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Favorite Comics by Michael Stutz
published in Volume 1, Issue 2 on March 15, 1994

I hear somebody. I guess that there's someone else on the line; Mitch had said that the lines were open, and so I called, and I didn't expect anybody because I'd never really done this before, but somebody was talking.

I did this a couple times, calling this shit late at night, and it was real cool -- this night, there's a voice, a guy, talking to someone else, a whisper. The whisper kept saying, "Yeah," and "Okay," and not much else, like it was trying to avoid waking someone.

So I said, "Hello?"

And the voice talked. He said, "Hello?"

So I said, "What's up?"

And the voice said, "Not much. Listening to Mitch's show."

Mitch had put some music on, and I didn't like it all that much -- I thought that the talk show was better, so I turned down the volume a little. Then the voice said, "So what are you doing?"

"Me?"

"Yeah."

"Listening to the show."

"Yeah. I don't really like this shit."

"This music?"

"Yeah."

"Me neither."

So we both listened to the silence on the telephone for a while. The whisper was even quiet.

"My neighbors are asleep," the voice said.

"Shouldn't they be?" I asked. "It's three a.m."

"Yeah, but they're kind of weird."

"Why? Where do you live?"

"Euclid. Where are you calling from?"

"North Royalton. I've never been to Euclid."

"I've never been to Royalton. I don't even know where that is."

I couldn't imagine anyone who lived in Cleveland and who hadn't been to North Royalton. I mean, sure, there's East siders and West siders, but North Royalton? I mean, come on!

"Yeah, but I have weird neighbors."

"How so?"

"This guy next to me worked for the post office. He sold cocaine and he got busted, now all he does is sit around and play loud music -- loud soul music.

"He likes it that he's suspended -- he likes to sit around and play music. When the weather's cold he invites everyone over that he knows and has a barbecue -- with like sixty people."

I turn down the music on the radio a little more; I can't hear him all that well. But he's still talking: "Then you know it's time to leave -- you hear the thumping."

I hear a busy signal in the background, behind his voice.

He says, "Do you hear a busy signal?"

"Yeah," I say. Then, I say, "Hey -- is there someone else on here, someone who was whispering?"

"Yeah," says the whisper.

"Oh."

The voice says, "I have to take off my socks -- hold on."

I hold on. I have nothing better to do.

Sockless, he says, "I want to go ice skating. I only went once, but I want to go."

I say, "I went once. It didn't work out very well. I fell all over. I was in Boy Scouts."

The voice is quiet to that.

I listen to the music; it's still pretty lousy.

"My neighbor asked me if I believe in God, and I said, 'No.'" This is what the voice says, out of nowhere.

I wait a second, and then I say, "Oh."

I say, "So, tell me about your crazy neighbors."

He starts to talk. "There's two old people, the post office guy and this old lady across the street. They're the only old people in the neighborhood. Everyone else is young suburbanites: 'Hi, I work at Tower City during the day and watch rented movies at night.' The old people are the interesting ones. They're the ones on the medication.

"The old Alzheimer's woman is crazy."

"Why?"

"She's this old lady across the street and down a couple houses. My window's on the side of the house and when she turns her porch light on it hits my wall and it keeps me up -- you know how a little light at night keeps you up? Well, she does this all the time . . . I wish I knew her phone number because I'd call her up and say, 'What are you doing?'"

He sounds like he doesn't believe that she's got her light on, like he sees it but he just doesn't believe it. He's quiet for a second, like he's reviewing what he just said, like he's talking to himself. He says, "She'd probably say, 'Is it 1930 again?'

"She's crazy . . . she'll turn it off and on all night, at weird times. I really wonder what she's doing."

"It's the disease," I say.

He is quiet to that.

Once, I wondered about that disease. I wondered what it would be like, to not remember the things that you want to remember. To have to have everything, all your good memories and all the noise, the stuff you filter out, all go together. I think it would drive me nuts.

He is talking again. "I saw these pictures -- it's for a little kid's coloring contest . . . most of these things were supposed to be red and green, you know?"

"Christmas stuff?"

"Yeah. Well, most of them were okay, except this kid's, who was color blind -- Santa was green, his nose was green -- it was pretty funny.

"I like the coloring contests. I always like to turn them in and falsify my age . . . then they come and verify it."

We both laugh, and we hear the whisper laughing a little.

The voice says, "Family Circus has never been funny. I saw this thing in the bookstore, they had all the Family Circuses ever, these thick books. If you add up all the space he's been in newspapers, for the past sixty years, it would probably fill up the space of the earth. Marmaduke's funnier than that.

"And Ziggy -- for a week, the guy that does it just does those vending machines, and you wouldn't see Ziggy for a week."

The voice sounds really irritated, so I keep quiet, and listen.

"And B.C. -- that's not funny.

"Calvin & Hobbes is strange: Calvin sends his pet mail -- it shows how schizophrenic he is.

