"This place sucks," Jeff Garlin blurts out as we pass a cafe with a maroon awning. "Worst tuna fish in the universe."
"Really?" I ask.
"Yeah," he replies, laughing. "That's how I base everything: whether they have good tuna fish or not."
Then we jaywalk across Clark Street.
Garlin (whose one-man show I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With just finished a run at the Remains Theatre) is performing one of his midday rituals: a walk up Clark Street that begins at the Gold Coast Dogs at Dickens and Clark (where today Garlin partakes of a hot dog, a chocolate malted, and half my fries) and ends at Frances ("My ritual begins and ends with food"), with stops in between at various comic book shops and compact disc stores.
Our second stop is Moondog's, a comic book store so filled with posters, greeting cards, T-shirts, and baseball, football, and hockey cards that it's hard to see the comic books for the novelties.
"This is like a bar for me," Garlin explains in a hushed tone. "What I mean is, I hang out here. A lot. One time, my girlfriend was looking for me, and she called up here. I hadn't even told her where I'd be." Garlin chuckles a moment, reveling in his own foibles. "This is like my Cheers."
Then we enter the shop.
"Hey Bill. How are you, man?" he says to the clerk, who perks up visibly when Garlin enters. "Your goatee is gone."
"So are the sideburns."
"Everything is gone. Your Elvis look." Then Garlin turns his attention to the huge bank of comic books along the back wall. "New comics out?"
"They're all out," Bill says, stepping out from behind the glass counter.
Garlin turns to me and speaks directly into my tape recorder. "I start at the beginning. Sort of look, to see what new ones are out." He demonstrates, gently pawing through the books. "Now, look at this! This is the new Avengers. There's a couple making out! An alien making out with a woman.
"Now, I'm not offended by an alien making out with a woman, but just the idea of someone making out. You know 20 years ago, when I was a kid, if I saw a couple making out on a comic book cover, I'd want to puke."
Garlin turns his attention elsewhere. "This is the Cage. Cage, it takes place in Chicago. Otherwise it's a sucky book. I might get this, Captain America. How is this, Bill?"
"I haven't had a chance to look at it, but it's Cap! Cap's been halfway entertaining lately. It's going to have all the wolflike Marvel characters hanging out with it."
"So you'd recommend it?"
"I'm going to get the Captain America. I haven't read him in a while. I always reach for the back." He demonstrates, but as he pulls out the comic book his eye lights on a copy of Daredevil. On the cover, Daredevil and Spiderman, who both wear red superhero costumes and have screwed-up personal lives, are both strapped to hospital gurneys, surrounded by a team of menacing-looking hospital types. "The Surgeon General has D.D. and Spidey just where she wants them..." runs the teaser on the cover, "in critical condition!"
"Have you read the Daredevil?" Garlin asks Bill.
"No, I haven't read that one yet."
"That looks pretty good. I'm going to get that. Here's Hulk. Gotta get Hulk. It's my favorite comic book. I should get two of these."
"Will one of them get saved in plastic?" I ask.
"They both will go into plastic. One will be to have, to sell someday." Garlin thinks a moment and then puts one back. "Never mind. You know, every time I do that I got to stop myself. You know why? A friend of mine said to me one time, 'Jeff, do you think you're going to be famous?' Yeah. 'Well let somebody else keep them nice for you.' Someday I'll have too much money that I won't know what to do with, you know. And I'll probably give it all to the homeless people and buy comic books."
Then he turns back to the wall of comic books. "Let's see, Iron Man. No, I'm not going to get that. I'm sure it's a crappy issue. Let's go down the line. Bill, have you read this?"
"I took a look at it. It's not bad, but it's not that good either."
"They tell the truth here. I spend enough money that they don't have to lie to me. Look at that cover, it's so stupid. He doesn't have an arm. He's got a rapid-fire machine gun. That's too close to reality for me. Here's a very funny comic book. She-Hulk. She-Hulk is great."
I'm sure she is, but I'm irresistibly drawn to a book showing a muscle-bound woman in a silver dominatrix outfit. "In her own book at last!" the cover reads, "Silver Sable & the Wild Pack."
