Ramblings Of A Man Named Joseph Carro

The Rundown

Posted on December 11, 2018

When I was fifteen years old, the world was my enemy. And why shouldn’t it have been? It was 1996. Up until that point, the world had done its best to drag me, sometimes screaming, through metaphorical gutters of the worst kinds of waste. At that young age I had already been half-starved, covered in lice and fleas, abused in the worst kinds of ways. I was a victim, but also a survivor. The constant battling only made me harder, scooped out the soft spots in large chunks so what I was left with was a veritable chitinous exoskeleton, impervious to the outside world.

As a result, when I moved to the middle-class neighborhood in New Hampshire, filled with anxious folks living in high-end mobile homes and manicured lawns – I found myself hanging for a while with the wrong crowd. Both as a response to their reactions toward me, and also as a defense mechanism. I mean, hey – if they teased me about being poor and dirty, why not throw in some good-for-nothing friends, too? I didn’t want to give in to them, to let them have the satisfaction of pushing me toward what they thought was right and “normal”. I only wanted to make them hate me more. I’m stubborn that way.

And so I became a drug runner. It was sort of an accident, at first, but in the end it was something I chose to do on my own terms. Dana was the only black guy in our neighborhood, and probably the nicest guy I knew. But he found himself in the drug-running trade, and somehow even though I listened to White Zombie and he listened to 2Pac, we connected over music. He heard me singing the lyrics to “Real Solution #9” one afternoon on the train tracks when we were walking through a patch of woods we called “Hobo Jungle” and in his laid-back way he told me that it sounded like rap, or that it could be rapped in the right hands, like Tupak Shakur’s. He made me listen to “California Love” on his walkman. At the time, I hated anything that wasn’t alternative music or heavy metal. So I politely listened, but it didn’t gel with me until years later.

Dana invited me to run with him one day while we were walking to the school. He made jokes about being a black guy in a white neighborhood. He spoke in an exaggerated “white guy” voice as if he were on the other end of a Police CB radio.

“Please be on the lookout for a black man walking with a skinny white male. Fire on sight.”

I laughed, and took swigs from my cold can of Surge.

When he asked me if I wanted to run with him, he didn’t outright ask. He just said “Hey, man. Let’s go.” He started running. I tightened my backpack straps and started running with him. We went to the other end of the trailer park, to one of the run down homes where the undesirables hung out and hurt each other with kitchen implements when they were drunk or high. When we got there, he introduced me as “Joe Cool”. I had never had anyone call me “cool” before in my entire life, so I just sort of stood there while Dana exchanged a bag of drugs for a wad of cash. And then we were on to the next house, and the next. Running drugs, and running…literally.

Finally, when we were finished that day, Dana explained to me that he was going to bring the money to a guy named Beaker. I gawked at the name.

“Beaker?” I asked, laughing. “Like Beaker and Bunsen? The Muppets?”

“I don’t know who that is,” Dana said. “They call him beaker because he’s got a big nose.” He mimed a big nose on his face and laughed.

From that day on, Dana and I went on many other runs. I never fully committed,though, and as time passed, I saw him less and less. I never really knew where he ended up, but running with him (in all senses of the word) helped me shed the side of me that was a victim. Dana provided me a framework in which to explore the idea of camaraderie, and to experience friendship. Of course, it took a few more years of getting into more trouble; riding around and doing drugs, breaking and entering, and other bad things for me to figure out who I really was under that chitinous armor I had made for myself. But I finally did it. I finally broke free.

Dana, I believe, was the catalyst for that transformation. Dana, with his racial jokes and befriending of me without caring about who I was, what I looked like, or what I had ever done allowed me to open up to my eventual friends I made before I graduated. I like to think of my time running with Dana for Beaker not as something negative, but something positive – as weird as that sounds. The people who bought the drugs, they were busy escaping into themselves, and paying money to do it. I looked to do the opposite, and I largely succeeded in most respects. I can only hope that Dana eventually outran his chosen profession in much the same way I did, and in all senses of that word.