"Born Loser -- I think there's a computer that makes it. He draws so bad, I don't think anyone could draw so bad."

I laugh, but the voice sounds really pissed, and the whisper is quiet.

"Not many people put work into their things," the voice says. "I don't know about Shoe. I think the guy's got arthritis from the way he draws. Herman's okay sometimes. Kinda that sadistic humor. And Bizarro is okay once in a while.

"Cathy: you have to be a forty-year-old person to like it. And I guess the real person is just like this -- she depicts her life in it.

"Beetle Baily is bad too -- I think the same computer draws that that draws Born Loser. One box: 'Hey Sarge, what's going on?' and on the next one: 'ZZZZ'"

"Yeah," I say, and I'm laughing.

"He's dead," says the whisper, and it surprises me.

"What?" asks the voice.

"He's dead -- the guy who does that comic."

"Oh, so then it must be a computer that does it. Far Side is good but it's too hard to find. They put it like in the Arts section or something, away from the other comics. You have to look for it.

"Every publicized comic -- there's like two hundred of them in this paper -- it would be okay to see, but most of them are like Family Circus -- the computer drew it, and they just put in different words.

"I cut out these stupid things, bad comics, just to remember these stupid things. I thought they used to be funny, but they're not anymore -- they're not! After fifty years, it's not funny! I think the Family Circus guy just turns in the same things."

I never read comics anymore, but I know exactly what he is talking about. I mean, I read all that stuff before.

He says, "I'm thinking of writing to this newspaper and complaining."

"Do it," I say. He probably won't.

"They should have a comic that makes fun of other comics."

We're both quiet for a while, and then I ask him about his neighborhood, if the crazy lady turned her light on again.

"No," he says, "but there's this other crazy lady about five houses down that has an alarm on her house, but it's not a normal alarm -- it's like a buzzer from twenty years ago. And she's got one that when you touch the house or anything it goes off . . . she sets it off by mistake all the time -- but she hasn't done it lately.

"Once she locked herself out of the house and she called the fire department to let her in. They were pissed when they got there and there was no fire.

"She's crazy."

"Old people are crazy," I say. I once had this old man who lived next door to me when I was a kid. He used to steal candy bars from the store and give them to me. Then he would steal tools from our garage. His fingers got cut off from his lawnmower once.

"I wonder if this lady sleeps during the day so she can turn the light on all night."

The whisper says, "Send her a letter in the mail."

"Yeah -- maybe I will."

I put down the phone for a minute and go to the bathroom. In the hallway, I'm extra quiet, so that I don't wake up my parents. I use the downstairs bathroom for good measure.

"Okay, I'm back," I say, when I get back.

The voice says, "I got a Skippy jar full of urine, and another time I got four pairs of women's underwear, menstruated -- all in the mail."

"What," I say.

"I got it in the mail. I sent about five thousand catalogs to my friend's P.O. box at his dorm. They couldn't even fit it all in his box, so he sent that shit to me."

"Why did you send him all those catalogs?"

"I was bored, and my mom has all these catalogs, and from the back of mags like Cosmo I sent away for shit for him -- a free contact lens cleaning kit (he just got arrested for trying to steal it) and a pair of Depends underwear."

"He got arrested?"

"He got arrested because he needed it and he didn't have any money. And the place he got it from only prosecutes if you steal over $4, and it turned out to be $4.06. He got pissed . . . he got so pissed that he sent me underwear in the mail that his roommate found in the garbage."

"Oh."

"His mom hates me -- she thinks I degraded her son . . . she just hates me . . . he goes to Kent -- what other college would people have no work, and they get so bored that they send shit in the mail?"

"I don't know. Do you go to college?"

"No," he says. "I did -- once. Whenever I go back, I'll probably major in Art. There's all sorts of things I could do but probably never get a job in, unless I come up with a bad cartoon and put it in the paper -- but there's no room for anyone who does anything interesting."

"Yeah." It's hard to find work in the field you want. There just doesn't seem to be as many opportunities as there once was, like on television, on old t.v. shows where everyone has cool jobs. "My neighbor just got home. There's this guy, his name's Nuna, he sells cars for a living -- but at night, he'll leave at 3 a.m. and come back around 4 -- I think he joyrides the cars. I've never seen him during the day; I think he sleeps or works or something."

"Bye," says the whisper. He hung up; went to bed, probably.

I'm tired of all this -- the music is the same crap, so I shut the radio off. Until next week; same time, same station.

"I'm tired, too," I say. "I think I'm gonna go."

"Yeah," the voice says, with no inflection. He just says the word, and then says this one: "Bye."

"I'll talk to you later," I say, not knowing what else to.

"Yeah," he says, this time with a smirk.

"Bye," I say, and hang up. It's still dark out, but it won't last for long. I get ready for bed: shut off the lights, pile in with my shirt and pants still on, and let whatever's left of the dark hang over me.

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