The shop was a dark jumble of paperback romance novels, westerns, pulp fiction, some hardbound books I never really went through and - most importantly to me - new & old secondhand comic books that the elderly couple sold two for a nickel.
From the time I was a child of five in 1957 I lived for comic books and for reading. My brother and sister were ten and seven years older than me, my mom and dad both worked two jobs after growing up through The Great Depression, so I had a pretty solitary childhood existence. That quiet shadow world was soon filled by the noisy universe(s) of superheroes. I didn't really differentiate between DC and Marvel back then - Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman were just as relevant (and just as real) to me as The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Iron Man, The Hulk and The Avengers. And then, when I was ten years old in 1963 came The X-Men. Man, did I love that comic book. I treasured those adventures of Professor X, Cyclops, The Angel, The Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl.
But then came 1964 and The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. And then The Dave Clark 5 on Ed Sullivan. And then The Rolling Stones on Hollywood Palace. And then 20 other rock & roll bands I fell in love with on the radio and TV. At that point I had to make a value judgement of where my scant economic resources were going to be allocated; comic books or 45 rpm singles. Comic books lost.
Now it was seven years later and, unbelievably to me, The X-Men was still being published and WAS STILL GREAT! (I didn't know it at the time but the workings of fate brought me back right at the second peak of The X-Men under Roy Thomas.) I had totally lost track of comic books from sixth grade on and all through high school but by some stroke of luck came back into them just at the time Jack Kirby (who had drawn all of my favorite Marvel characters when I was a child) had gone over to DC and was launching his Fourth World Series - The Forever People, Mister Miracle and The New Gods. Also at DC, Denny O'Neil & Neal Adams were revitalizing Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow. And the comic books at the junk store were TWO FOR A NICKEL! I couldn't believe my good fortune.
The bookstore (I don't think it had a name, I know there was no sign outside) was located right where I got off the bus from Ohio State to go to my job at the parking lot of Doctor's North Hospital. That area today has been gentrified into a neighborhood called The Short North. In the early 1970's it was just a fucking war zone. Every second or third house on the side streets was boarded up and inhabited by street people (which was how the homeless were referred to in those pre-PC days). And for some reason the area was LOADED with AWOL servicemen from the Vietnam era. Plus assorted biker gangs and general lowlives of every description and variety.
Into that fertile/fetid atmosphere came wide-eyed 17-year old Rick Cacchione (YEARS before Ricki C. was invented by a later girlfriend), fresh from 12 years in Catholic school. For the first few weeks or months I had been haunting my precious bookstore I had studiously avoided the White Castle burger place that was three doors down, 'cause you could just sense that place was bad news. But one weekend that first winter the heat in the parking lot booth went out and I had to go in and buy a coffee just to keep my fingers from freezing. I had been listening to The Velvet Underground since my high school best friend & bandmate Dave Blackburn introduced me to their music in 1968, I had read Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. because Lou Reed mentioned it once in an interview, but never in a million fucking years did I believe that culture - junkies, pimps, hookers, transvestites, street thugs - existed in safe little Columbus, Ohio. Until I set foot in that White Castle.
I'd walk out of that place clutching my steaming cup of coffee and all but RUN to the safety zone, to the womb of my little bookstore hideaway shelter. I still have dreams now, 40 years later, where I'm browsing the comic books and paperbacks in that store, making great find after great find. I wake from those dreams feeling a peace I don't get many other places these days. I can't remember who introduced me to the concept of heaven consisting of all your favorite places on earth existing within easy walking distance of your front door, but I have prayed to my God to put that little unnamed bookstore - run by that old couple whose names I never knew and now will never know - to be a part of my heaven.
© 2013 Ricki C.