b Papa Dog's Blog: Little Turning Points

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Little Turning Points

There’s a movie from a few years back called Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. It sucks (as you may have deduced from the words “starring Gwyneth Paltrow”), but it’s at least pretty representative example of a sturdy “what if” premise. The movie tells two parallel stories; one in which Paltrow makes it onto a subway car one day and another in which the subway car door slams in her face. Her life takes two very different paths depending on whether or not she makes the train.

I was put in mind of that movie because I was thinking how my entire adult life would have been vastly different if I hadn’t written letters to the editors of funnybooks in the 70s. I was a precocious kid with a lot of useless opinions and I was as industrious and obsessive about churning out letters of comment as I am with this here faversham. Methodical too. I kept carbon copies of every letter (you kids might want to look here to decipher the phrase “carbon copies”), noted the date I mailed them, and eagerly checked each new issue to see if the letter I had sent four (in the case of a monthly) or two (in the case of a bi-monthly) issues previously had been published. For a long while, they weren’t. Then one was, and I felt like I’d won the lotto. Appropriately enough for this post, it was in a comic called “What If.” Before I knew it, my letters were getting printed all the time, until eventually I got bored with that particular mania and gave it a rest. I was glad I kept the carbons, though; I got to see how the letters I wrote were edited, sometimes so thoroughly that they changed my actual meaning. I was glad I got disillusioned about that early.

At it happened, one reason I stopped letterhacking (as we called it back then) was that I’d moved on to a new mania. A fellow named Beau Brusque (not his real name) had seen one or another of my letters and had written to me. This is how comics fans from geographically disparate locations met each other in those pre-Internet days. When they printed letters, the comics companies would include the writer’s address (I guess so they couldn’t be accused of fabricating the letters –ha, ha), fans would write to each other, groups would spring up, fanzines would get published, and mother would get mad because nobody was taking the garbage out or mowing the lawn. What this Brusque fellow was peddling was apas. That stands for “amateur press alliance,” and what they were – still are, apparently – were groups of like-minded doofuses who banded together to create an amateur publication for their own sole consumption. Each member would write their own contribution, copy it the requisite number of times (generally, the number of members of the apa plus a few extras for recruitment purposes – it tended to call in the 20 to 50 range), and send it to the “Central Mailer,” the member who was elected to keep the trains running on time. The CM would take these contributions, collate them, and distribute them back out to all the members. It was an even more complicated time waste than writing letters to the editor, and had the added attraction of reciprocal communication.

Naturally, I went overboard. I started founding apas of my own – I believe I got about five of them off the ground – and contributed compulsively and voluminously to my main ones. At my peak, I was in about 15 of them, though I wasn’t a regular contributor to all. Then eventually I got bored and gave it a rest because I’d found a couple of new mania to adhere to – namely publishing my own comic books and having sex regularly. The funny thing is, just as letter writing led to apas, the apas in turn led to the publishing and the sex. My business partner in publishing – none other than paul Anonymous – was a member of a couple of the apas I started. It was actually letters in comics that got us acquainted with one another, but it was the apas that fostered the social connection leading to the business partnership. The sex partner – later known as the Less Marvellous Spouse – was a member of the very first apa I joined. It’s a tradition of some apas to have an annual gathering of members on the occasion of the anniversary issue. I came all the way from Edmonton to Long Beach for one of those extravaganzas. I met the LMS, we hit it off, and next thing I knew I was moving to Berkeley.

Of course, that mania eventually gave way to the “drunken bitterness” mania of my late twenties and early thirties, but it also led me to the network of friends in the Bay Area that would eventually include the wondrous Mama Dog.

So, breaking it down: Had I not written stupid letters to comics when I was twelve, I would never have attracted the notice of Beau Brusque. Had Beau brusque never encountered my letters, he would not have recruited me to join an apa. Had I never joined an apa, I would never have met my first wife. Had I never met my first wife, I would never have moved to the Bay Area. Had I never moved to the Bay Area, I would never have met my proper wife, and I would not now be the father of the most beautiful little girl in the history of primates.

It all makes me wonder – how much of Baby Dog’s life have we already set in motion, just by virtue of where we live, what little niche we occupy on the socioeconomic ladder, how relentlessly I sing Clancy Brothers songs to her while changing her diapers? And what meaningless little thing is she going to do one day that’s going to make all the difference for the rest of her life? No way of knowing, and you can go nuts thinking about it. Would my parents have forbad me to read comics had they known it would eventually lead to me barfing on somebody’s lawn in New Orleans? Probably not. I hope not. I am, as you may have gathered, a great admirer of life’s rich and unassailable tapestry.


Blogger ArakSOT said...

You really had me onboard with this post, right up until the most beautiful little girl in the history of primates turned up in the second to last paragraph... I remember seeing some of those apas. And wasn't a party at a house on Colby St. a small link in the chain?

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny, but I've often thought about how my life would be different if you didn't write letters to comics.

paul Anonymous

7:36 PM  

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