Mike Wieringo

Posted on December 8, 2018

Almost a full decade ago, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite comic book writers – Todd Dezago. He made an appearance at the first ever Coast City Comicon here in Portland, Maine. Due to scheduling conflicts, I couldn’t attend the con for more than a day and thus I didn’t meet him that year – but the following year I finally made it when he came back.

I caught him at one point when he was sitting by himself at his booth. I never imagined I would get any one-on-one time with him, but it was important that I talk to him because if I was a fan of Todd Dezago, I was doubly a fan of the amazing Mike Wieringo – who worked with Todd on one of my favorite comic series of all time; Tellos.

When I heard Mike Wieringo died of aortic dissection a few years previous, I was devastated. He was only 44 and he was my artistic hero. I never tried to ape his style, because I never could, but his artwork is unmatched even today, in my eyes.

As I approached Mr. Dezago, I was dressed as Abraham Lincoln – so I was a bit apprehensive. Yet, he was as open to me as he was to anyone else, and we soon fell into an easy conversation.

“I love Tellos, man,” I finally said at one point. “It’s an amazing book. It seriously had an impact on my life.”

“Thank you,” he said, nodding. “I’m really glad. It was a special book to me.”

I then told him that aside from his own wonderful story and writing, that Mike’s artwork was what initially drew me to the book. I explained that I loved their work on Spider-Man, and that to me – ‘Ringo’s version of Spidey was my favorite and most iconic. I loved his cartoony style and I wanted to be able to draw as dynamically has he could.

“Thank you so much for that,” he said. “Mike would really appreciate hearing that.”

There was a point where he told me a bit about what Mike had meant to him and how he had been so very angry and bitter that Mike had suddenly passed away. It was all very surreal and heartbreaking for me to be talking to this actual friend of Mike Weiringo’s who also happened to be the writer of one of my favorite titles. Nobody else came up to the booth, it was just me and Dezago for what seemed like an hour. Eventually, I had to force myself to leave his booth before he grew too uncomfortable with my fanboy presence. I probably could have stayed there all day.

Later, though, I was able to speak with him again during one of his presentations. He went around the room and asked everyone who their favorite artists were and for what books. Naturally, I said Mike Weiringo for Spider-Man and I talked a bit about his cartoony style and fluid lines and how his characters were always striking and dynamic. He thanked me and then talked more about ‘Ringo and then thanked me from the front.

Finally, as he was leaving the convention Todd Dezago actually sought me out while walking by me with what must have been his kids and he shook my hand and thanked me for my kind words about his friend. He told me he appreciated meeting me and getting the chance to talk about Mike.

It was a strange moment with the both of us mourning and reminiscing about a man who had been dead for five years. One, a close friend and colleague and the other someone who he had never met or knew existed but whose life he changed in little ways.

I guess I was thinking about this interaction because I’ve been going through and cataloging all of my comics and I’ve finally reached my collection of Tellos books. I’m definitely going to re-read them before I seal them all up again.

Danforth Street

Posted on December 7, 2018

I walked with a hobble down Danforth Street in Portland, Maine. It was around fifty degrees, and the air had a chill to it. There was nothing going on that I could see, and the night seemed extra quiet. Still, as is my habit since I don’t trust people, I kept looking behind me to see if I was being shadowed. I could never quite shake that feeling.

Nobody there, of course. Better safe than sorry, though.

My right foot had something wrong with it. A bone that was out of place, a cramp…something. Whatever it was – it made me limp along. I didn’t pay much attention to it. It would walk itself out. That’s how foot things usually worked, right? After a while, you just got used to it.

I reached Fore Street and finally things came to life, and the city began breathing. I kept my head down, just a habit, and I moved through the crowd with my hands in my pockets. That’s where I kept my keys. I had my fingers wrapped around them, keys sticking out between my fingers like claws, in case I needed to strike. I didn’t, of course.

