Geoffrey was out of breath when he reached my end of the cul-de-sac, which says one thing about Geoffrey's physical fitness and another thing about the distance between my parent's house and Geoffrey's parent's house. Come to think of it, it actually needs to say the thing about the distance between the two places (not that great) first, and only then, with that in mind, it can also say the second thing about Geoffrey's physical fitness, which, by coinkydink, happens to be the same as the first thing (not that great). I'm Bill by the way, Bill Cumbersome of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and by that logic I reckon that would make Geoffrey Geoffrey Blumenthal of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, six houses up the street.
Gosh, I've barely started and already I'm getting serious doubts if Mr. Hemingway, who, I guess we can all agree, is our national authority on keeping things nice and tight and to the point, would go about it the way I've been doing it so far.
Then again, I once read this interesting piece about him in Life Magazine, and it said in there that Mr. Hemingway had blown his brains out with his favorite shotgun, and that his widow had then tried to return the shotgun to Abercrombie & Fitch Co. in New York, where her husband had bought it, but had been denied a refund (even though she had kept the receipt), on the grounds that the shotgun, as the good people at Abercrombie had put it, evidently worked fine. So, maybe Mr. Hemingway didn't have it all figured out either. I mean, otherwise he'd have his money back by now, right?
Wouldn't make too much sense to look to him for approval, anyway. I highly doubt that Mr. Hemingway would like the cut of Geoffrey's jib, or mine, for that matter, as we aren't nearly as fond of large caliber shotguns as he apparently had been, and we don't care much for fishing poles, boats and cars, either. As I have already, albeit clumsily, mentioned, Geoffrey isn't big on athletics, and neither am I. Geoffrey is a short, somewhat plump boy with glasses and rosy cheeks who wears plaid shirts, brown trousers and moc-toe boots with white soles, and I guess you could say the same about me, except my hair is straight and light brown, while Geoffrey's is red and curly.
Geoffrey has his mind set on going to our own (us meaning proud and stout Michiganders) University of Chicago one day to study economics. Their economics department is about the best in the country at the moment, at least, that's what my dad says.
Anyhow, it's christmas, at least, it's christmas morning in the story right here, and so, in the spirit of the season, I'll throw in some extra words, instead of sticking to the bare minimum.
So, we've had our presents and now dad is down in the living room with his pipe and his reader's digest, and my sister is also down there, playing with her new doll, and mom sure is in that kitchen, and I'm up here in my room, looking out of the window, seeing none other than my old pal Geoffrey Blumenthal running down the cul-de-sac, with no coat on and all out of breath, from what might be first time I've seen him running out of his own volition. I bust open the window and I scream down to him, and I swear, that's exactly what I said: “Blumenthal, what's gotten into you?”
Geoffrey's down there on the front lawn, and he's all red in the face, and sweat is running down his forehead, and he's holding a torn yellow piece of paper in his left hand, and he's looking up to me, and he says:
“Bill! That girl, the one at Western Publishing...I had already given up, but then...the name, I got the name! And the full address, too. It's in California somewhere, never heard of the place.”
“Blumenthal”, I say, “for once, get your beautiful, sugar plum mind together before you open your mouth. What girl?”
“The CB girl, I told you about her.”
“We both know that here are no girls on CB radio, Blumenthal, you poor, deluded pig alien”
“Pygmalion, Bill. If you want to be a writer, at least do me the decency to get your classics right. Also, why drag him into this, of all people?”
“Well, wasn't he the guy who made up a girlfriend?”
“I never said she's my girlfriend, and she is real. And so was Pygmalion's girlfriend.”
“But if she was real, then, what was the problem? There had to be something wrong with the whole thing, otherwise there wouldn't be a story about him, right?”
“The problem was that he made her.”
“He made her do what, Blumenthal? Was it so filthy you can't tell me?”
“He made her...he...well, he constructed her, engineered her exactly to his specifications, something like that. But it wasn't right, because you have to find a girlfriend, everybody knows that.”
“So, did you make out with the CB girl? Did you sneak a kiss through the ether?”
“It's not the ether, you fin-de-siécle moron, it's waves. And it's purely platonic, me and her.”
“So, maybe you should try the socratic method then?”
