Tuesday, December 13, 2016


In my earlier days, when I would juggle multiple part-time, no-benefit jobs to make ends meet....or later, to support the family....I would often fall back on security guarding, as I had done it numerous times before and thus did not need extensive training (and could start quickly, if needed), I had a state license (or could easily renew it if I’d let it lapse), I projected a relatively stable persona, and I could keep my mouth shut--those two latter ones being the essential qualities for the position. With today’s economy, who knows....I may well be back in the blue guard uniform with the piping on the slacks some time in the future. I’ve always specialized in looking inconspicuous, so I’ve got that part down, and I can definitely keep quiet....especially when I’m being paid to do so.

During my longest stint (2 ½ years) as a night-shift security guard, in the 1980’s, I always needed some reading. I could listen to all-night radio for some of my eight-hour shift, but that would get old fast. Larry King was still mostly a radio person at that time, and he had a midnight national two-hour show each weeknight, which was very popular with night-shift workers and insomniacs (when he was on vacation or on weekends, he'd be subbed by Jim Bohannon----a name very well-known to night shift workers, and someone we all thought of as a friend----who eventually took over the show when Larry went totally to TV....and who was fifty times better than Larry!). Larry's interviews with authors, celebrities, political people with a book out, and the like were somewhat entertaining, but that show would run for only two hours and then they'd re-run it, so you could not listen to it twice. If you've never worked the night shift, you may not really understand that while your body is up, your brain is not. Oh, you can do the tasks you need to do to get by. If you work with numbers (and I had to do some minimal record keeping and tracking of the ins and outs of employees during my shift) or work in a hospital, you can train yourself to do what needs to be done in an acceptable manner, but I think any night shift worker would agree that higher-level thought deteriorates in that environment. Let's just say that it would not be the time to read Henry James or the poems of Browning (if there's EVER a time to read them!).

No, night shift is the time for a Mickey Spillane novel....or a copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine....or, if you're so inclined, something by Jackie Collins or Harold Robbins. Something that requires no thought and which has its own kind of internal momentum to move your half-awake carcass along from one chapter to the next. I would have also handicapped the horses or dogs on a racing form, but there were no racetracks in that area, alas. One of the managers of the company who owned the building would sometimes give me his old copies of The Wall Street Journal (when it was good, before Rupert Murdoch took it over) and The Economist, and those helped.

For me, however, the perfect night shift reading was comic books. During an eight-hour shift running from midnight to 8 a.m., I'd have to make the rounds three times with my time-clock and key, call the country sheriff at the beginning and end of my shift to check in, meet the sanitation guy out on the loading dock at 4 a.m. where I'd wheel out the dumpsters (and we'd talk about sports and women and the weather), meet the mail drop-off at 4:30 a.m., and then be ready to greet and observe the employees who came in at 5, then at 6, then at 7:45, right before MY shift ended. Other than that, the time was my own, but I had to man the front desk and observe the video monitors for the property at all times. You get to the point where you can do all of this in your sleep....and during the night shift, you sometimes did! I could basically be asleep, but if anyone approached the building within 50 feet or if there was any movement on the four black-and-white video monitors of the property, I would wake myself quickly.

I was fortunate during that period in the 80's as it was the golden age of Dick Tracy reprints, with the DICK TRACY WEEKLY, a large magazine of vintage newspaper strip reprints which came out EVERY WEEK. Tracy was always my go-to comic read, and I'd read each one multiple times. However, I also was on the lookout for cheap used and multi-pack comics to kill time in an entertaining manner. For instance, if I could buy a used regular (32-page) Tarzan comic and a used TARZAN GIANT (52 pages) for the same price, I'd go for the Giant.

One item you'd find often in cheap used comic racks (and in old multi-packs which were still found in dusty racks at K-Mart, Ben Franklin, Woolworth's, Phar-Mor, etc.) was the MODERN COMICS line of reprints which Charlton did of its back catalog and which were originally sold bagged for a cheap price. They wound up being re-sold unbagged at many low-end retailers, and you can see the 6 for $1 sticker on the front of my copy. Charlton eventually went entirely to reprints in the 1980's. MODERN had a diverse array of offerings: military, horror, superheroes, westerns, hot rod, romance, etc. The material seemed to range from five to twenty years old, and usually they would reprint the entire comic, including cover, and keep the same number. All that would be different would be the MODERN logo instead of Charlton....and of course a new masthead with publishing info. When I looked up this particular issue at comics.org, I learned that it was an exact reprint of Charlton’s OUTLAWS OF THE WEST #79 from November 1969, but with new ads, a new publishing masthead, and the short story deleted (to make way for another page of ads....remember how in previous reviews I’ve described the short stories in comic books as “disposable” or “throwaway”----they disposed of it in this reprint!). From what I’ve read about the Modern Comics methods of distribution, I’m guessing that circulation of the Modern reprint of a Charlton title would probably have been larger than the Charlton original (at least during the early days of Modern)--they are certainly easier to find and cheaper when found than the originals, except for some late Moderns which dealers label “short run.”

