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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Second Time Around

For the rest of the year, this blog will intermittently feature pieces serving as testing grounds for a longer format project I'm working on, featuring my experiences as a youth in 1983, for future publication in book form. This is one of them.

ABOVE: "Second Time Around" was located in the center storefront
of this historic building, as it looks today.
My friend Todd had called me one morning in the summer to give a heads up about some old comic books that were for sale in a new second-hand store downtown. This call came in the twilight years of my avid comic book collecting, before my interests switched to film (appropriately enough, another media that told stories within a frame). In addition to haunting the town's variety stores for the new issues, I would act like a bounty hunter on my steed, The 10-Speed Medalist, on Saturday mornings, dutifully searching for old comics at garage sales. (Friday nights were often spent carefully planning a route for the following morning, based upon whatever sales were listed in the newspaper classifieds.) But I especially wanted to find stuff cheap!

After I tethered my horse and sauntered inside this store, appropriately called "Second Time Around", I discovered that they were selling a stack of old Classics Illustrated issues from the 1950s... and not for as cheap as I was used to paying at yard sales. The prices weren't unreasonable mind you, but more than what my five-dollar-a-week budget would allow, especially since it had to cover old and new comics. Anyway, I told the lady I would think about it, and left. I returned later that day... not for the comic books, but for something else that caught my eye.

Among the two or three bookcases of used paperbacks for sale was a copy of Bounty Man Kildoon, a western novel by Robert Eagle. The eponymous hero of this story was a bounty hunter who collected his money by bringing in the severed heads of the desperadoes on the "Wanted" posters. I had gravitated towards this book because during this period I was positively mad about western movies, especially those about bounty hunters (having recently been enamoured of Lee Van Cleef in For a Few Dollars More). At around this time, my garage sale routes included western paperbacks in their searches. This particular 25-cent purchase began what would become a past time and (hopefully) a friendship that would last almost two years.

"Second Time Around" was owned and operated by John and Paulette, a married couple who also had two boys a few years younger than me. Much of their inventory consisted of second-hand clothing sold on consignment, which took up the first half of the store (mostly all that was visible from the sidewalk). In addition, they would sell antiques, as well as the second-hand staples of knick-knacks, LPs, and -you guessed it- paperback novels.

For the rest of the store's remaining months, I would often drop by after school or on Saturdays to look for western paperbacks, and later, crime novels (when my tastes began to include hard-boiled fiction). Although Louis  L'Amour, Max Brand and Zane Grey were the most common authors I would buy, I would also sample anything that looked interesting or was the basis for a movie (such as Clay Fisher's The Tall Men, which was adapted to a Clark Gable movie I had seen on TV at the time).

In time, I discovered there was a rival customer for their westerns: we were known to each other, but never met (perhaps he only visited during school hours). An older gentleman who lived at the hotel down the street would also buy novels, and sell them back after reading them with his huge magnifying glass. He would also complain to them that I never brought back whatever I removed from the store. No, anything I acquired was in a plastic bag slung over the bed post, the same place where Dennis the Menace kept his toy pistol. Admittedly, I wasn't reading the novels with nearly the ravenous pace: it mattered more to me at the time that the stuff was in my possession, so I had an instantly accessible library to read at my leisure.

ABOVE: A 1983 photo in
"The Ottawa Citizen"
accompanying an article
on "Black Bart"
For at least a year, the storeowners never knew my name: I preferred to liken myself to "The Man With No Name" in spaghetti westerns, which I often alluded to in conversations with John about western movies. When I mentioned that I was a huge Lee Van Cleef fan, John replied that on the side he was doing a woodworking project for a Mr. Jim Flett, who had done stunts for the actor. In addition to doing stunts and bit parts for television, Mr. Flett was also at the time appearing at shopping centres as a quick draw artist under the name of Black Bart. The next time he appeared at "Second Time Around", he had learned about me, and wanted to invite me out for a coffee, but they had no contact information for me. As a consolation prize, Mr. Flett left an autographed picture for me the next time I visited the store. (Sadly, that photo is now lost- that was too many moves ago.)

I had always loved "old stuff": the design of antique cars, appliances and architecture; the sounds of big band music (something else to alienate me from my rock and roll loving peers); and of course, old movies and TV shows. The time spent at "Second Time Around" merely crystallized that adoration, plus an adherence to old-fashioned values. The store opened at the height of the 1980s' recession, and its clientele was largely blue-collar workers who had become disenfranchised by the economic downturn, and would have a few more dollars in their pockets thanks to buying or selling used goods. Here was a life lesson not being told in school: these were impressionable, vivid snapshots of townsfolk just doing whatever they needed to get by. The people and the overheard conversations gave me a glimpse of the real world out there, largely masked by the shell I had been living in.

Indeed, "Second Time Around" wasn't just a nostalgic trip down memory lane, it was also a reflection of a lifestyle. While their store inventory represented remnants from what was collectively considered "the good old days",  John and Paulette adhered to an old-fashioned value system of family and spirituality, which I found touching. (These qualities are especially eroding today, as family time often consists of everyone singularly playing with their gadgets.) As time progressed, I saw that John especially was becoming more openly spiritual, as he often played Christian rock in the store, and was more judicious of what would be for sale (after sorting through a recently acquired box full of paperbacks, the horror novels went into the trash).

Nostalgia is a selective process: when we think of "the good old days", we blind ourselves to the hardships experienced along the way. While I have nothing but the fondest memories of John, Paulette, and the many hours there, I do not wish to time portal back to this period. In 1983 especially, life was a nightmare: at school, I was the social outcast (by circumstance and design); domestic strife was compounded with my grandmother's death, my mother's losing her job and resentment over my father's remarrying. This era was a painful time, though necessarily so, as I was changing as a person (although only in hindsight was I aware of this). At the time I had no real close friends -never truly hung out with anyone after school hours- and consequently had no-one I could really confide in (not even at home, since there were enough problems). However, I was slowly coming out of my shell, and in some ways "Second Time Around" helped me with this.

They instilled within me a feeling of self-worth that I otherwise lacked. Indirectly, I learned that it was okay to march to a different drummer than that of my peers, and to appreciate others' individuality. At the same time, people were beginning to cease their hostilities towards me, as they likewise accepted that I was different. (Maybe it was simply called "maturity".)

Early in 1985, "Second Time Around" suddenly closed without any advanced notice. It re-opened around Easter weekend with the same name and inventory, however this time run by an older couple. The new owners were nice people, but the vibe wasn't the same. This new incarnation would also close in a short time. Oddly enough, I never saw John or Paulette again- not even around town, despite seeing their names in the paper every now and then. One summer however, I believed to have seen him drive by my house in his beat-up hatchback, while Christian music played out the open windows.

In a sense, this transitional period where I learned to become more extroverted lasted in exactly the same timeframe as the existence of this second-hand store. In that year-and-a-half, John became a surrogate "big brother": even though our talks never went below a surface level, I'm sure he would've been responsive if ever I wanted to discuss personal things in my life. It was simply that he accepted me as a human being during those times is for what I will be eternally grateful. Thinking of their sudden departure recalls the theme song from Sunset Carson's PBS series, Six Gun Heroes, which we watched at the time: "No goodbyes / Just so long for a while". In that sense, this time was like living in a western movie.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff! Like Bukowski, but without the booze.

    Keep it coming: I'll be standing on the docks, awaiting the arrival of the next shipment of "The Simcoe Papers"....