“Listen, Cumbersome, it's a choose your adventure type of situation here. Either you wanna continue practicing suggestive one-liners you stole from the Jack Paar Show, or you're gonna shut up and hear me out.”
“I guess you got me there, Blumenthal. Gosh, what was it the girl said to you?”
“Well, Bill, I've picked up her calling signal a few weeks ago and since then I've been talking to her quite a lot. She lives in California and works at the Western Publishing west coast office there, so naturally, I've been pestering her with all kinds of questions about their comic book division. Unfortunately, she's in accounting, so she wouldn't really know anything about that, but then I realized she must have insight into the payrolls and the checks they send out. Because, you know, I'd assumed they would have the names of the artists on there as well, and maybe some information on what they are paid for, and I told her which publications I was interested in, and then certain stories where I wanted to know who had drawn them.”
You're probably wondering what the heck Geoffrey was even talking about. First thing you gotta know is that Geoffrey and me were, and both still are, connoisseurs of the american comic book. Well, I know what you're about to say: “Mr. Cumbersome, with all due respect, aren't those for children?”
It still angers me when people say that.
Back in those days, an otherwise respected and popular high school senior would be openly laughed at for still reading comic books, and a notorious brute like Kenneth Oberman would throw his priceless comic book collection on the gym roof and call him a baby, and everybody would laugh and cheer, and then that name would stick, and some day, even Coach Lerner would start calling him a baby. To me, this is one of the darkest chapters in American history.
But things are beginning to change, and I'm proud to say that Geoffrey and me played our part in that.
Even back then, we knew that comic books were a legitimate art form, and that one day, they would have their well-deserved place in our modern american paragone, right next to abstract expressionism and free jazz. But for comics to be recognized for what they were, there needed to be not only comic books, but also comic book authors. Every real artwork or piece of literature has an author. That's how you know they're good. Only, comic books back then didn't seem to have authors.
Well, there would of course be a name on the cover, for example that of Walt Disney, but it was highly unlikely that Mr. Disney was drawing all those comic books, while at the same time making two or three movies every year and building his amusement park. Geoffrey and me actually did the math on that, and it just didn't add up.
Also, the comics differed significantly in the style of the drawings and the way the stories were told. Some of the stories were much better than the rest, and they all seemed to be drawn, and perhaps also written, by the same guy. Of course, we had written to the publisher to ask for that guys name, and I know for a fact that a lot of other people around the country tried it as well, but no one ever got a reply.
“I kept laying into her every night over the citizen's band radio, explaining to her the utter importance of finding out the names of the artists behind the comic books, not only to me, but to our nation, to culture and humanity, but she kept insisting that she didn't have the information, and that even if she had, sharing this information would certainly violate various contractual clauses in the licensing agreements. To be honest, I'd already given up on the whole thing when she contacted me today. She was acting all sorts of weird you know, not like usual, different. First, she wished me a merry christmas, which, I guess, isn't that weird after all, but then she kept making conversation, like, random stuff, and I didn't really know what to say, so, of course, there was a lot of dead air, and then she said she had a present for me, and I was asking: what kinda present could you give me over the air, Miss?, 'Cause, really, I had no Idea, you know, and then she giggled and she read out this address, like some address in a small town in California, and at first I didn't understand, but then it started to dawn on me, and I asked her: whose address is that? And she said: you know, the guy you were asking for all the time, the guy who does only the Duck stories and nothing else? And by then, it really hit me whose address she had just given me. She told me that he's still working, that he still turns in one story every month for Comics & Stories and that he's the one who does most of Uncle Scrooge, so it must be him!”
I just stared at Geoffrey, down there in the snow, staring back at me, still holding up the crumpled piece of paper with the name and the address.
Not only had Geoffrey, through the most unlikely circumstances and virtually by chance, found a way to break through that corporate wall of silence, but the very first piece of information he had gotten was probably the biggest price of all, the bull's eye, the shangri-la, the big one. Geoffrey had found the artist whose stories we admired the most, the John Ford of the comic book, the Dickens or whatever of the funny animals sub-genre, the artist whose identity had been hidden behind the most hermetic and impenetrable walls of them all.
Franticly, I ran down the stairs and kept shaking and hugging him, right there in the snow, tussling his hair, knocking him around in the sheer joy of this historic moment, and Geoffrey just let me do it.
