1991 - New Housemates and Comic Books

1991 – New Housemates and Comic Books

I was a bright-eyed, ten-year old boy in 5th grade at Saint Thomas Aquinas. Home life was a bit more exciting now as we had the trio of Konrad, Konrad Jr. and Kayla living with us. Sharing a house with three more people came with its share of challenges and new questions as to who had a right to what. In the background, on the news was disturbing information about United States, Iraq, and Kuwait. It was talk of war and I didn’t like that. The Gulf War, also called Operation Desert Storm, began on January 17th, the same day that Norway crowned its new king, Harald V. 

During football season I was inevitably drafted into playing two-hand touch on the street. I was not a huge football fan by any means, but I could play well enough and sometimes enjoyed it. At the end of the month the New York Giants narrowly defeated the Buffalo Bills winning Super Bowl XXV.

In February, the Gulf War intensified and, via mass media, made its way into our living rooms and the general consciousness. After hearing how horrible World War II was from Nana’s stories, I was unhappy that there was a war in my lifetime. However, there was this strange sense of “safety” around it as if it were business as usual and nothing to worry about. By the end of February President Bush declared that “Kuwait is liberated” and it seemed that the Gulf War had ended no sooner than it had begun. Good news, I guess?

In the beginning of March an amateur video was captured and aired showing disturbing footage of white Los Angeles police officers beating a black man, Rodney King. This sparked a flame of anger across the nation and especially in California where the L.A. riots ensued shortly afterwards. To my young mind this was just more scary, violent stuff on the news that seemed to make adults, and by extension us kids, apprehensive and mistrusting. I knew racism was real when I heard people in my neighborhood use racial slurs when referring to people of other ethnicities. Especially black, Puerto Rican, and to a lesser extent Chinese people, all would be unceremoniously summed up with one-dimensional demeaning terms. The kids in my neighborhood were basically all white and generally of Italian or Irish descent. I was not a fan of racist or prejudiced attitudes, but it was in the air and impossible to avoid. On some level it was hard not to believe the racist generalities considering that they were often espoused by respected adults around us.

Baseball season came and I was once again on the local traveling team. My St. Columba baseball trading card facts read as follows: 

John Henry Sheridan #32. Left Field. Age: 10. Ht: 4’8”. Wt: 104#. Coach(s): Tim McGuiness. Hometown: Brooklyn, NY. League: St. Columba. Team: Willie Mays Traveling. 

I was still into playing ball but not as much as previous years. And baseball card collecting had begun to lose interest for me. I still picked up the odd pack of cards, but no longer with any strong devotion to it. In terms of card-collecting I was more interested in Marvel Comic cards, which I had collected throughout 1990 and now in 1991. These I found to be more entertaining and fun than baseball cards and played a big role in my beginning to collect comic books. 

Rather than the inescapable conflicts at large or in the neighborhood, I was much more interested in a new fledgling passion - collecting comic books. My first several comics were purchased at an unlikely place – the Dry Cleaners (located on Avenue S between East 34th and East 35th Streets). I can’t recall how my friends and I got clued into the fact that this location offered a full spinning rack’s worth of current comic books for sale. The selection would gradually shift by degrees from week to week. Some comics would remain while others would be switched. I could tell that this was going to be a more costly hobby than baseball card collecting. But it was more exciting, it wasn’t limited to a season, and I would be following in Dad’s footsteps in a way which felt right. One of the first comic books I purchased was The Spectacular Spider-Man #173. The cover price was $1.00 and the cover date FEB which meant that it would have been available for sale in December. The cover art featured Spider-Man being entangled and strangled by the bionic limbs of Doctor Octopus as Mary Jane runs from the family house to his rescue. Aunt May and another young woman watch in horror to what is unfolding. There is snow on the ground and a Christmas tree in the background. A caption reads “Guess who dropped by for the holidays”. I was captivated by the attention-grabbing cover which at once generated sympathy for Spidey and friends, ill feelings for Doctor Octopus, as well as a nostalgic holiday feeling.