I made my way into Five Guys, the burger joint. I’d just entered through the door when I noticed one of the security guards eyeing me. He looked familiar.

“Hey,” he said, nodding. “Remember me?”

I did. He was the guy who worked at Irving on Commercial Street. “Yeah,” I said. “So you work here, too, eh?”

He stroked his beard and laughed, raising his eyebrows and looking askance. “Yup. This is my tough guy job.”

We talked a bit more, mostly about the burger joint itself. I nodded a goodbye once the line began moving again. “See ya’ around,” he said.

I ordered a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard and mushrooms – gotta’ have the mushrooms. Some fries and a soda on the side. The woman cashier gave me my order number. “Your number is sixty-nine,” she said. The twelve-year-old part of my brain chuckled. She could see it in my eyes and she cracked a smile. I thanked her, leaving a tip in the jar.

I sat and observed. I felt a touch out of place. For one, everyone was drunk. For another, I felt a bit out of the age range. Was I really that old, already? Nah. I just wasn’t drunk, I told myself.

Still, I couldn’t help but look around and see all the lives I’d already lived and would live. There was the really drunk guy with the red face and droopy eyes, sloppily shoving fries into his mouth and jamming to the tunes. That was me, once. There was the guy in the group of guy-friends who kept them all laughing. That was me, another time. There was the guy who was telling an exciting story to his friends, who called bullshit or laughed along as he told it. That was me, once. There was another bearded man, sitting in the corner at a table by himself. That was me, now. There was an older man, looking annoyed at the noise in his tweed jacket. Would that be me at a later date?

“ORDER NUMBER SIXTY-NINE AND SEVENTY-TWO. ORDER’S READY.” bellowed someone over the mic.

A man saw me approach. “Sixty-nine?”

“Yes.” I flashed him the receipt and he handed me the paper sack full of greasy food. A man next to me laughed. “HEY. SIXTY-NINE. That’s, like, the perfect number!”

“Isn’t it?” I asked, moving to my seat. I sat there for a long while, eating and thinking.

“HEY, FUCK YOU!” a drunk guy said to one of his female friends across the room.

“NO, FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE,” she said back. Both of them laughed.

“HEY, EVERYONE – SHE SWALLOWS,” he shouted.

“HEY, EVERYONE,” she shouted back. “HE’S GOT A SMALL DICK! SMALL DICK!”

I smirked and shook my head.

“HEY, EVERYONE,” he shouted again. “SHE LIKES FIVE GUY GANGBANGS!”

This continued for some time. I finished my burger and decided to leave as the place was getting crowded now that it was past 1am and the bars were closing. My full stomach thanked me, and I patted it.

I decided to take the long way and walk down Wharf Street. I got a couple of stares, probably for my buttons, but I wasn’t in college anymore. I wasn’t in my twenties so nobody messed with me. It was probably the beard. Maybe. Nobody knows what a bearded man will do. Nobody wants a piece of that.

People were milling around like crazy. I walked through a lot of pot smoke. I walked through many groups of women with skirts so short they may as well have been large tee-shirts. Cars drove by blasting hip-hop, causing one man to shout out “CHECK THAT SHIT, MY NIGGA”.

I looked into some of the clubs, watching people shuffle around. I had a longing to enter, to go crazy on the dance floor. I could give some of them a run for their money – but not tonight. Another time.

I listened to two people having an emotional discussion on a stoop as I walked. “…It’s not that I don’t understand HIM,” the woman was saying to her male friend, who was shaking his head in understanding, “It’s that he didn’t understand ME. Do you know what I’m saying?” I was that man, once, a long time ago.

I moved away from that other world, back to the sleepy quiet of upper Danforth Street, amid the old buildings nestled near the water. I climbed the fire escape that led back to my new home for the time being and I entered, shutting away the chaos of the Old Port.

“Another time,” I thought.