Classic western comic books----set in an imaginary Old West which is timeless----usually do not date. They are also the perfect 3 a.m. reading. Night shift workers (and anyone else forced for one reason or another to keep such hours) are in some unnatural state with artificial lighting keeping you up, your brain is in a kind of netherworld, and your connection to most people's "reality" is tenuous at best, so the perfect venue for that punchdrunk imagination is a mythical Old West (the REAL Old West was probably a lot like what's depicted in the Michael J. Pollard vehicle DIRTY LITTLE BILLY (we’ve included the poster for that, which says it all)--a classic of a sort, certainly, but who needs to re-live THAT downer of an experience! Life sucks enough without rubbing my face in its suckiness in a western, which is supposed to be escapist entertainment). As I would look out the window from my guard post, illuminated by fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, and see a well-lit but nearly empty parking lot (there were about five computer-room night shift employees at the massive insurance office where I was guard--that was it--most everyone else was day shift with a handful of evening employees) bordered by tall pine trees on three sides, I could summon up any scene, any reality in my imagination. It’s amazing how we may have millions of people around us, but 99% of it shuts down each night--except for the occasional police siren or ambulance screech or loaded individual playing loud music in his or her car (or in some neighborhoods, gunshots--this office building was on the outskirts of town, though). Even now, I enjoy sitting on my porch after sundown or before sunrise--listening to the environment, imagining what’s going on in the sealed-up and dimly-lit houses and apartments. Remember the old line from the old NAKED CITY TV show: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” You can see how one can easily slip into and out of some alternate reality in the middle of the night. And an alternate reality I remember enjoying was found in the 6 for a dollar comics I would buy and read at my guard post in between tasks and after Larry King signed off for the night.

OUTLAWS OF THE WEST #79 has a lot to offer in its three long stories. “The Endless Trail” features comic book stalwart Kid Montana (who had been graying at the temples for a few years at this point) in one of those always-enjoyable “existential gunfighter” plots (which were re-written in 1970’s movies as “existential hitman” plots) where the aging gunfighter is looking to settle down and find peace. He’d only shoot when shot at--he never looked for trouble--but when you are a legend with a gun, there’s always some young punk who thinks he’s on his way up who’s looking to take you on, and will bait you into a fight you don’t want. Yes, you’ve seen that plot before with Alan Ladd or Robert Taylor or Audie Murphy....heck, even John Wayne’s final film, THE SHOOTIST (which I saw theatrically in its initial run at the Brentwood 4 in West Denver), was a variation on that old plot. No one who has ever seen a B-western has any doubt about where the plot is headed here, but does anyone really NOT know what the outcome is in most genre entertainment, be it low-budget films, quickie genre novels, or western comic books. That was NEVER the point. It’s how you get to the climax, and how the sleight-of-hand of the creator gets you focusing on the smaller details and the immediate moment. That’s what provides the pleasure. After all, everyone knows where a roller coaster is headed....you can see its course before you get on....but the ride is still a thrill, isn’t it?

The second story, “A Share of Evil,” has a criminal gang shoot a drifter who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but when he doesn’t die immediately, they decide to keep him around to do forced labor for them. Of course, as you can imagine, he eventually picks them off one by one. If this were a Universal made-for-TV western of the late 1960’s, I could imagine Don Stroud in the role of The Drifter (or in a Eurowestern, Peter Lee Lawrence). One of the advantages that a comic book has over a low-budget B-western is that you can create anything on the page you can imagine, and not worry about locations, sets, production design, etc., so the settings here are dynamic, the action fast-paced.
At this point in the original Charlton comic, there was a one-page short story, but that’s been cut here for a full-page ad for a four-dollar portable AM radio (see pic). Many of us owned these chintzy but convenient battery-powered radios back in the day. I first heard the Kinks and The Bubble Puppy and The Standells and “I Am The Walrus” and old reruns of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” radio shows on such a cheapo machine. This deal even throws in a free battery....so you can play it right out of the box.

The issue concludes with an odd story called “Dare To Enjoy It,” featuring an arrogant outlaw, whose Achilles Heel was his vanity. A brutal killer and robber named Rogg, who wears a beard and has long dark hair and a large floppy hat, decides to re-emerge as a newcomer in a town he just robbed and killed a few people in. However, he’s now clean shaven, has rinsed the dark color out of his hair and is a blond, and also has a short haircut...and no hat. He also talks differently....or at least attempts to. He does this out of his conceit and his belief that these stupid locals are too dim to notice....it’s almost like a challenge to them. Of course, we all know where this will eventually head, and it’s quite satisfying as the clever locals catch on to this jerk as he slips up here and there. He finally gets what he deserves from the locals, and the reader then has a full page ad for a KISS pendant (as a public service, we are NOT reprinting that page here) staring him/her in the face.....and it’s probably almost 4 a.m. back at my guard post. Time to make that last run with my watch-clock before meeting the sanitation guy and his garbage truck out at the loading docks.

He’ll tell me some witty stories about the work-sites he’s visited since coming on at midnight, and we’ll have a cigarette or two on the edge of the dock and look out into the darkness as the first cars start to emerge on the main road down the hill with people who have to be at work at 5 a.m. He might tell me about how he’s still flirting with that red-haired divorcee he sees at the flour mill....and how she’s going to say yes one of these nights. He might tell me how much he’s bet on football and basketball games this week. He might tell me of some new beer he’s tried, which is just starting to be sold in the area (he also hits a beer distributorship on his run each night, and they give him samples of items they are considering stocking). I won’t mention that I just got back from hanging out with Kid Montana....better brush that trail dust off my guard uniform before I start pushing the first dumpster out to the loading dock.

1 comment:

Stanley J. Kirby said...

Mr.Shute, I am happy to see you active in the Black To Comm Universe again.Seeing more than two posts a week here lately has done my soul some good. You guys are a shining light of Gulcher,beaming out amidst the morass of blah de dah boo diddle.