My comic collection grew slowly and steadily. I soon discovered other local places where I could pick up comic books. Just one short block away from the Dry Cleaners was the deli Park Plaza. It carried a weak and random selection of comics (often 3 or 4 in a single plastic bag) which might help me to get my comic book fix at times when either the Dry Cleaners was closed or if there was nothing new there. Several blocks further (in what seemed like a distant town though only a 20-minute walk away) on Quentin Road was the Humble Sweet Shoppe. They also carried comic books and a had a bit of a wider selection than the Dry Cleaners - excellent. I soon found out about dedicated comic book shops such as Heroes Hideout (on Nostrand Avenue between Avenues V and W) which I could only convince Mom to take me to on occasion. At a place like Heroes Hideout, I would relish in the total comic book splendor and temptation to spend lots of money which would have to be begged and bargained for from Mom. I could never get enough.

Us kids had noticed lately that it seemed there would be some new people moving onto the block. One fine early June day, I was hanging outside with the kids on the block such as Jack and Joe Lanza, Chris Arce, Joe DiCario, and occasional guest Eddie Pizza. A black station wagon came and parked across the street. Out poured a new family who enter a nearby house. Among these newcomers were two boys wearing deck shoes who look to be about our age! This could be fun we all thought. Later on, from way down the block Eddie Pizza yells “Yae and Yie” kind of imitating Sloth’s “Hey you guys!” from The Goonies. Some kids found it funny. I worried that the new kids would feel offended, ostracized, but they were not too shy and did not wait long before they started hanging out with us. Both brothers (by marriage not by blood) chose to accept their new nicknames and were good sports about it. Yae and Yie were soon part of the East 35th Street crew. 

In mid-June we heard some surprising and heartbreaking news. Our former beloved young baseball coach Kenny Hansen (age 26) had drowned during a training exercise with the NYPD Harbor Police force. Kenny had been my baseball coach during my first two years playing in the St. Columba little league. Jack and Joe Lanza, as well as Eddie Pizza and his sister were also on Kenny’s team and so a wave of emotion ran through the neighborhood. Unlike most kids my age I already experienced the big loss of someone very close to me. So perhaps Kenny’s passing affected me a bit less than other kids who were experiencing the death of someone they knew for the first time. Still, it was quite sad. Although I hadn’t been on his team for a few years, I regarded him as being one of the friendliest, coolest, and most encouraging adults I had ever met. So even young adults can die just like that in a flash huh? Wow!

In July, James Cameron’s epic action film Terminator 2: Judgement Day starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was playing in theaters. The Terminator seemed cool and indestructible. Eddie Furlong who played John O’ Connor was a hip young kid with a memorable and fun haircut[1], which I really liked. Linda Hamilton’s superwoman tough mother character in the form of Sara O’Connor was a force to be contended with. And if these elements weren’t awesome enough, the icing on the cake was that the Guns ‘n’ Roses song “You Could Be Mine” was part of the soundtrack! 

Our now-expanded family took a vacation to the Catskills, NY. We drove up in Konrad’s gray Dodge Ram van. I wonder how all six of us got along in the car ride up. We stayed at Carl’s Rip Van Winkle Motor Lodge[2] in Leeds, NY. Once on the grounds we felt like we were entering a magical wooded area with wonderful orange wooden cabins. Upon entering our cabin, we found sitting on a piece of furniture two 2-liter bottles of Coca Cola and several plastic cups to welcome us. Ahh, hospitality!

There was a pool and a slide which we climbed up and slid down repeatedly. We visited Carson City and Indian Village, a roadside Wild West-themed amusement park and had some old-time fun. We visited the Catskill Game Farm, a spacious family-owned petting zoo featuring various animals (including goats and alpacas), which offered the opportunity to feed and pet many of them. We also had some fun romping around on a small pond on bumper boats somewhere along the way which was thrilling. Konrad captured amateur unstable footage of our trip with his bulky video camera common in that era.

