Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


The comic book he had to have

A few nights ago I had a dream in which I broke into my neighborhood comic-book store in the middle of the night because I just knew a comic book I was waiting for was finally there and I couldn’t wait any longer. So I smashed the store’s display window, gingerly stepping over the shards of plate glass jutting from the casement, and headed directly for the display bearing that choice book. And, indeed, there it was. But as I reached out to grab it, I stopped to realize what I was doing, and whom I was doing it to, and how this was in no way the person I think I am. So I left the comic, and the comic-book store, and got home as quickly as I could, my own shame following closely behind. After a sleepless night (still in the dream), I couldn’t bear it any longer and drove back to the comic-book store to confess and to offer to pay for the broken window and to throw myself onto the mercy of the store’s owner — but when entered the store I found him sitting bereft on the floor, having thrown tarps over all the comic-book displays after deciding to leave the business because he couldn’t imagine how someone who loves comic-book could have done this to him. After voicing my sympathy, I left and decided my only course of action was to mail an anonymous cashier’s check and then leave town and hope to rebuild my dignity elsewhere.When I woke up in the morning, I still felt like I had done this to the owner of the comic-book store. It was a hard feeling to shake. For almost 10 years, I’ve never done anything there except pay for comic books and engage in idle chitchat. But now I felt soiled by something I hadn’t done. To even think it made me feel grimy. Because the dream had posed the operant question: How could someone who loves comic-books do this?

Today while running errands, I saw that I was passing the comic-book store and decided to stop in. I saw Paul, the store’s owner, and decided to tell him my dream; I figured that that way, I finally would be rid of it. I shared it with him, along with Freud’s analysis that there are only two sorts of dreams: neurotic and wish-fulfillment. Clearly, this neurotic dream revealed how much the simple pleasures of comic books – so far removed from the pressure of work and responsibility associated with writing, teaching, business, and political activism – mean to me. I closed my narration of this dream with the rhetorical question he had posed in it: “How could someone who loves comic books do this to him?”

He looked at me and said, “That’s funny, because someone just did.”

A few days before, someone else in the store had alerted Paul and another worker in the store that he thought the person who’d just left had swiped two hardback collections by putting down the stack of comics he’d just purchased, looking around, then picking them back up but with these hardbacks underneath. Paul couldn’t believe it and paid no attention; after all, this was a longtime customer, someone who came in with a closeknit circle of friends, someone who came from an affluent family. But then he remembered that a month or two earlier someone else had noticed something missing at the same time this person had just left. So he and two others scoured every corner of this rather large store, looking behind every stack and every rack, nowhere turning up these two $25 hardbacks, until he reluctantly concluded they indeed had been stolen. Next time this customer came in, they asked him about it and, Paul says, his denials were so strenuous they seemed like playacting, and so this customer has been banned from the store.

In my dream, the comic-book store shuts down and I exile myself. In reality, the store catches the thief and he is exiled.

I shared all this with my wife. She often says I have low-level ESP (while I think I’m just sensitive to subtext, as all playwrights should be). Now she wondered if I were precognitive, too. If that were true, our lives would be a nightmare, given some of these dreams. But what truly interests me in this are the intertwined tales of one man afraid that through an unthinking act he will ruin something important to him, and one man who does precisely that not to save fifty bucks that he assuredly has, but to substitute for the fun of escapist fiction the real-life cheap thrill of theft.

2 Responses to “The comic book he had to have”

  1. Rich Roesberg Says:

    You didn’t mention what the comic was that you sought in your dream. Might it have been Robert Crumb’s KAFKA title?

  2. Joe Says:

    Yeah I wanted to know that too, it would have grown the story nicely. Re: the ‘LOW LEVEL ESP’, stay away from psychotropics, it could wreck that forever, according to my psych patient that spent too many years of ‘Twoies’. Reminding me of: the Lou Reed song “New Sensations” where he sings “It’s easy enough to tell what is wrong, but that’s not what I want to hear all night long, some people are like human Tuinals.”

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