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How John Bolton Pissed Off My Driver’s Ed Teacher

July 27, 2001

Bizarre Driving Adventures

They waited. In the car. I can't imagine any of them, especially Clark, were waiting patiently. But they waited nevertheless. It was a gamble asking for this favor, but Clark had granted and I wasn’t about to withdraw the request. I tried to do my part. I tried to hurry, honest to God I did. But the fat man in oil-stained auto-mechanic attire who towered in line in front of me was purchasing every possible "instant" lottery ticket imaginable--and rubbing the coin to the ticket to see if he'd "instantly" won. I said a silent prayer that was immediately answered when tubby uttered "son-uv-a-bitch" beneath his tobacco-encrusted breath. I laughed to myself--though maybe not quite to myself--as he turned and regarded me as a giant might regard an insect. My face tensed. His upper lip tightened and an accusing eyebrow was raised; I quickly looked away. Outside, they were waiting, and this was taking too long. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the grimy-slimy mechanic--who, incidentally, would have to find another source other than the Pennsylvania lottery by which to finance the drinking fest that must certainly draw to a close each day of his otherwise uninspiring life--left in a rage. He was, of course, but a brief ripple in the otherwise calm sea of the tobacconist's shop. I quickly approached the counter to make my guilty purchase. The cashier placed it into a paper bag and handed me 15 cents change and I ran out of the shop. I knew they'd been waiting. I ran to the Plymouth--ran across the parking lot of the shopping centre--ran to the driver's seat. But it was too late. Clark was there--in the driver's seat. I was too late. "Get in," he said, emotionless, and started the car.

The country station blared out about Elvira and how she was gettying-up about something or other. I paid little notice. A mix of nervousness and excitement washed across me. Clark gunned the Plymouth and we raced diagonally across the parking lot--a practice that certainly must have contradicted all that he stood for--to the nearest exit. The Plymouth roared onto the highway before navigating the first exit that would take us back. I looked cautiously to Clark. His hands gripped the wheel tightly. He stared ahead, a blank, emotionless stare. But I knew. I knew. This was the first--and last--time he'd ever agree to anything like this. Cheryl and Janine sat quietly in the back seat, no doubt thinking what an idiot I was. But I didn't care. I didn't need their approval, acceptance, or hearts. My goal was nearly accomplished, and I'd attained what I'd thought otherwise unattainable. We approached the intersection of Barnes-Lake and Sidemoor. The traffic light shifted from green to yellow and Clark hit the accelerator. We blew through the light doing 75. What had I done? Clark was a good man, as far as I knew, and a good driver--he had to be--and now this. The dashboard clock approached 12:10 p.m. We were 10 minutes late and still several miles away. I knew I was the most hated person in any Plymouth in the Irwin vicinity at that particular moment. I thought of saying to them, "Don't blame me! It wasn't my fault!" But how could I do that? True, it wasn't my fault, but how could I express my innocence with any degree of persuasiveness? It wasn't my fault, dammit. It was Marvel's. It was always Marvel's fault. I felt like "Ralphie" in A Christmas Story--don't blame me, blame it on Red Ryder.

If you are at all familiar with Marvel magazines of the mid-to-late 1970s, you may recall Marvel Preview which was later renamed Bizarre Adventures. I was 16, and did not live near a comics specialty shop or news stand. The Internet was year's away, and mail order stores were few and far between. As a result, it was no easy task to maintain my comic book hobby. This meant that I accompanied my parents on many trips to grocery stores, hardware stores, malls--basically any store that sold or was near to a store that sold comics--when I would otherwise have remained at home. The tobacconist at the Norwin Shopping Plaza was the place to satiate my growing hunger for all-things-Marvel. This included magazines as well as comics. I'd seen the ad copy for an upcoming issue of Bizarre Adventures starring, I believe, Kull the Conquerer, with art and cover by John Bolton. Now, I'd never seen nor heard of John Bolton prior to 1979. And I am typically not a fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre, but having seen a preview of his work in a previous issue of Bizarre, I knew that securing a copy of this mag was a life-or-death matter. I also knew that the tobacconist generally ordered only two copies of each Marvel magazine being produced at that time. Thus, timing was everything. I accompanied my parents on every trip to the Norwin Plaza during a six-week period. Nothing. Dry well. Zip. Finally, one night we took a quick trip to the A&P supermarket (located adjacent to the tobacconist’s shop). The A&P also sold comics, and I foolishly went there first and made several purchases. Why "foolishly"? You know damn well why. When I reached the tobacco shop, and saw the new issue of Bizarre Adventures (one of two copies in stock), it’s painted John Bolton cover stared up at me in defiance. I didn’t have enough cash left over to purchase it. Whattodo whattodo whattodo? Well...nothing, actually. My mom refused to front me any cash--hey, I was 16 and working a part-time job--so there was a bit of that bitter life lesson "with great power comes great responsibility," or, more to the point, "with foolish spending comes no Bizarre Adventures for Davey." I knew that it was hopeless to argue the point and sat against the wall outside the A&P while mom and dad purchased prime cuts of beef, leafy vegetables, and an assortment of salted snacks.