The Cranberries

Posted on December 7, 2018

The Cranberries have always had a place in my rotating list of music.

When I first discovered them, I was living in Exeter, New Hampshire and going to high school. When I first heard the song “Linger” – with Dolores O’Riordan’s ethereal voice singing the bittersweet lyrics – I immediately connected with it, being an emotional and disenfranchised teen boy.

I had been infatuated with a girl in the neighborhood, and at the time, I was consumed by her. No matter what I did, however, it was not meant to be. We were really close in the long run, but it would only ever become a friendship and eventually not even that because time moves on and people change, including me and especially her. For a long time, the song resonated with me in the same way, and when I listened to it – I would become emotional because even though that girl was gone, others came after and the song hit me in different ways each time.

During my first marriage, I decided to interpret the lyrics in a more positive light (similar to how Adam Sandler used the song in the movie Click – where Dolores also made an appearance). I used to tell my wife at the time that the moving music and the more positive aspects of the lyrics reminded me of how my soul felt about her. She hated that, and obviously saw the most negative aspects of the lyrics, which I guess is understandable. I tried to explain to her that it was the “tone” of the song and not the actual lyrics that made me think about her, but I don’t think she ever completely understood what I meant by that.

Now, as I’m in my 30’s – the song is fluid and meaningful in many different ways to me. It represents my past, present, and future love life all at the same time but in different ways. Dolores’ haunting voice and accent, and the genuine emotion she conveys will resonate with me until the end, I think.

And it’s not just “Linger” that has been with me during my ascent into adulthood. Also “Dreams” – which is a song about her being deliriously in real love for the first time and is much more upbeat. Her youthful innocence and even naivete ring through in the song’s lyrics and tone, and I’ve also been there many times in my life. And, of course – the song about the IRA; “Zombie” spoke to my own anger and disillusionment, though – at the time – I didn’t know much about the IRA or the troubles over across the pond. Another appropriated meaning of her lyrics, I guess, for my own emotional connections.

Now – even the more calm or obscure songs I didn’t initially like, such as “Ode To My Family” resonate with me because I can relate more to them now that I’m older and have lived life a little more than I did back when I first heard “Linger”.

This post is a bit late in response to Dolores’ death, but I still think about her and the Cranberries often. I am just so incredibly sad that a talented artist such as herself died at such a young age. She was only 46 and still had so much to offer the world. However, we still have her voice, we still have her body of music. That’s something. Whatever troubles she had are now gone. I hope she’s in a better place.

If you haven’t given the Cranberries a chance, please – I implore you – give them a listen. Smart lyrics, talented musicians, and entertaining music videos…The Cranberries had it all.

My Friend Mikey

Posted on December 5, 2018

Sometimes, I think back about friends I had who are no longer with me. This doesn’t have to have anything to do with death, mind you. Sometimes, as people, we just outgrow each other. You move, you go to different schools, you get married. Those kinds of things happen and are pretty inevitable in life.

One of these friends I had who fits into this category was named Mike. We all knew him affectionately as Mikey.

We met one summer when my mom moved us to Shawmut Street in Lewiston, Maine. We lived in a crappy apartment, infested with fleas and in a bad part of town at the time. We didn’t notice much of that as children, though, only remembering it when we were older and our tolerance levels for filth and waste have gone drastically down.

What I do remember is that I sort of had a crush on a girl down the street named Sandy (who later became my girlfriend after she slipped a note under our door one morning professing her love for me, which everyone teased me about for days). I had heard of this “Mikey” coming over to our new place and introducing himself to my younger brother and sister but I still hadn’t met him yet. Somehow, I found myself engaged in a water-tossing match late one afternoon with Sandy, using water from one of those kid’s plastic swimming pools. It was me against her and her friend and I was losing…and drenched, pinned down as they hurled water balloons and fired Super Soakers at me.

