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October 30, 2005

  • What About Bob
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    For the record I should say up front that Bob never did anything wrong with me as a fourteen year-old. He did not even attempt to do anything untoward with me. My experience with Bob was one of polite co-existence and occasional exchanges of money for services which were all strictly legal and above board.

    And yet, even now I wonder about Bob.

    In the spring of 1983, comic books were my life. I loved them, collected them, got into my school's public speaking finals for a speech about them, even secretly collected them when my Mom put a ban on them because she thought they were interfering with school. I bought the new ones faithfully at a local card shop, McCoy's Card and Gifts, and I was always on the hunt for back issues.

    Ah yes, back issues. Comics from the 1960s and 1970s were sweet treasure to me. I couldn't get enough of them—I was addicted to the smell of old newsprint, I think, and the chance of reading some classic only ever whispered about in a letter column or a magazine like The Comics Journal (which I subscribed to as a 14 year-old). Eventually I heard from the kid who worked at the card shop that one of the local malls in Oakville, a desultory place called Trafalgar Village, had a Sunday Flea Market, and there were people there who sold back issues.

    You have to remember in early eighties there was no Sunday shopping in most of Canada. To make some extra revenue, malls would rent tables in the actual mall itself and allow flea markets to exist on Sundays. Trafalgar Village, a pokey little mall with a Shopper's Drug Mart that became a Bargain Harold's, a Dominion, a Woolco, a Black's, a Young Canada and the usual nondescript clothing and stationery stores, was no exception. And so, one Sunday morning I rode my bike down there to see what back issue treasure could be found.

    The answer was plenty. There were two comic book sellers: one was Target Comics, run by a middle-aged guy named Ken Young. He took his son's collection and parlayed it into a Sunday business and eventually opened up a shop in downtown Oakville in August of '83. He had great stuff. I was able to get old 1960s issues of The Flash and House of Mystery, and plug the holes in my collection of The New Teen Titans. And he even sold new comics using the American cover price in Canadian money (my loyalty to McCoy's Card and Gifts evaporated).

    And there was Bob.

    Bob's outfit was called Comic Book Connection. It wasn't really. He had maybe two or three boxes of back issues and he sold books on the side. But he was friendly and talkative. Bob had some good back issues too: issues of Amazing Spider-Man that featured Cloak and Dagger and even a rare copy of Inferior Five #3, then in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide at $4 in mint condition (this was very fine). And if he didn't have it, he was always promising he could get it. You see, with Bob, everything was in the warehouse.

    "Issues of Shazam!? I think we might have some of those in the warehouse. I can get it for you next week." He would say. The following week, he'd have maybe one or two issues of Shazam! from 1974. Not many, but enough to keep you on the hook.

    Eventually, I had come by enough to pick up things from the warehouse that I started talking with Bob on my Sunday visits to the Flea Market. Bob was friendly with me. Friendly may be the wrong word. Eager perhaps may be a better word. He wanted to know about my favourite comics, that sort of thing. He was very keen to talk to me.

    That didn't really send any red flags for me, and maybe it should have (then again maybe it shouldn't). But there was something about Bob's manner that did for a number of others.

    Bob was always talking about how he did some other Flea Market in Bramalea (the flea market I think was bi-weekly) with some other teenaged boy who worked for him. He eventually asked me if I wanted to work for him at the same Bramalea Flea Market over the summer (the Trafalgar Village Flea Market went on hiatus over the summer). The gig paid $3 an hour, which in those days would buy a lot of comic books.

    Selling comic books to make money to buy comics? I was sold.

    My father wasn't. He was troubled at the notion of a grown man wanting to take me to Bramalea to sell comic books. Especially a grown man who, at that point, was taking to call my home with solicitious phone calls. Now, with the benefit of age and having a 13 year-old goddaughter, I can see his point. At the time I thought my Dad was gypping me out of the greatest job I could ever have.

    Bob told me not to worry. I could work for him at Trafalgar Village in the fall when the Flea Market started up again. My father had concerns, but he figured as long I was in that having the job at the Flea Market would be okay. And so from September 1983 to April 1984, my first paid employment was working from 12-4 at Comic Book Connection at the Sunday Flea Market.

