Monday, December 7, 2009
My Life With Comic Books: Part # 3
A brief introduction:
My name is Paul Howley, owner of the Eisner Award winning pop culture collector’s store known as “ That’s Entertainment ” in Worcester, Massachusetts. My store has been around for over twenty years and it’s been a long and interesting combination of events and people that have brought my store to its current place. I am not a talented writer, so please try to overlook my lack of writing ability. It is not my intent to boast or brag about my store or my life…I just want to tell you my story.
MY LIFE WITH COMIC BOOKS: THE HISTORY OF A COMIC SHOP - Part Three
As a freshman in high school in 1968, I loved reading and collecting comic books! But girls were interesting too…and as you know, both of these “interests” can be expensive. With my habit of buying almost every comic book published by Marvel, DC, and Harvey, there was very little, if any, money left to spend on dating. So, in my sophomore year, I got a part time job after school at a local plastic factory. I would work from 3:00PM to 10:00PM. I was paid the generous rate of about $1.00 per hour! My work consisted of the following “I Love Lucy” type scenario:
I stood by a huge injection molding machine that shot molten plastic into a mold and every ten seconds, 24 paint brush handles would drop from the mold into a vat of water below to cool down. I had a large wooden paddle to pull these 24 paint brush handles down a canal and then I’d grab them out of the water, dry them off with a towel, inspect them, and pack them in boxes. Think about that. Every 10 seconds I had to “process” 24 separate paint brush handles! It’s almost impossible to keep this pace. In this factory, each employee was forced to take a five minute break once every hour. But the factory didn’t shut the machines off while we were on our break! When I’d get back to my machine, there would be 720 paint brush handles waiting for me to deal with! The paint brush handles would be piled up in the water vat about three feet deep! I’d have to increase my speed to near superhero levels just to try to catch up and then it was time for our forced break again! Even though I really needed the money from this job to pay for my comics and dating, I couldn’t take it…I quit after only three days.
I got a job cleaning out horse stalls for a local veterinarian for 80 cents an hour and did some summer work painting fences for our town recreation department. This enabled me to pursue both of my interests. Luckily, in my small town, a young couple, Paul and Barbara Weatherbee, had converted their old barn into a “coffee shop” because they recognized the need for a safe place for teenagers to get together. They would hire local rock bands to play music on a small make-shift stage and they served coffee, soda, and donuts. There was no admission charge for us, so it became THE place for teens in many surrounding towns to hang out, an especially cheap date for those of us on a very limited budget. At times there would be hundreds of kids there on a Friday night. With that many teenagers there was always the possibility of trouble …remember, this was the late1960’s…drugs, alcohol, rebellion, etc…and the police would be there frequently to head off anything serious.
Why would any young couple open up their property and expose themselves to extraordinary risks and local townspeople’s scorn with no potential of personal gain? They did it because they really cared about the lives of the teenagers in the area. They knew it was important to let the anti-establishment generation know that there were adults who cared about young people; and most importantly, to tell them that it was possible to have a personal “relationship” with God, the Creator of the universe. They would mingle with the huge crowds of teenagers and try to get to know as many as they could. They would invite the teens to come back and visit with them on another day so that they could share with them the love of God. Many kids responded to this couple’s outreach because as human beings, most of us are searching for truth and meaning in this life. I was one of these kids. Now…I’m sure you’re thinking…”what does all of this have to do with comic books?! Hopefully, if you keep reading this column, it will become clear how all of these things come together to form the story of the history of my comic book store. I’m not trying to “preach” to anyone right now…I’m just telling you what happened.
Do you remember the young neighbor who worked out a trade of comic books at the Boston hospital? Well, it was around this time that he finally succumbed to leukemia. He was my first close friend or relative to die. This was an awfully confusing time for me. How could a loving God allow a beautiful young child to die? I grew up Catholic and thought it made sense to seek an explanation from our priest , but all he could offer was a vague “Well, that’s a holy mystery.” I couldn’t accept that, so I went to talk to the couple with the barn. They spent time explaining the true nature of God. I realized that we are human beings whose “life in the flesh” is only part of our existence. Our spiritual life continues with the death of our body, just as God’s only Son was destined to die a physical death and be resurrected into a spiritual life. This all made sense to me. I continued visiting with the Weatherbee family and the dozens of other kids who would come for fun events and serious study of The Bible. It was here that I met my future wife, Mal. My life would be changed forever!
Next column: I meet my future partner and get started in the comic book business.