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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 04/07/2003
Volume 2, #72

It began last Wednesday when our car broke down. Actually, it started, as it always does, with one light twist of the ignition key. At ten years of age, we thought this feisty little Nissan Sentra would just go on forever. It had been the most reliable car we ever had. But this time, I could tell something was wrong. The engine turned over irregularly to the accompaniment of loud clanking sounds. Either a damaged drive chain or something much worse, maybe a busted cylinder. But I managed to back the thing out of the garage and onto the dirt road that passes in front of our house. It was only a quarter mile along that road, then a left turn onto Chesterville's Main Street where a hundred yards further along was the D&D garage that had been keeping my Nissan in top condition all these years. I wasn't too concerned. These guys specialized in building racing car engines. They were super-mechanics. So I clanked into their driveway with the sound of the engine getting louder and more threatening. Then as Ed, one of the owners, alerted by the noise, came out, shaking his head, I shut the engine off.

"Bad," he said, still shaking his head. He nodded at me to open the hood. I pulled the latch. Then I stepped out to see Ed staring at the smoking engine. "Cylinder went through the head," he explained, pointing to the smoking mess.

"Looks like I'm going to need a new car," I said unhappily.

"New car?" Ed looked at me. "Why do that? We can rebuild your engine."

"Wouldn't I be better off with a new vehicle?"

"No, you'd be better off if we rebuild your engine," Ed had a glint in his eyes. "No reason you can't get another ten years out of this thing. Not a drop of rust anywhere. Solid frame. A rebuilt engine and you're all set."

"How much, Ed?"

Ed stroked his chin, his eyes surveying me speculatively. "Real cheap. I got an idea about this particular engine. Something real interesting. I'd like to try it out." He named a price so low I couldn't refuse.

Three days later, I had my car back. What happened after that, well, it's a long story. As I've often said before, and emphasized particularly in my book, AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, I keep my doors open. I don't brush away things because they're strange or unfamiliar. I don't deny unique manifestations of reality just because I can't explain them when they first happen.

It started when I was driving into Ottawa with the rebuilt engine purring away, all four cylinders with their reputed 3.1 litres. At least, that was the rating of the engine before rebuilding. Even then, though, the Nissan always had had unusually fast pickup. Route 31 is two lane all the way into Ottawa where it turns into Bank Street. And you have to pass a lot of cars if you don't want to take two hours to get there. My usual time is forty minutes.

Noting a clear left lane for the moment, I stepped on the gas to pass a car in front of me. Something happened. The Nissan surged and shot past a line of six cars so fast I almost lost control. What the hell had Ed put in this new engine? Ahead, I saw a couple of big trucks now. Again, a clear left lane. I hit the pedal and was past the pair of lumbering vehicles so fast I caught my breath. Ahead was a mile of clear road in both lanes. I kept my foot down. The Nissan seemed to float into a different dimension. It was moving so fast, everything blurred. I got scared, slowed down and watched things gradually come into focus. I wasn't on Route 31 anymore for one thing. I knew where I was, though. Recognized it in an instant. As familiar as my own left hand. Sixth Avenue, New York. At the point below 23rd Street where the Sixth Avenue "L" was gone, having turned West to meet up with the 3rd Avenue Line as it did way back several decades ago. To my right was the Sixth Avenue Cafeteria. One of my regular Greenwich Village hangouts during World War II. It had to be, it WAS about 1945. I knew too that the war hadn't ended yet. What the hell was going on?

If Ed had done something unusual with the new engine, I'm certain he didn't have some kind of time machine in mind. Ed's head never turned in such directions. But, things like this, given the opportunity, always seemed to happen to me. Because of my open door policy. I accepted things as they were handed to me. So I slid the Nissan into a parking space in front of the cafeteria. Lots of empty spaces at this late hour which I judged to be about 8 PM. The streets had a summery look about them too. On Route 31, heading into Ottawa, it was still a cold late spring.

I got out of the Nissan and walked through the revolving door of the cafeteria and looked around. A drunk huddled at a table in one corner. No one else I knew at the moment except, well, there was this guy in the snap brim felt hat, kind of a big hat as they wore them in the forties. He wore a double breasted suit and wide pants that tapered a little at the cuffs. That's right, there were cuffs on the trousers. The familiar face sported a pair of horn rimmed glasses. But I didn't say to myself, "Ohmigod, it's Clark Kent." As I've explained over and over again, I take things as they happen and don't close them off. I confront them. So I walked straight up to the table and confronted him. "Hello, Clark."

"Hello," he said, looking me up and down. I wasn't sure whether he recognized me or not. Why would he? He was just a comic strip character I used to write about. Since I was back in 1945, I was probably still writing about him. "You're Al Woodrum," he said.

He used the pen name I went by in those days. I told him I was really Alvin Schwartz. And that ten minutes ago I was driving a 1994 Nissan Sentra on a road in Canada in the year 2003 and wondered if he could tell me what the hell I was doing here.

He smiled and motioned me to a seat. "I wouldn't be here if I couldn't. Not that I was expecting you, but these things happen."

"Like, what happened?"

"Time zones criss-crossing."

"This is some kind of waking dream," I said.

"No," he said. "Look around."

I turned my head and searched the few faces at the table and then, some fifteen feet away, near the steam table, a small, compact man sat facing someone whose back was turned to me. The small man was saying as he waved his hands: "Outrageous! Impermissible! Uncivilized! But they allow them. That's the awful part of it." It was my old acquaintance, the painter and watercolorist, deHirsh Margolies, recounting the usual atrocities of his day, as he saw them. I half rose from my chair to go over and greet deHirsh but Clark stopped me. "Later. He'll be here for at least two more hours. Meantime, we have some things to talk about."

"Like some explaining, maybe?" I said challengingly, as I settled back down.

Clark grinned. "Like why is all this happening? Sure, it has to do with the fact that, fundamentally, everything is happening at once. I thought you understood about that."

"Yes and no," I admitted. "It doesn't always stay. I need refresher courses from time to time."

"I suppose so," Clark said. "Starting with, am I real, perhaps?"

"Yes, let's start with that. Seriously. And none of that stuff about morphogenetic fields."

"Why, Alvin, why not? That's where it all begins, in a way."

"Let's do something more basic for the moment. I've been through all that morphic field stuff. But tell me, in the midst of a war, and you being Superman, how did you ever allow it to happen?"

"Ahh, that. Hard to explain. But the war itself gave me my reality and significance. If I were to stop the war, I wouldn't exist, you see?"

I had a glimmer of an idea of what he was getting at. But it all went deeper than I'd ever imagined. I'll tell you more about it next week. And by the way, this is no fairy tale. I intend to provide all of you with a much closer look at reality. In fact, you've no idea what you're about to discover.

--Alvin

<< 03/24/2003 | 04/07/2003 | 04/14/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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