By the time I hit tenth grade my geek tendencies were showing like anime cherry blossoms blooming. I’d taken to watching Robotech alongside GI Joe and Transformers, and She-Ra at that one girl’s house down the cul-de-sac, had a real crush on her though only her pre-teen sister ever thought I had anything interesting to offer conversationally. My nninth grade pals had gotten me up to speed on Star Trek and I’d read William Gibson’s sci-fi hat-trick triple-crown trifecta winning Neuromancer, twice, as well as the rest of his limited roster to that point. I’d helped my friend Joe build a Veritech fighter pixel by pixel in the 8-bit limited painting program on his Commodore 64.
Many of the prized possessions decorating the walls and littering the shelves in the room I shared with my brother were comic shop swag, fliers and teaser posters slashed with slogans like “Who watches the Watchmen?” and “I never met a Superhero I didn’t kill… Marshal Law”. One poster in particular wore the room the way the rose window of Sainte-Chapelle wore a French church, an oversized poster that afford the vantage of a dashboard bobble head looking in on Rick Hunter as he flew Roy’s Veritech away from the deck of the megalithic SDF-1 while rockets, swirling contrails, planes, glowing tracers, and enemies whipped past with all the frenzy of an assault on the second Death Star, except in California sunlight over a coastline and five-frame glittering ocean instead of the audio allowing abyss of Lucas’s outer space. For some reason, the very first time I looked at the poster once I’d gotten it adhered to the wall with that strange putty my Mom’d recommended after nixing the use of thumbtacks on the beige bedroom walls, a Led Zeppelin song called “Friends” occurred to me, and I dug out a tape with the track on it to play on my hand me down dual tape deck, the only one I’ve ever seen that had flip down flaps to cover the running reader head and spinning wheels rather than a hinged slip drawer like boom boxes typically had.
With the song rumbling through my foam headphones, I’d sway to the tempo and look at the big poster and let my mind wander into swoops and spirals, ducks and dodges, sensing the thrill of careening through a three dimensional space like the arcade cabinet vector graphics games of Star Wars and Red Baron hinted at through their vague approximations. Years later, working on Tribes 2, the jet pack and grasshopper bounding through the landscape gave me some of the same thrills and spills I’d dreamily envisioned, yet still I’ve yet to work on or play a game with the actual density of detail or potential points of precision that might match the epic marriages of man and machine I daydreamed about, the sprawling, glittering sea beam dances only fireflies, angels, and dragons know.
Bright light, almost blindin'
Black night still there shinin'
I can't stop, keep on climbin'
looking for what I knew.
While other posters came and went, that poster remained in place until the day came when my family packed up to move to Missouri, and I into an interim friend’s parent’s basement until college began. The poster witnessed the only time I ever brought a girl over on a date, one half of a pair of twins – specifically the insane artist half that went on to assassinate my Fisher-Price Animal hand puppet, chop it into pieces and flush it slowly down a Louisville toilet, document the mutilation send pictures to me through a mutual friend. Yeah, that Jackie Weill. For the record, the other twin, the preppie one with college ambitions, turned out to be very cool when I met her a few years later.
The poster silently oversaw those flailing attempts Jenny Thomas and I made at making out on the bottom bunk of a bunk bed. Discovered necking with a woman several inches taller than you is even more awkward on a single bed with minimalist head height. Don’t know how they do it in prison.
That poster hung there when the great exchange happened, like the passing of prisoners of war through a valley after the war like the one Kurt Vonnegut described in Slaughterhouse 5, the one after WW2 I believe my Grandfather Van Dussen’d been a part of, as well as Lisa’s Step-Grandfather, the one with the forearm riddled with pock marks, scars from shielding his face from a machine gun nest. And American one. My Grandpa had spent time in a German POW camp. Her Step-Grandpa the opposite. Do you think the ritual of passing teams slapping palms and muttering, “Good game good game…” over and over again came from epic post war POW exchanges?
One day, not long before the family began packing up for our respective destinations, my brother and I held a great summit, one with lasting implications. Over the years we’d each gotten toys on birthdays, holidays, and occasionally visits to the doctor, or in my brother’s case, prolonged visits to the hospital, though that had been years earlier and no, I didn’t have anything to do with how that had happened. The broken cello? Yes. The hospital thing? No. Add into the mix birthday monies and my ability to earn income from mowing lawns and later from the movie theater; our room bulged at the seams with toys, and while some toys clearly belonged to one or the other of us, like the Gaza Strip there were many areas where the lines were very fuzzy and ownership easily contestable, without even trying to recount trades or so called inter-sibling gifts.
So beneath the unwavering gaze of big eyed Rick Hunter gazing steadily down at us from that prized Robo-Tech poster, we made piles of loose figures, accessories, intermittent vehicles, and various other toys besides. And then we negotiated, like the two Koreas, tense yet polite, until eventually next to each of our knees sat piles of toys roughly equitable. Most deals were defined down party lines, with a couple notable exceptions like the Navy Seal and the Fireman, my brother took all the GI Joe, except for Jazz he took all the Transformers. I took the Kenner Star Wars, the Ghostbusters, and the Robo-Tech, but of course. He took the Fisher-Price Adventure People and He-Man, I took the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The exchange took a couple hours, with golden rays of late afternoon sunlight filtering in through the narrow room’s single window, falling across the Robo-Tech poster. After we had our respective piles of toys, we stood and emulating TV lawyers and businessmen, we shook as though we’d struck the deal to divide Berlin or declare peace in Grenada. I piled my holdings on my bunk, the lower one, and my brother began to pack his up for the impending move. I went off to work, worked late, and ended up sleeping next to a pile of prickly plastic peoples that night.
So anytime somebody needs ya
don't let them down, although it grieves ya
Someday you'll need someone like they do
lookin' for what you knew
I still have a lot of the figures from that great day of deliberation, of property division. What matters more to me, though, is the civil and deliberate way my brother and I elected to divide our goods. Perhaps the knowledge we were about to stop being roommates at last, he would go with my folks to Missouri; I would remain in Kentucky, god alone knows why, and attend college. We’d always resented having to share a room, especially after the sweet room I’d had on my own in the house across from Milligan College. Still, ending a forced cohabitation has a degree of sadness to it, a note of nostalgia, because the rest of life lay in wait and an uncomfortable certainty is sometimes preferable to an uncertain adventure ahead.
The most important thing is that despite all the hassles we’d given one another as brothers, we left that battlefield peaceably.
We left it as friends.
Excepts from “Friends” by Led Zeppelin (1970 Page, Plant) used without permission.
Please don’t sure me, pretty please?