Out of nowhere came Mikey, screaming in defiance and grabbing a frisbee from the ground, turning it upside down like a bowl, and tossing water at the girls with it. They shrieked, running from the unexpected onslaught of the strange boy.

“RUN!” he shouted to me, as if we were in the middle of Vietnam. Laughing in appreciation, I made my escape. He followed and we met up near an old shed, breathing hard. I could hear Sandy yelling at us, her voice fading as we rounded a corner. We stopped to catch our breath.

“Hey, thanks,” I said to him, grinning. “You saved my life.” I was all bones and pale skin and my tee-shirt clung to my torso like a tattered flag of surrender.

“I’m Mike,” he said, offering his hand. I took it and he shook hands with me. He was sort of chubby, and at the moment he was only wearing shorts. His legs were horribly scarred. Later, when we had hung out more, I asked him why and he apparently had seen some potatoes on the stove and tried to reach one when he was a lot younger. The boiling water dropped on his little body and disfigured his skin, forcing him into physical therapy for years.

“I’m Joe,” I said. “We just moved in the other day. I heard about you.”

“Yeah, your family is cool. Do you play games?”

My eyes lit up. “Yeah, Nintendo and Sega. We only have a Nintendo, though.”

“Do you like Ninja Turtles? I have that for Nintendo. Want to come over and play it with me at my house?”

There was almost no lapse in time from when he asked that to when I said yes. An instant friendship was formed that sun-dappled summer afternoon that would last for years. There were sleepovers, video game marathons, movie outings, family gatherings. We each moved to a few different places in Lewiston here and there for a few years, but never anywhere inaccessible for adventurous Lewiston kids to walk to. His parents were Indiana natives who moved to Maine so that Mike’s father, Mike (Yup, same name), could work at the Bath Iron Works. Sharon, his mother, was constantly cooking us food (a stark contrast to my own home) and they both had a long southern drawl and big hearts.

As I got a bit older, though, our mentalities started to diverge. I became interested in girls and in trying to be ‘cool’ and Mikey was still interested in action figures and video games. We hung out with each other a lot, though, and I even started to make him come to the school dances with me so that maybe we could meet girls there. He would always come and we’d just sit in the bleachers, looking at superhero or basketball cards we bought with our food money for the dance, having long discussions as pre-teen boys do about things like who would win in a fight, Superman or Thor?

I eventually got a girlfriend and I felt bad that he didn’t have one. He seemed to resent being left behind, and I understood that. Once, I felt so bad that I created an imaginary girlfriend for him, dropping letters in his mailbox from “her” with pictures cut from a magazine of a woman with a bright smile and wavy blonde hair. I told him that she was a friend of my own girlfriend and I had told her all about him and she thought he seemed like a cool guy. He seemed really happy at first so I stuck with the charade for a while. After a time, Mikey seemed disappointed that he never got to meet her in person so I had to come up with a way to get out of it without him knowing it had been me all along and hurting him even worse. I felt horrible, and weird, for leading him along in that way but at that age, I didn’t know any better and I was just trying to help. I was satisfied somewhat when he told me that his long-distance girlfriend had written to him for the last time, saying that she needed to move and that maybe they could write when she got to her new place sometime, but that she needed a break because she really wanted to meet him in person and couldn’t. I acted surprised and gave him a pep talk about how he could get a girlfriend if he needed to because that girl was very pretty and had liked him. To this day I wonder if he ever figured it out.

Fast forward again to when Mikey moved back to Indiana. I was heavily involved in college and work life. I had other friends I hung out with more often than I did him. Co-workers, former college buddies. He still wanted to play video games all day and all night, and I just didn’t have the stamina or interest for that any longer except for a few random times. He eventually started working, though his mental faculties kept him from having a normal job with normal hours. Our time together grew more infrequent.

The last time I ever heard from Mikey, we spoke on the phone. He said he didn’t like Indiana very much and that it was boring. I told him he should hang out with some more people, maybe people he worked with. He gave a noncommittal grunt in response. I told him I was going to be getting married, to the woman of my dreams. I wasn’t sure how he felt about that but he seemed genuinely supportive. He listened to me talk about her for almost an hour.