    There were conditions. I do however remembering being under strict instructions to not accept any rides from Bob, which I thought was extreme, but nonetheless was careful to adhere. I just thought Bob was unctuous but harmless. What I didn't realize was that I was the only person at that Flea Market who held that opinion.

    My best friend Rob started going to that Flea Market with his father. Both were comic book collectors but I thought they were coming to hang out with me, often until the Flea Market closed. Years later, I was talking with Rob when the subject Bob came up.

    "Graeme, we thought he was a child molester."

    "Bob? A child molester? Get out of here."

    "Why do you think we used to hang out till closing? It was so we could walk you home. We didn't trust him"

    Looking back I can see that they weren't the only people there who had my back. I remember Ken Young, the guy who ran the Target Comics stall, saying he didn't trust Bob either. I know Rob's father and Ken used to talk and they all kept an eye on me (as did some of the other regulars attendees of the Flea Market). At the time, I thought people were just bigoted, I suppose, toward Bob's somewhat effete manner.

    The fact was I was more bothered about how cheap Bob was than about whether or not he was any kind of a predator. Bob never wanted to pay me my $12. He'd always find reasons for deductions—breaks, a comic book I might have bought—and the next thing I knew I'd be given $5 for my work. I became really resentful of this when I started coming in at 11 so I could compensate for my breaks.

    Rob's father and Ken Young observed that the stall wasn't exactly doing great business—the comic books weren't shifting and it wasn't drawing traffic to any of the books he sold. (And Target Comics' stall had just about everything, anyway). Even so, I (perhaps naively) thought a deal was a deal and he should stick to what he said he'd pay me, and yet by Christmas this was hardly ever happening. For a long while, the only time I could get Bob to actually pay up without complaint was to make sure either my father or Rob's father was nearby at the end of the day. (I may not possess much sense, but I could tell that Bob was scared to death of my Dad).

    One Sunday during March of '84, Rob, Rob's father and I convinced Bob to take us to the warehouse. The very term itself conjured up visions of places out of the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark—a giant space filled with nothing but comic books which stretched out to the rafters. What we actually found was a self-serve storage locker just off the QEW that held about 14 or so standard comic book boxes (I did manage to score the first three issues of Dreadstar, and a copy of the Death of Phoenix issue of X-Men, so it wasn't a wasted journey).

    Eventually Bob pushed his luck in front of my Dad and saw that he wasn't going to intervene when it came to my payment and in a flash I lost my best weapon for extracting $12 from Bob. The Sunday in April he got away with it in front of Rob's Dad, I knew I was doomed to never get paid what I was told I would. I stormed past Ken Young and I never went back (it was the last time I would see Ken; he died of a heart attack the following week). By the summer of ‘84 I started mowing my parents' church's lawn and making slightly better money doing that than working at Comic Book Connection (I seem to recall my own allowance went up a little as well; perhaps my Dad didn't want me to try and find outside work for a while). Target Comics' store in downtown Oakville continued after Ken's death and I continued buying comics there. The Flea Market closed at Trafalgar Village and Bob, I gathered, went back to Bramalea with his other teen employee. I never saw him again.

    But Bob remains an enigma to me.

    Maybe Bob was, as I thought at the time, just an effeminate guy who was harmless. Maybe he was, as some said, gay. Maybe he was, as some suggested, a predator. (Admittedly in 1984 the prevailing attitude was one was the same as the other, though that is certainly not the case). All I know is that in retelling the story of knowing Bob, I find certain things about it suspicious in ways that never occurred to me when I was younger. Perhaps that's a byproduct of the loss of innocence that has happened since then, or perhaps we were never really that innocent to begin with.

    Bob never did anything wrong with me as a fourteen year-old. He did not even attempt to do anything untoward with me. My experience with Bob was one of polite co-existence and occasional exchanges of money for services which were all to do with the selling of comic books.

    And yet, even now I wonder about Bob.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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