter. I cleared my throat and said,
“Uh, I ah, took this comic book without paying, and I need to return it.”
“Oh, really?” Joe looked down at me, peering over his glasses. “Do you have anything to say?”
“Ah, I’m really sorry,” I said, feeling smaller with each second.
Joe loomed larger over the counter and pushed for a better answer. “Anything else?”
I looked down at the floor, drawing a circle with my foot. “It’ll never happen again.”
Joe placed the comic book back in the rack, turned back to me and said, “I’m sure it won’t. Now run along before you get any more sticky fingers.”
I stepped through the door into the sticky Indiana summer air. I felt relieved that it didn’t go worse, but I had clearly disappointed my Mom and broken my trust with Joe, the owner. The walk home wasn’t as bad, but when I got there, Mom was waiting for me with a list of chores to work off my misdeed. Now, I don’t know what minimum wage was back then, but at the time, I felt like I paid back my debt to society several times over.
Still, the lesson stuck. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you. When you want something, earn what it takes to deserve it. If someone gives you too much change, correct the mistake and make sure you give back anything that’s not yours. Most people learn those lessons early. I eventually did, even if it took a bit of ‘reinforcement’.
I still like comic books, though. I also make sure I pay for them.
My first book, “Get Out the Door!” is coming soon. If you’d like a FREE preview, subscribe for updates at the upper right of the page, and I’ll put you at the top of the list!