By September I had started watching MTV attentively again. Within several weeks I saw Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and “Unforgiven” as well as Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Don’t Cry” and “Live and Let Die”. I now really wanted to get those new cassette tapes: Metallica’s Metallica and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I & III was exhilarated every time a new Metallica or Guns ‘n’ Roses music video came out. When the G ‘n’ R music video for “Live and Let Die” came out they showed a milk carton that said, “Where’s Izzy?”. I had become somewhat familiar with the G ‘n’ R lineup from their albums Appetite for Destruction and Lies, so when I realized that one of their kin had left the fold or had somehow become lost, it was a little disconcerting for my 10-year-old heart. What happened??

One day sitting in the living room watching MTV a weird music video came on. There was a janitor, a cheerleader, a bunch of kids sitting on bleachers and a unique band of three playing on the gym floor. The singer was an odd-looking, disheveled blonde fellow in a striped shirt with unkempt hair falling in his face. The music was surprisingly different than the other, mostly heavy metal bands, I liked. I wanted to dislike it, but it was fascinating. MTV would play this video endlessly and so, after some time, I was won over by it and admitted I liked it. Not long after I went and bought Nirvana’s sophomore album Nevermind with the naked baby in the swimming pool on the cover. Weird, but cool . . . I guess?

My comic collection grew as did the variety of titles I was interested in. I had begun collecting several titles including: Deathlok, Punisher, Sleepwalker, Spider-Man, Wolverine, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men. I experimented with titles such as Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four, Namor, and The New Mutants among others. My favorite title of all by far was The Infinity Gauntlet, which was an epic 6-issue series. It basically involved and took over the entire Marvel Universe for the better part of a year. The Infinity Gauntlet inspired my love for the Silver Surfer whose comics I began collecting avidly as a result. Due to the various Infinity Gauntlet crossover issues available I was inspired to pick up some titles that I did not otherwise have interest in. I expanded into The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, and Fantastic Four as they had appealing crossover issues. There were two brilliant prequels entitled Thanos Quest 1 andThanos Quest 2, which were essentially graphic novels with gorgeous artwork telling the story of how Thanos came to possess the Infinity Gauntlet. And after the series was over, there were a few follow-up issues including The Infinity Watch with Adam Warlock.

In autumn, our expanded family took a trip upstate to go apple picking. There was a Halloween Party at Grandma Loretta’s. Many kids were present including several of my cousins in an array of costumes: Captain Hook, princesses, a clown, a ballerina, Dracula, and a witch. 

Even though I wasn’t thrilled with my new teacher Mrs. Cook, I was taking well to 6th grade. On the National Achievement Test I performed high in reading, language, and social studies. I did well but less so in mathematics and science. In December I made the honor roll on my first trimester report card.

Hand drawn greeting cards were a regular practice for me. I gave Mom a holiday card, a drawing of a Christmas tree and fireplace with logs burning, stockings hanging above it for “Billy”, “Mom”, and “John”. On the bottom it said, “Merry Christmas” in bubble letters, interestingly the letters R and A had “$” signs in place of holes. And to further demonstrate my simplistic and materialistic mind at the time, inside the card read, “Merry Christmas Mom, I hope dinners good and so is my present, have a merry Christmas. Love John.” 

On Christmas Eve, us four kids dressed up a little bit. As customary, Santa Claus visited the house that night following the traditional dinner of white fish and potatoes and dessert of rice pudding. Konrad Jr., Billy, Kayla, and I posed for photos next to Santa with our presents which included items related to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, Tinkerbell, and clothes. Several of the usual family members attended the Christmas Eve gathering that night, but the vibe was a bit strange now that the Panetti trio were effectively part of our family. 

The next morning one of us three boys opened a gift that generated excitement for all three of us: a Sega Genesis video game console! And it came with Sonic the Hedgehog! Oh joy! Let’s play!

 


[1] Eddie Furlong’s haircut at that time was shaved on one side and combed over long on the other. Many kids around my age thought it was cool and we emulated it to one degree or another if our mothers would let us.

[2] By now a familiar place to stay as I had been there at least two times prior in previous years.

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