I guess you'd have to know Geoffrey the way I do to really understand what that meant. There was even a big grin on his face, a facial expression he rarely if ever allowed, because he feared it would make him look undignified. After a while, I calmed down a bit, but the stupid grin on Geoffrey's face remained unchanged.
“Mr. Blumenthal. What do you wanna do now?”
I looked him straight in the eye. It was his call, considering he had discovered the information and all that. But he simply continued to stand there and look at me. Now that he had told me, he had no idea what to do next. Clearly, even in his wildest imagination, he had never thought this far.
“Geoffrey, where is it?”
“It's in California, I told you.”
“Where in California?”
“I didn't look it up on a map yet, didn't have the chance to do it.”
“We need to go there. We need to visit him.”
I wasn't sure about that either, but decisions like that aren't made by weighing pros and cons. That's what Geoffrey would have resorted to, if I had forced him into the role of the decision maker, and the only certain thing was that whatever he would have decided on, he would ended up regretting it. The whole rational pros-and-cons-schtick is only good for one thing: to pick one thing and then immediately realize that that's the option you didn't want to pick. Our brains are funny that way, if you ask me. Whenever you turn to them for help, they put on this big show of arguments and counter arguments, and you feel like watching the esteemed Mr. Buckley and some other smart guy really getting at it. But you tend to forget that all of that is just a puppet show you put on for yourself, because in there, it's just you, switching sides, changing costumes and doing the voices. You're only fooling yourself, and while I'm aware that you're both guys at the same time, the one who's doing the fooling and the one who's getting fooled, I'd say that, overall, as a conscious being, you always end up being the sucker and only the sucker, and let me tell you why. The brain, as we know, is a muscle. With muscles, what you gotta know is that they have a thing called muscle memory. They learn stuff, but they're not very bright otherwise, so they can't put the couple a things they've learned and apply them to a specific context, they can only repeat them. Therefore, a muscle can't make an unique, creative decision. So, by this point in development, a brain like Geoffrey's, or, for that matter, my own, would have learned that, statistically speaking, in the overwhelming number of cases studied, the right decision is the one that is less pleasurable, going to school vs not going to school etc. This, in turn, would create a physical memory, a muscle memory of the physical brain, that would then be applied both ways, so that by associating the right decision with the unpleasant, less desirable one, the brain would learn to automatically and subconsciously pick the unpleasant option, long before you even start making the decision. So, knowing this, you could just save yourself a lot of unnecessary thinking and instead think the way your brain thinks anyway and reduce your decision making process down to determining which of the options you wanna do the least, and then pick that one. Alternatively, you could cut your physical brain out of the process entirely.
The situation as it presented itself to Geoffrey and me was unique in that respect, as we appeared to be two different entities, henceforth one could argue that the argument I just made, although right, wouldn't really apply here. At this point, I should make it clear that I'm both a christian (of the methodist complexion) and a red-blooded American and therefore, by raisin d'ether, a democrat. Nonetheless, I've read a few things here and there, and I've made up my own mind. I've already alluded to certain similarities between Geoffrey and myself in appearance, age and upbringing. I would continue to make the argument that these similarities are significant enough to render a discussion between the two of us pointless, as it would essentially be the same thing as a discussion between one person, which in itself, as we have proven, is impossible. It would be like Robert Mitchum's two hands fighting each other: a pointless spectacle, only serving to illustrate an already determined outcome. In other words, to even attempt to rationally discuss the matter with Geoffrey would constitute an outrageous insult to our democracy and the millions of young men like us who had given their lives defending it against the Koreans.
Well, I couldn't really explain all of this to Geoffrey anyway, and I doubt it would have done him much good, considering the state of total confusion he was in.
“Geoffrey, what are we?”
“Gee, Bill. How would I know?”
“We're Americans, wouldn't you agree?”
“And as Americans, do you think it is our duty to go there, and to go there now, without the slightest hesitation?”
“To meet the greatest living artist of our time, and also, to be the first people to do it.”
“Can I get my coat first?”
“We're going to California, Geoffrey. You don't need a coat there.”
“But we're in Michigan now, right?”
“Well, I guess you got me there, pal.”
The only problem was that we didn't have a car, and we certainly couldn't borrow one from our parents. There was only one guy I could think of who had his own car, and I usually tried to avoid thinking of Kenneth Oberman as much as possible.