Saturday, August 21, 2010

“American Splendor – The Geauga Years”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a quiet afternoon in Hambden.

I had decided to stop for a visit with my friend Archer, who lives in a small dwelling near Route 6. In moments of personal doubt, this street philosopher has always given me inspiration and hope. So while pondering my next writing project, I pulled into his driveway.

He was in the yard, looking like 60’s actor Adam Roarke with a weed eater.

“Heyy, Rod-man!” he cheered.

I flashed a ‘peace’ sign with my right hand.

He leaned the yard implement against his porch. Sweat beaded in his gray beard. “Want some coffee?”

“It must be a hundred degrees out here,” I said.

“Nahh!” he chided. “Let’s go inside. I was working on an obscure Steppenwolf tune this morning. Let me play it for you…”

After entering his colorful abode, I took a seat at the breakfast bar.

Archer busied himself with a stovetop percolator. “So, where have you been lately? I’ve bought two guitars since your last visit.”

“Two?” I exclaimed.

“A yard-sale Yamaha and another Guild,” he said, proudly.

“Impressive,” I declared.

A silent moment passed as coffee began to bubble on the stove.

Archer adjusted his spectacles. “Man, you seem rather quiet today…”

“No,” I disagreed.

“All these one-word answers,” he said. “That ain’t you.”

My angst must have been obvious. “Okay, I’ve been thinking a lot about Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland comic book hero. Did you know he passed away on July 12th?”

“Who??” my friend wondered out loud.

“Harvey Pekar,” I repeated. “Didn’t you ever see him on the tube with David Letterman?”

Archer frowned while strumming his Guild guitar. “No.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “You never read an issue of American Splendor?”

He rubbed his eyes. “Read what?”

“C’mon, man,” I said. “You’re from Cleveland. Don’t tell me there was never a Harvey Pekar story in your collection?”

“Never mind. Listen to this tune,” he said, while reaching for his guitar.

“The whole world knows about Harvey’s life,” I complained. “His tales were illustrated by a group of talented artists including the heroic Robert Crumb.”

He snorted like a bull. “What is it with you? Always digging on the weird stuff.”

“Harvey was like the Lou Reed of graphic novelists,” I observed.

“Huh?” Archer wheezed.

“Comic books,” I explained.

He plucked out a blues progression on his guitar. “Okay, cool. Like whatever you want.”

“Anyway,” I continued, “Since Harvey passed away, I’ve been in a funk. I keep musing over the idea that my own life would make a great illustrated series. Call it Geaugan Splendor. The series would be like a tribute to him…”

Suddenly, Archer quit playing.

“Are you nuts, bro?” he laughed.

“No, really!” I repeated. “Wouldn’t that be great?”

“Sure,” he lied. “Get me some autographed copies and I’ll sell ‘em on eBay.”

“Harvey was a file clerk for the Veteran’s Administration Hospital,” I said. “A completely regular guy. American Splendor issues used to say ‘From off the streets of Cleveland.’ That was it. People talk about life imitating art but his work was art imitating life.”

Archer grinned. “Have you been drinkin’ today?”

“No, darn it,” I shouted. “No!”

“You sound like a man in a Pabst Blue Ribbon haze,” he proclaimed.

“Think of this,” I said. “Geaugan Splendor, Issue One: Tales of Bologna, UFOs and Local Journalism.”

He snorted once more. “Yeah sure, buddy. We’re on eBay again…”

“The first issue could talk about my crash-landing in Chardon,” I reflected. “After studying television in New York, I came here and worked as a department store janitor. It was a real contrast to writing motorcycle fiction.”

Archer shook his head. “A janitor?”

“For Fisher’s Big Wheel,” I said.

“And, umm… cycle stories?” he added.

“Bob Lipkin was my editor,” I recalled. “He had a magazine in California. We first connected when I was still in the Empire State.”

My friend returned to playing his guitar. But instead of lyrics from John Kay, he began to improvise something new:

“Hey everybody, take a look,
Rod-man has a comic book,
He’s livin’ large,
Gonna be a cartoon star!
Fifty cents is the cover price
Pay the money,
Look inside,
A bologna sandwich to go,
Ridin’ on a UFO.”

I was speechless.

“You write the storyline, and I’ll provide the soundtrack,” he boasted.

I sighed. “You aren’t taking this seriously…”

Archer tilted his head to one side. “You wanted serious? Let me play that Steppenwolf tune.”

“No, I mean the idea of continuing Harvey’s legacy,” I said. “That doesn’t work for you?”

He thought for a moment. “I think you got your own legacy to work on. Don’t get obsessed with somebody else’s trip. Take your own.”

I bowed my head. “Guess I can’t argue with that.”

“Okay,” he agreed. “Now let’s get some coffee!”

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