From vanadium Fri Jan  8 17:15:58 1999
Date: Fri, 8 Jan 1999 02:11:57 -0500
From: Minding Coyote 
To: void
Subject: When Stereotypes Attack XVI
(Warning, long and nerdy. No, not geeky. Nerdy. Trust me.)

I hate stereotypes as much as the next person, but every so often the reality is so close to the truth that I have to rethink my feelings. When I watch the Simpsons, I always cringe a little bit when they do bits with the Comic Book store owner, even as I'm finding the parody hilarious. I know lots of folks in the genre who don't fit the stereotype at all. We all know that people that own Comics shops and SF&F bookstores aren't all unwashed, cretinous slobs puffed full of their own batrachian self-importance.....


There's a store I don't get to very often because it's out of the way and it's a long drive from my current address. It's been around at least 20 years, possibly longer, and when I was a kid, I would do almost anything to get driven there. Back then it was a forbidding paradise, guarded by the owner who was mean and possessed of a tubercular cough which got progressively louder and more insistent the longer you shopped. I didn't have the money for much more than a few comics back then; we had to pool our cash to buy roleplaying games and that was infrequent. My friends and I knew we weren't the most welcome of customers. We kept coming back though; it was the only game in town. And there truly were some wonderous things to be had. T-shirts, every roleplaying game we could imagine, boxes of old comics stretching far into the back of the store. This was before the Internet, and we didn't know every publishing schedule of every game and comic company or even their names; when something new arrived, it really was new. A total surprise. Magic places have trolls. We took the owner for granted and we kept coming back.

Fast-forward fifteen years and I'm back in town. My grandmother is in the hospital, and I'm doing frequent runs back and forth to sit and impotently watch her waste away. On this day, I arrived a little earlier than usual, but exhausted and not ready to face the hospital just yet. Just....not. To kill time I drove around the city as snow glazed streets already slick with ice. Keeping to the main roads, I did my usual rounds of places I remember in the city until my route takes me near the the shop, still open at 6pm despite the snow. I find myself there a couple of times a year, mostly at times like these.

The store has changed a lot since we were kids, mostly perhaps in that it hasn't changed much at all. The things we would have killed for are still there on the shelves. The same copies. The store is unique in that as far as I know, in its history, it's never had a sale. Ever. Even now, when you go in to buy that original Gurps supplement which has to have come out ten years ago, it's still cover price. Want a copy of "Keep on the Borderlands"? It's probably there on the shelf and you'll pay whatever it cost in 1978 to get it. I recently purchased a Jon Sable:Freelance tshirt, still in the shrinkwrap from the store and had it framed for my own wall because I'd be staring at the same display shirt hanging there since 1984 and twelve dollars be damned, I was going to finally take the fucking thing home.

Coming to the point of the story though, this time I actually had something of a purpose in mind when visiting. The same friend I had shared RPGs with a decade ago had told me about this nifty roleplaying game that was based on Hong Kong action films. It was called Feng Shui, and it looked like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the publisher was out of business and the game was out of print. I'd tried all the usual Boston haunts, including a couple of the weird, out of the way ones, with no dice. I figured if any place would have it, this one would.

There was a new person behind the counter that night, someone I'd never seen before. He followed me around the store while I browsed, the familiar shoplifter surveillance we'd experienced with the owner for years, the same furtive zone coverage. Finally he asked if he could help me. I asked if they still carried a game called Feng Shui.


Assuming that the game was so out of print it must have been silly for me to even ask, I asked "Long gone, eh?" and he said "Yes." and wandered off.

I poked around a little bit longer (My god, is that a copy of Gammamarauders?) found a couple of used hardcovers and brought them to the register. It's probably good I didn't find the game because the store doesn't take anything but cash on the barrel and I had barely enough to cover my two books, having to dig in my pants for the last dollar bill. Another familiar sensation from the past.

Thinking I should reestablish my bonafides as someone who has at least some nerd-cred and not a total loser,(Yes it sounds silly, I know...) I asked "So how long has Daedelus Games been out of business? I didn't think it had been that long"

He looked at me and although I can't swear now that I heard it, his voice was almost the channeled voice of the comic store owner on the Simpsons as he answered:

"Frankly I don't know. In fact, I have no idea what you're talking about"

Aha. Okay, he hadn't heard of it. Given the size of the space and the dusty, mildewed, firetrap-accelerant contents, it's possible he wouldn't know about it. I explained that it was a roleplaying game about Hong Kong action films. Neat, right? His answer:

<SIMPSONS>"Oh. No. We don't have *that*."</SIMPSONS> (Really let the sarcasm drip here. )

Hm. He had no idea what it was, never heard of it, and he's so unfamiliar with games in general that he's never even heard of the company. And yet he could look out across the shambles of used books, old Champions minatures, and yellowed 1980's graphic novels dissolving in their own acid paper and tell me that they don't have it. Did he look in a catalog? No. Did he check their inventory? No. Do he suggest calling back when the owner is around as every other SF bookstore I tried offered when someone who was less familiar with the stock was on the desk? No. It wasn't a huge sale he was passing up, but it wasn't a single digit one either. He looked smug.

Did this bother me?

Well....yes. It did for awhile. Until I began to think about it.

It's a fact that Fairylands have a tendency to die when you get older. The streets begin to fade and scuff, revealing the brick under the electroplate. There's a faint smell of urine in the air. The towers and minarets begin to look seedy, and all the strange and wonderful animals are conspicuously absent like a carnival midway seen in daylight. The inhabitants who are left don't look you in the eye anymore, not many of them anyway. You walked away when things were beautiful and like the tragedy of the commons, expected it would stay that way without anyone to care for it. In little ways I try to fight it, but I'm always mindful that that entropy works on everything, even imagination.

With that in mind, next time I plan to bring my friend along, the one with the killer charisma, intelligence, and speech skills. Together, after fortifying ourselves with powerful libations as we did of old (Denny's coffee, which really does turn green when you add the little creamer tubs to it.) we will riddle the little troll behind the desk. Perhaps the stereotype isn't that at all. Perhaps it's myth, and myths are a whole 'nother animal. Myths favor the clever, the righteous, the just, but most of all, they favor the determined. We'll defeat the unhelpful guard with wit and imagination, ever mindful that somewhere in the back, there's a soft, wet, rumble of a cough and a greater beast out of the past who has seen challengers like us come and go. Whether we find the book or not, I expect it's going to be a glorious evening.

2:10am 1/8/99