"Who is Silver Sable?" I ask the master.
"She's like this character, uh--" He turns to Bill. "Who is Silver Sable? What is her story?"
"Spiderman first met her. She's like a mercenary for hire, but she usually works for governments. She'll work for any government that will hire her."
"Right, she has no--"
"She has like her own assault squad. Her Silver Squad. Fun, fun, fun!"
"So anybody who could be a possible Nazi, I don't pick up her issue."
Having picked our way through the wall of comic books once, Garlin leads us back to the beginning and says to Bill, "So show me what else new you have."
"Did you get Cage?" Bill inquires.
"No, I don't get Cage anymore. I stopped. It's bad." Garlin pulls an Avengers off the shelf. "Why are they making out on the cover?"
"Why? Look, I'll tell you. A man is dying. An older man. And he captured his son's spirit--"
"Stop, if you're going to explain it to me. I don't want to hear any more. They're making out and you can't come up with a good justification."
"I was almost done with it--"
"Well, the beginning was just too stupid."
"It was stupid but--"
"It's not like you wrote it and you're taking personal offense."
"The son's spirit is put into his body for a while, so he can say good-bye to his father, before his father dies of cancer. It's a heart-touching story."
"It's a very heart-touching story."
"But you still don't want it."
"It's a heart-touching story that can kiss my ass."
"I can show you some final issues."
Garlin points to a magazine called Alpha Flight. "This is the Canadian group, right? Is this their last issue?"
"No, no. It's a special, a special, it brings back some of the older members."
"Is it a good story?"
"I think it's going to be really good. Wolverine's in it, so it can't be the worst."
"Is Ben Vereen in this issue? He's been popping into a lot of my Marvels. And only mine. I've been returning them here and it's only a problem I've been having."
"You're going to pass up Egghead?"
"No, you can't pass up Egghead."
"You have to get him. You know what this is. This is a lot of the reject heroes from the 60s and 70s all formed together. Looks like they all went to Canada to get away from the draft."
"They're not popular anymore, so they teamed up."
"We have Phantom of the Opera way down here," Bill says, and abruptly pulls us down the wall, away from the top-of-the-line Marvel and DC comics, to the weirder novelty comics. Vampirella. Lost in Space. Even The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
"I don't want Phantom of the Opera unless it doesn't have anything to do with Andrew Lloyd Webber. I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. I wish he and Michael Bolton would move in together and shoot one another. Oh, what's Dracula 3-D? Bad art. Oh, look at this--Nolan Ryan #1. Pee-wee Herman."
There on the back rack is a line of comic books called Biographics.
"Madonna vs. Marilyn. They wrestle." He flips through the magazine. "This is terrible. What is this?"
"It's just to compare the two."
"Yeah, and they are a really good comparison. One had talent; the other didn't. I don't know how Marilyn got away with it. Good night everybody! Oh, look, look, Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze comics! Look at Pee-wee Herman--he's actually masturbating here." He turns through the book. "Instead of a bubble explaining things, it's got a big blotch of jizz. And look at this. A Boris Yeltsin comic. Did you know Boris Yeltsin just joined the Fantastic Four? He's with Demi Moore. They're teaming up to fight the Thing. And Madonna and Marilyn have just joined the Avengers. Gloria Estefan comics. Gloria Estefan was with the X-Men for how many years? Six years. She was Professor Xavier's personal student. Professor Xavier actually wrote '1-2-3-4' or whatever that song was called."
Garlin carries a stack of comic books to the front cash register.
"Only $46.31!" Garlin says as he hands over three crisp 20s. "What a perfect thing to spend money on. And I'm so in debt."
He grabs the bag of comic books, and as we head for the door we run into the manager of the store. "Phil!" Garlin shouts enthusiastically, stopping him dead in his tracks. "You were right. Today the article came out [in USA Today] about Peter Parker's parents coming back [for the 30th anniversary issue of Spiderman]. Did you know they are coming back mute? And all future Spiderman issues are going to deal with him trying to learn sign language? They're going to be mute and they're going to be mutants. They're going to team up with Demi Moore in the next issue of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze to fight the evil Warlock."