That night--a bowl of pretzels, chips, and cheese curls by my side--I read my new comics while mom and dad watched Dallas. The comics were little compensation for my ever-increasing desire to obtain the unobtainable. Although I'd gone through my change drawer and found I had just enough money to make the purchase, our next trip out wouldn’t be for several days and surely the mags would be gone by then. If I could only drive there myself. But that was wishful thinking. Although I had obtained my learner's permit, I couldn't abscond with my father's car under penalty of death. Even if I had wanted to, dad drove the land equivalent of an aircraft carrier--the Ford LTD II. A monster of a car, I'd sat behind its beastly wheel once or twice and felt as intimidated as Foster Brooks might have felt at an AA meeting. On the road the LTD II rolled across the highway like some grade-school bully, beating up the other cars for gas money, and I simply wasn't man enough to tame such a beast. It wasn’t going to happen. As I resigned myself to my fate, the GE soft-white light bulb went off in my head with explosive radiance. The light bulb shown down on me like a beam from heaven itself, blasting my senses with not 60, not 75, but 1,000,000 watts. Granted, it was a long shot, but what choice did I have? If you collect or are driven by collecting, you'll understand that I had no choice whatsoever.

One of the classes that comprised my daily high-school life was commercial art. Another was civics. Another was biology. And another...was driver's ed. Mr. Clark, who had, the previous year, been my history instructor, was my driver's ed. instructor. The class met daily for 50 minutes and it consisted of Clark, myself, Cheryl, and Janine. The class was rather basic and most of our time was spent on the road. We alternated driving days; thus, on any given week you could drive once or twice. Clark was a bit quiet, a bit edgy, and he had a passion for country-western music. We drove the hills and valleys of the quiet district in Eastern Pennsylvania known as Westmoreland County while Sheena Easton reminded us that her baby took the morning train and worked from 9 to 5--something I guess we were supposed to aspire to do upon graduating. I don't know how I got the nerve to do it, more than likely I was just insane with want. Maybe it was because I knew the worst he could do was laugh in my face and say no. But somehow I got up the nerve. I stopped Clark as we were getting into the car on what was one of my assigned driving days, and asked, "Do you think I could maybe drive to the Norwin Plaza? There's this magazine I wanted to buy, and, um, it would really mean a lot to me if we could go there. It won't take long, really. I mean, it's only about 10 miles each--" He cut me off and, handing me the keys, simply said, "Go." And you already know the rest.

Clark didn't talk to much to me after that. Not that he talked to me much at all to begin with, but the incident had clearly changed him and his perception of me. On the accelerated return drive, he'd asked me what it was that I "had to purchase." He said it with the tone of voice that clearly implied that nothing could have warranted such urgency for ownership. I tried to explain that it was an illustrated magazine.
"Oh," he said, feeling he'd been made a chump, "a comic book."
"Sort of," I replied, and fell silent.
Had I been able to show him why it was so damned important that I get to that shop--had he been able to see the beautiful pages of Bolton artwork bursting from the page in glorious black, white, and grey or had he himself been a collector of anything paper or otherwise--perhaps then he'd have understood. Perhaps. Cheryl and Janine certainly didn't understand, nor did they speak with me after that day. I can’t honestly say that it bothered me. As far as I was concerned, I’d done the impossible. I’d pulled it off. I’d beaten the odds, and it had been well worth the alienation I would suffer for the remaining weeks of the class.

Overall, high school was about as much fun as watching ice cubes melt in Alaska. A quote of mine appears in my high-school yearbook. It reads: “[David] favors the school strike as [his] most memorable moment." This is erroneous. What I had said to the yearbook geek who asked me to describe what I remember most about high school was: "I remember the school strike; it lasted long enough." Words to that effect anyway. At no point did a use the word "favored" which, I think, implies that I supported the teacher's strike. I never really said what I wanted to say in high school. Never could get the words out, I suppose. In hindsight, I know exactly what I should have said to the yearbook reporter: "My most memorable moment? Well, there was this day in Clarks' driver's ed. class. Oh, have you ever heard of John Bolton?"

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