Sunday, August 10, 2008
“I told you those were collectibles! Why didn’t you listen to me, momma?” declared the thickly-built woman, her frail mother shrinking into a pile of pink and brown knit blankets. “I’ve been scamped – scamped good!”
The old lady offered some unintelligible reply, quivering under her lint tomb, turning from her daughter’s angry spew, surely wondering just what all the fuss was about.
I wasted no time getting from the porch to my bicycle, ushering along my younger sister, Soapie, whispering for her to hurry.
Her name wasn’t really Soapie, but I refused to call her anything else.
“Scamped! Scamped!” continued the irate woman, standing amidst the assembled items of her porch sale, her big face going the color of stomach medicine. “Johnny said keep the good ones out of the box, momma! He said!”
Securing my backpack about my waist, I mounted my bike and rolled from the curb onto the street, making sure Soapie was following. The new weight pulling at the straps of my pack felt like a pirate’s treasure, an unexpected jackpot on what, until that point, had been nothing more than my weekly ride to Rishor’s newsstand, to look for new comics.
“Why was that lady so mad?” Soapie asked, straining to keep up with me as we zigged and zagged through tight, dog-legged streets lined with old red brick buildings, half-expecting the crazy porch lady to be pursuing us in the purple Pinto with the cardboard rear window, the one in the driveway we’d leant our bicycles against.
“I’ll show you at Rishor’s!” I replied, my mind already feverish with my anticipated new wealth. “I scamped her!” I thought happily to myself, pedaling harder and harder. “I scamped her good!”
“Holy COW!” I gasped, my finger tracing the listings in the 1976 Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. “TWENTY DOLLARS in mint condition!”
“Is yours mint?”
“Close, I think.”
“Take it out and look.”
“No,” I replied, looking nervously towards the front window of the newsstand, relived not to see any sign of a purple Pinto. “When we get home.”
“What do you have?” asked a friendly, familiar voice.
I turned to see Janet, the pretty blonde girl who worked at the newsstand. Little did I know it then, but two years later she would accompany my older brother to the high school prom.
“Jem got Conan number three!” my sister piped highly.
Janet gave me a sweet smile. I dropped my head shyly, sure she was going to reach out and pinch my cheek. She was that kind of a Janet. “Conan number three? Really?” she inquired, with stage-like enthusiasm, drawing the open price guide towards her. “Conan, the Barbarian, Oct. 1970 to present, Marvel Comics Group. #3 (low distribution in some areas), $10.00 good condition, $15.00 fine condition, $20.00 mint condition.”
“Jem scamped a lady on a porch. She was super mad at her mother,” Soapie offered, ignoring the scowl I was sending her way.
Janet gave me a slightly reproving look. “You scamped someone?”
“I didn’t, not really,” I tried to explain, suddenly afraid that I was going to have to give up my treasure. “The box said 5¢ EACH. I asked the old lady and she said yes that was the price. The other lady wasn’t even there then. She was inside the house, looking for her smokes.”
Janet peered into the top of my backpack, where the broken zipper had begun to come open. “Goodness – you’ve got quite a few in there! All for 5¢?”
“5¢ each. That’s what the box said,” I reiterated, feeling defensive.
Janet smiled warmly, giving my sister‘s cheek the squeeze I’d been fearing. “I think the lady and her mother had a misunderstanding, that’s all. You didn’t scamp anyone, not really, you just had some good fortune. Lucky you, eh? Any other valuable ones in there?” she inquired, touching the backpack.
I swiveled about, instinctively protecting my mother lode. Janet laughed, making a funny face at Soapie, who giggled.
“Some, I think” I said, not wanting to give away too much. Even nice Janet, who let me go into the storage room of the newsstand and take the new comics out of their plastic wrapping, wasn’t above suspicion. Maybe she even knew the pink-faced lady with the purple Pinto and was going to phone her any minute and let her know just how much the comics were actually worth. I’d be made to give them back, I was sure of it.
“He got a Captain America and a Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and a Daredevil,” Soapie happily announced, grinning up at me. Taking sides with pretty blonde Janet wasn’t out of the question, her loyalty to me only went so far and I was wise to know it. “I think you got a SubMarine too, right, Jem?” She never could get the name Sub-Mariner right. She was, after all, a comic book novice, only having recently begun collecting. Her “buy list” was as oddly diverse as it was short. Who else spent each week looking for the latest issues of House of Mystery and Howard the Duck with the same obsessive intensity?
Janet gave me another big smile, the sort that would eventually make my brother a victim of her every inclination. “Well, I’d say you’ve had quite a day already, any interest in seeing what new ones arrived yesterday? I think our distributor did a bit better than they did with Conan number three.”
I nodded with excitement, following her through the swinging half-door beside the cash register.
“Jem scamped a lady in Butler.”
“I did not! It said 5¢ each.”
My mother gave my father a quick look. He seemed to be studying the steam steadily rising from the beef casserole sitting in the middle of the dinner table. His silence made me nervous, reminding me of the time it was discovered that I was taking money from the kitchen coin jar to buy candy before school. He’d marched me up the street to return all of the uneaten candy, making me explain to the lady at the shop what I had done and why I was never ever going to do it again. “It pays to read every sign at a garage sale,” he finally said, offering me a quick smile.
“It wasn’t a garage sale, dad, it was a porch sale,” Soapie explained.
“And it pays to read every sign at a porch sale,” father continued, reaching out to rub the top of Soapie’s head. She grinned happily, revealing the gap where her tooth had been knocked out while tree climbing, just the week before. “If the lady made a mistake then it was in Jem’s favor. He was being sharp to have noticed the price.”
It was my turn to grin triumphantly. I glanced down at the stack of comics sitting on the chair beside me. “I bet Conan number three is going to be worth a thousand dollars in five years!“ I declared, bumping the table with the ends of my fork and knife.
“What have I told you about that?” my mother declared sharply. “And didn’t I tell you not to bring comics to the table?”
“He’s reading Defenders while he’s eating!” announced Soapie, leaning under the table for a look.
“A thousand dollars in five years, eh?” father chuckled. “That sounds perfect. You’ll be all ready to graduate from school in five years, we can put the money aside for college.”
“Art school,” I corrected, giving Soapie the evil eye.
Mother shot me a stern look. “Take the comics up to your room and hurry back,” she instructed.
“Scamped,” father intoned, shaking his head. “That’s definitely a local expression.”
“Fuckin’ scamped!” Soapie whispered, leaning towards my chair.
A great silence suddenly fell upon the table. No one said a word. I didn’t dare move, my eyes glued to the stack of comics now on my lap. Mother gave Soapie a withering look.
“But that’s what the older lady said when we were on the porch steps. I heard her.”
“We don’t use that word in this family,” father stated.
I began to giggle. It was impossible not to.
My heart jumped, the way it always did when my mother addressed me by my proper name. It was never good.
“Do you know what that word means?”
Oh, God, I thought, don’t, please don’t.
“Of course – I’m almost thirteen, mum,” I groaned, my face going hot. Mother seemed to relish picking the worst possible times to educate us about such things. And she was always a few years behind our learning curve, which I’m sure would have horrified her to know.
“Take the comics to your room, like your mother asked,” father suggested, giving me a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “I wonder what’s for dessert?” he quickly added, winking at Soapie, clearly keen to change the subject.
A moment later I returned to the table, avoiding my mother’s eye.
“Well, that was quite some day you two had, eh?” exclaimed father, smiling.
“Perhaps we should think some more about this whole art school idea,” mother sighed, speaking to no one in particular.