It was 1985. I was 13. It was a weird confluence of times and things – the first Christmas where I was too old for anything that could even be construed as a toy, the end of a year when my fandom had converted away entirely from Star Wars and GI Joe to comic books (mostly Marvel), the beginning of my obsession with reducing everything to categories and role-playing stats, the beating heart of my conviction that I could crack the whole world of junior high school society if I only elucidated the formula and patterns. (Which totally did not come to pass, thanks to 1986 and the first experience of adolescent depression, but also thanks to the fact that it doesn’t work like that At All.)
It was odd and interesting because for some reason, in 1985, my parents hosted a couple of Christmas parties in a way that I don’t ever remember happening before and never happened since. And because I was a tweener age, they basically offered me the money they would have paid the babysitter if I could hole up in my room and entertain myself. Needless to say, the prospect of a double bacon cheeseburger and fries from Jack’s AND a crisp $20 was too good to pass up, and I gladly looked after myself whilst poring over Fantastic Four vs X-Men #1. Which had, among other things, a scene that took place in a weird sort of NYC club that was a jazz lounge on the first floor and a comprehensive research library upstairs. Which was fascinating to me.
Because I was just starting to wrap my head around the concept of The City. I had seen Five Points South in Birmingham for the first time that autumn, walking into the old Lion & Unicorn comic and bookstore on Highland Avenue (in the years before it basically turned into a collectibles warehouse) and seeing places like Gorin’s Ice Cream by the fountain or Charlemagne Records. I was getting flickers of things from music videos, images of steam from manhole covers and roll-up steel doors over storefronts and people in long coats going through markets or coffee shops. I was discovering things like hot tea, or chocolate croissants. Artifacts of a wider and different world that wasn’t limned by the borders of a rural exurb or the triangle path between home, school and church.
And that Christmas, for the first time, I put pen to paper to write something that wasn’t a school assignment. It was the worst sort of ghastly Mary Sue fanfic, of course, plugging myself into the Marvel universe the same way I had done with Star Wars on a dozen playgrounds for years, and it was more a pastiche of phrases and things I’d grabbed from television or movies or any passing thing rather than any sort of innate creativity, but it was a start. Once you can imagine yourself in another world, you can start to imagine a world of your own, and then you can start to imagine what it would take to get yourself into that world. It’s not too great a stretch to say that in the journey that put my boots on Broadway, or Constitution Avenue, or the Embarcadero or the Strand, the first steps were taken in the Christmas season of 1985.