One thing led to another, and I became involved in my own marriage and my home life and work life. Other friends. Family milestones. My separation and impending divorce. I didn’t think about him a lot during all those times, I must admit. We’d grown too far apart. That connection we’d had as young boys back in that water war with the girls had disappeared with growth spurts and life troubles and years. In some ways, I envied him, thinking that he was just sitting at home probably, eating his TV dinners and drinking Pepsi and playing hours of video games at a time, only pausing to sleep or work. I was concerned with trips to the emergency room for panic attacks in which I thought the end of my life was near, massive nosebleeds from stress, animals and family dying. What I didn’t think of was that I had lost a friend, a friend who’d come to my aid when he saw someone needing help, a friend I’d had for years. For all his childish ways, he was still a good person and in hindsight, I shouldn’t have let that connection go completely. I won’t soon forget our childhood times and friendship and I’m hoping that I can still hear what he’s up to every so often, In any case, he definitely deserved a much better friend than I was to him, at least in the end.

Now, as I’m married (again) to the actual woman of my dreams – I wonder what he’s up to and if he ever found someone to hang out with in boring ol’ Indiana. I hope he has, and I hope his mom Sharon still makes that killer breakfast scramble.

Defeating the Darkness

Posted on November 13, 2018

Whenever I get too down on myself, it’s mostly because I’ve become too caught up in my everyday life. Work, bills, laundry, taxes, dishes, etc. No matter what I do to try to remedy the “everyday blues” – it can be hard to pull myself from the oppressive black hole of the mundane.

At that point, I try to take stock of my surroundings. I remember that ultimately it’s the things I choose to do, the things I’ve been courageous enough to try, the things I partake in to set off the constant edge I feel. Those things are all more important to me in the long run than the momentary stresses and anxiety of the day-to-day.

I’m no musician, but I’ve spent a lot of time being in a band. We were known only as Tyler. Matt. Joe – and the only thing that mattered was that we had fun and made music. It didn’t matter that ultimately the band never went anywhere, and it doesn’t matter that I’m still not a real musician to this day. What matters is that I felt comfortable enough with myself, and my friends felt comfortable enough with my abilities to let me just try it out. It was something I gave myself fully to at the time. It was an experience, and it was positive in a time of real darkness in my life.

I’m no actor, but I’ve been in my fair share of productions. I’ve been in commercials, in a music video, and in some short films (one of them even won an award). Though I rarely ever use it any more, I also have my own YouTube channel – complete with videos I created to be silly and also of me lip-syncing. For me, looking at even this small body of work – I am amazed at how far I’ve come, especially growing up with severe anxiety. What drove me into this particular arena was a combination of wanting to fully defeat my own anxiety, to challenge myself, and most of all – to have fun. It worked.

I’m no dancer, but I dance whenever I can. I’ve never been formally trained, and I can still be very self-conscious at times. But I have fun. I had to force myself out of my shell, and a lot of my friends think of me (wrongly) as a great dancer. But really, I just have fun, and that’s sometimes the most important part of dancing – to have fun and not care what others think. It’s hard to do, and I still struggle with it because the darkness is always present within my thoughts – but I feel the beat. I’ve danced on stage at multiple concerts now, and on my aforementioned videos for all to see, and that has led to people looking for me to liven things up at parties and get-togethers, which is really weird to me considering how introverted I once was.

I’m no cook, but I cook a lot. I taught myself, aside from what little I learned back in home economics in grade school. I grew up on Ramen cooked in coffee makers, on pan-fried bologna, on government cheese and powdered eggs. I work hard for my money, and I use that money (most of the time) to buy what I consider healthy food. I prepare many of my own meals, and I experiment. I am a king of leftovers. I work on dishes until I get them right. This is a challenge for me, and yet I have been moderately successful. Ask me to make my scrambled eggs for you sometime, or my Chicken Gruyere, or my succotash, or my Lemon Chicken. Baking is another story, but try a steak I’ve prepared and tell me it’s bad.

