Today is my 61st birthday. It began, as have all my birthdays since my union with Dorrie, with her preparation of my official birthday breakfast, "The Leaning Tower of Pancakes." Dorrie is part chef, part artist. She uses nut wedges, whipped cream and strawberries to build the support structure for a vertiginous tower of flapjacks, each one canted a few millimeters here and there.
The visual effect is a stunner. When pancake syrup is poured over the top, the 'waterfall' effect is a real doozie. It's almost too pretty to eat. But when you consider what goodies Dorrie mixes into the pancake batter--mini-marshmallows, minced walnuts, maraschino cherries, plain croûtons (for an added crunch) and bits of Heath bars (finely smashed)--admiring it as art is, plain and simple, out of the question!
"What are you going to do today, Mace?" my dear betrothed asked from across the table.
"I think I shall index the later issues of.... of..." I sighed and dropped my fork. "I beg your pardon, Dorrie. I fear I've lost my appetite." I scooted my chair back from the breakfast nook table, and promptly banged my head on a wall bracket.
"Poor Mace," my wife said, as she soothed me. "Poor Mace. You've suffered so much... well, we're going on a little field trip today. It'll be just the thing to cure your blues. Now eat up..."
She handed me the fork, and somehow, I fought back the tears. I found the courage to plunge that fork into the tower of pancakes, and take the first savory bite...
Many, many bites later, with a final, refreshing mug of coffee, I was ready to bathe, shave and face the world on this, the first day of my 61st year 'pon this green Earth.
In the shower, as I sang a Peter and Gordon favorite, "You Don't Have To Tell Me" (a choice track from their first American album, World Without Love), I had what some would call an epihpany:
I've spent my whole adult life compiling a remarkable gatherum of panelological masterworks. Perhaps now is the time to let them go... to simply cherish their memories. For you see, each story is emblazoned in my heart... printed on the four-color press of my soul onto the fabric of my personal universe. Perhaps 'tis best to hold these visual wonders in my heart...
Tears streamed down my face as the impact of this thought washed over me. Here was I, so heart-sick for so long. I still had some 800 of my favorite panelological treasures--with the mysterious return of box C-14 (as documented in my most recent posting here).
My mind still teemed from the recent demands of my collection's captors. Heaven knows, I've suffered a barrage of verbal slings and arrows since the forced posting of the abominable work of Lee Sherman. I have been called everything from a "gadfly" to "a pitiable, foolish, foolish man" by my detractors. You, my dear friends who remain, know that 'twas not my choice to publish that gutter rubbish of last time. I do hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me...
But I digress. Aglow from my insight, I toweled off and dressed. I wondered what Dorrrie had planned for this special day. A picnic? A day of "garage sale-ing?" Mine was the fate of those who sit and wait...
Dressed and ready for the day, I re-entered the living room. Dorrie was dressed, too--in a very chic pants suit. I knew this must be a special occasion. "Got all your things?"
I gathered my wallet, keys and such from the bureau. Then I saw this key, which you'll remember from a few posts back:
"Accursed thing!" I shouted. "Abomination! Mocking me with your riddle!" I hurled the key in the waste-basket to the right of the bureau.
"We may need that," Dorrie said. She retreived the key and pocketed it. With a smile, she led me out into the sunny, bright Sunday morning.
Something suddenly struck me: Dorrie was not going to church! I thought better of "making issues" of this most unusual behavior. Perhaps she felt that this, being my birthday, was a sufficient excuse to not attend her house of worship. If so, I was deeply honored. My wife is rather devout in her beliefs.
" Would you drive, Mace?" Dorrie asked as we approached the Prias.
As we left our driveway, "the missus" b egan a series of confounding directions. "Turn right here... go under the Westridge overpass... take Charnel Street down past the Arby's drive-through..." and so on. I soon had no idea where I was. I was in a part of town I'd never before seen.
Finally, I was instructed to park in the lot of Hal's Hide-A-Way Secure Storage. The exterior of the building, painted robin's-egg blue, looked like some merry prison.
Indeed, the imposing, towering structure had an armed guard--Sal Sharpley, a fellow "panelologist." Sal's specialty is the 1940s "Green Arrow," as ably delineated by George Papp.
Sal, in his too-large security guard "threads," nodded amiably. "Mason! Good to see you, buddy."
"Did you ever locate issue 96 of More Fun Comics?" I thoughtfuly inquired.
Sal chuckled. "You remembered! Nope, still looking for that one darned issue. That'll complete my 'Arrow' run. Come on in, folks."
Sal pressed a keypad. After a battery of bloops and bleeps, we were admitted to the inner sanctum of this cheerless citadel. Sal trailed behind us. Our heels clicked down the echoey corridor.
Suddenly, a thought struck like thunder:
Sal Sharpply lives in Cincinatti, Ohio!