I dress up like characters from pop culture and I entertain people, mostly children – and it’s the funnest and most rewarding thing in the world. I worked on a comic book that a childhood hero of mine worked on as well. I hunt ghosts. I walk old battlefields looking for inspiration. I try to create art. I review films and books. I explore. These are all small ways in which I combat the darkness in my own world.

But what I do most is I write. Writing enables me to frame some of the more mundane events in my life in a new context. And when I see that some of you read these things regularly, these work stories and little anecdotes – and you actually appreciate them – it makes those mundane times seem less mundane and more part of the journey. It turns the darkness into an illuminated space that feels like home. Thank you all for being a part of that, and especially for reading what I write here.

Excelsior: My Tribute To Stan Lee

Posted on November 13, 2018

*Artwork by me.

 

I don’t have any photos with Stan Lee. I was never lucky enough to meet the man in real life – So, on top of that, I also don’t have any touching anecdotes about how I met him in an elevator once, or how I sat down next to him at a convention, or anything else I’ve been grateful to read about him on the day of his death. Stan Lee never encountered me once during the 95 years he roamed our Earth – he didn’t know I even existed.

And yet the mark he left on me was indelible, and though he didn’t know I existed – he knew lots of people LIKE me. I was an archetype in his world. Underdogs, the kids who were picked on – the heroes of Marvel fought to protect those like me, and the stories he had a hand in creating, those were stories I found strength in when I was just a boy and going through things that a young boy shouldn’t have to be a part of.

My favorite Marvel character has always been Spider-Man. I drew him when I was little, collected the comics, and even more recently I was drawn back into the comic-collecting world by the events of Spider-Geddon. Though Stan Lee was a corporate mascot of sorts, he was akin to Walt Disney in that he made himself into a character. Uncle Stan, Grandpa Stan, whatever you wanted to call him – he was as much a part of the Marvel Universe as Hulk or Thor or Spidey.

Comics taught me to read. Comics taught me to draw. Comics taught me to write. Comics, and by extension Stan Lee, helped to shape my childhood in ways that my real life couldn’t afford me. In my real life, I was surrounded by poverty, filth, and misery for much of my childhood. Marvel Heroes were like an oasis in the sea of detritus that surrounded me and I stayed there as often as I could, as long as I could – clinging to tales of heroism and excitement. Though I suffered hunger, sickness, abuse, bullying in my childhood, and though I could barely pay bills, succeed in a relationship, or juggle school and work and a personal life as an adult – Marvel Heroes were always there to show me that despite all that, you could still be a good person. Spider-Man struggled with bills, Hulk struggled to be understood and not feared, the X-Men struggled to be accepted. Yet, they all remained true heroes and almost always did the right thing despite their circumstances.

When I heard the news about Stan Lee passing away, I cried. More than with David Bowie, or Robin Williams – I openly cried. Then, I fell asleep for a few hours because my brain was just in an overload of emotion and thoughts that I couldn’t process. I knew that his time must come, as is the case with all childhood heroes, and eventually for me as well, but Stan seemed at times more character than man. And, though I know he had his faults as a human being, the character of Stan Lee is what shone through the darkness and gave kids like me hope. In fact, some of the best Marvel Heroes were ones who were flawed – just like Stan the Man – like the conflicted Hulk or the bad-luck-beset Spider-Man or the alcoholic Iron-Man. I personally think that the good Stan Lee gave to the world outweighed the bad, and by a large margin.

Rest in peace, Stan. The world mourns you so fiercely because it needs you now more than ever, but you’ve given so much to so many and you couldn’t do it forever. I will always appreciate your legacy, and if I have children, I hope they find the world of comic books as magical as I did when I was little. #Excelsior