I turned to confront him. "Sal! Y-you're not--"
Sal brandished his gun. "Uh uh, Mace. Just keep walking." He patted me on the back.
We turned a corner. At the end of a narrow, dimly lit corridor was an elevator. "Get in," Sal said. We did as told.
Sal punched the button for the fifth floor. With a shuddering shake, up we went. I could hear Sal's nostrils whistle as he breathed the stale air of the elevator.
The door lumbered open. At my feet was my treasured copy of Science Comics #4!
A trail of other cherished panelological gems led down a long, shadowy hall. "Wh-what on earth..." I cried. My heart pounded 'neath my chest.
"Pick 'em up and keep walking," Sal snarled. I bent down and retrieved one dear four-color friend after another. I cradled them in my arms, so happy to see them yet so puzzled as to why they were here, and why I was here...
The trail ended in front of a door, with a proud pile of my beloved Wonderworld Comics! Home of William Eisner's stunning "Yarko" and Louis Fine's elegaic "Flame!"
Dorrie pressed the key in my sweaty palms. "Open the door," she said. Sal grinned like a banshee. Friends, I was afraid. Had even my own wife turned against me?
I was so nervous I had difficulty inserting the key into the lock. But finally I opened the door. With great caution, I stepped slowly into the darkened room....
Lights blazed on into a cacophony of color, sound and faces. Friends, fellow panelologists, neighbors, and even my step-brother Frederic were all there, all smiling, and all cheering my name!
The fellow named "Ray-Don" greeted me. "How do you like it, Mason?"
I looked around the room. A neat set of shelves contained... my panelological treasures! Each and every carton of wonder, as neatly arranged as one could wish for!
On the walls were expertly painted reproductions of panels from some of my favorite features: "Shock Gibson," "Mars Mason," "Strongman," Navy U.S. Jones," et all. On the background of the circus-colored walls were emblazoned various panelological sound effects. It was done with a skillful hand, and it must have taken hours of work to render these scenes with such expertise.
I was guided to the most comfortable arm-chair I've ever sat in. It faced a simple, tasteful desk upon which stood a new computer and scanner--plus the loose-leaf volumes of my panelology notes.
"Welcome to the New Pantheon, Mr. Moray!" a familiar voice crowed.
"Si, Senor Moray," another recognizable voice said. "Espero que este lugar especial agrada usted!"
It was "Sparks" Spinkle and Raphael--dressed in their crime-fighting guises of "Super Senior" and his sidekick "Equis!"
"Sorry 'Sparks' and Raphael couldn't attend this shebang," "Super-Senior" said. "They're, uh..."
"Away on important business," "Equis" said.
"Yep, off on important business. But they sent this card. Heck, everyone chipped in on it."
It was an unusually large greeting card--the exact size of a Golden Age comic magazine. The 'cover' of the card was an issue of MORAY COMICS, lettered somewhat in the style of WHIZ COMICS. A depiction of yours truly, standing in the very room I was in, holding a pile of beloved comic magazines, was flanked by a blazing legend:
MASON MORAY AND THE NEW PANTHEON!
Inside was this inscription:
Dearest Husband, Dearest Friend:
Thank you for helping me to realize a life-long dream. Dorrie's Diner is a big success--we couldn't have done it without you! You deserved better than that old battered shed in the backyard. Here is your inner sanctum--a place to call your own, where your collection is safe and sound. Believe it or not, it's within walking distance of the house! (Tee-hee!)
Below this were a gaggle of signed names. As all burst into a rendition of "Happy Birthday," a giant cake was wheeled into the New Pantheon. I'm not ashamed to admit that I burst out into tears--surrounded by so much friendship, such love, and such reverence!
The whole saga rushes back in my memory--the mysterious fire at Ngo's Snak-Shak; the lengthy bacchanal on our street; the synchronous dissapearance of my collection at that same time...
"Super-Senior!" I shouted. "Did you, or did you not, have a hand in that fire?"
"Sparks" looked at me in puzzlement. "What fire?"
"The fire," I said. I gestured with open palms. "The... fire..."
A glint of memory came into his masked eyes. "Oh, oh oh oh! THAT fire!" He chuckled. "I can't lie, Mr. Moray. Me and my sidekick here, we... we kind of encouraged it along a bit."
"Big barrel," "Equis" said, "of animal fats behind the shack. Ignites very well..."
"B-but this was arson! And you were all accomplices to this crime?"
Dorrie laughed. "The police shut that place down. No one was in there."
"It wasn't even an official building," Raydon explained. "They didn't have a permit, or nothin'."
"It was a convenient way," "Super-Senior" continued, "of getting you distracted long enough to move your collection to this new location. No crime was committed. If 'Sparks' and Raphael were here, they could explain."
"Let's cut the cake," Sal Sharpley and Bart Jaffney (owner of Killer Komix!) cried in unison.
As the cake was cut (presided upon by the garrulous Burt Liffler, my next-door neighbor), my first thought was to give something back to the friends that had made this nightmare end.
I dashed for box V-14, rifled through it, and retrieved my copy of More Fun #96. I pressed it into Sal Sharpley's hands. "Now your collection is complete."
Sal's jaw dropped. "I... I can't believe it..." He broke into tears. "I never thought this day would come..."
To the tune of Peter and Gordon's "Nobody I Know," the party began. Friends, it was an hour or two of utter merriment. "Super-Senior" and "Equis" quickly excused themselves. A few minutes later, "Sparks" and Raphael happened to show up.
"Well, that important business is all taken care of," "Sparks" said.
"Si, all is taken care of," Raphael echoed. The two shared a quiet chuckle and helped themselves to cake and punch.
"Sparks" became the emcee of the soiree. First, he regaled us all with the story of the New Pantheon. It was his idea. He'd taken note of the disrepair of the Former Pantheon, and worried for the safety of my treasures.
With Dorrie's Diner a booming success, he consulted with all my friends and loved ones to "chip in" for the monthly rental of a climate-controlled storage space. Furthermore, it would be designed as my panelological citadel--a place where I could continue my deeper studies of this art-form without arousing Dorrie's allergies.
"Sorry to put you through so much worry, buddy," "Sparks" said. "But there's no other way we could have gotten these babies to their new home. Boy, if only these comic books could talk!""
He opened box B-6 and retrieved my copy of Leading Comics #2. "Remember when you got this one?" He told its "origin story." I spotted it at a flea market in Ohio in 1977. A little girl wanted to buy it (the asking price: a mere quarter!), and grabbed it first. I had to purchase a heaping stack of Little Lottas (at three dollars!) to trade her for this invaluable example of the art and story of John Lehti.
"Doggoned kid went and put those Lottas on sale! She sold 'em all at a handsome profit--but Maceroonie still got the best of her!"
He kept the crowd enrapt with selections from my collection, each endowed with a colorful anecdote of when--and where--I acquired them. Even I was "wowed" by some of my past wheeling and dealing.
Them, by request, "Sparks" and I enacted one of my favorite "Yarko" tales, from Wonderworld issue 5. "Sparks" depicted Vladim, the evil genius, whilst I portrayed the inimitable Yarko. "Raydon" joined us to portray the incidental characters, including the nameless woman who is saved from voodoo doom.
I'll present the brilliant William Eisner story here as a "capper" and as a souvenir of this wonderful day of my blessed life:
What a masterwork! Our impromptu reading (a re-creation of one presented at the 1974 ThunderCon in Wheeling, West Virginia) received voluminous applause. I approached Raydon and said to him:
"Son, I have seriously mis-judged you. You are a profoundly talented artist and designer, and I approve of your alternative lifestyle. You are always welcome here and in my home."
Raydon kissed me on the cheek--to the roaring approval of all gathered!
I did take the moment to ask Raydon why he selected those horrible Lee Sherman stories for my prior post? His answer: "They're just so icky. I mean, look at them. A blind man could have done better." (Little does this young roisterer know the truth of his statement!)
Apparently, such dross is celebrated in certain quarters. You, dear faithful friend, have my iron-clad assurance: only the finest in panelological story and art shall appear here from now on! I trust today's offering will do much to "settle the balance."
Later, I had a brief chat with my step-brother. Friends, I don't believe I've mentioned him heretofore. Frederic does not share my passion for the arts panelological, but he recognizes the financial worth of these vintage publications. He works as an investor, or regulator, or some such position.
He refers to the Pantheon's holdings as "a nice portfolio," which I suppose it is. Try as I may, I cannot warm entirely to Frederic. I was secretly amused to see Burt Liffler corner him, later in the party, with his unending chitter-chat about this, that, and the other.
The party is over. Indeed, friends, the nightmare of the last three miserable months has ceased! I write this from the New Pantheon, which is, indeed, a mere four blocks from the house. (That was some route Dorrie took me on in the car--the trickster!) The New Pantheon is air-conditioned, and even has "wire-fi" internet service.
I have begun to notice a slight electronic buzzing sound, accompanied by barely-perceptible vibrations, coming from somewhere within this building. Perhaps it is the workings of the "boiler room," or some such place, deep in the bowels of this fortress. The buzzing is just noticeable enough to bother me, if I take notice of it.
But with the music turned up loud enough, I don't notice the buzz. The pulsing is forceful enough to cause me to take notice. It poses no apparent threat to the New Pantheon's holdings. The music, itself, does make it rather hard to concentrate or write. I suppose I shall soon become accustomed to this, and shan't even notice it in the future.
This is a beginning of a new, and greater era, for the Panelological Pantheon! Hurrah! Cheers! Let the new millenium begin!