Not Comics: The Brain of Dr. Ben

There are items that are our Grail markers from when we're young. Things we saw or did once, then only recall that we liked it -- not the why or the how of it. (though, really, this coming generation may not face that problem -- if all is digital, then all is "eternal")

For me, the first thing I can ever remember coveting was a comic book. An issue of, of all things, THE JOKER. #4, in fact, which features The Joker standing on top of the "Star City" bridge, holding (Black Canary) over his head, threatening to throw her off while Green Arrow looks on madly. It's this issue, actually

(This wasn't the first comic I remember READING - that would be JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #110 -- where John Stewart becomes Green Lantern after Hal Jordan slips on the soap in the shower and knocks himself unconscious just as a JLA emergency happens. I also vividly remember Black Canary (who made me feel very weird) getting absorbed by a giant christmas ball. There's also a JSA reprint in the issue, which is probably why I love the JSA oh so very much.)

I saw THE JOKER #4 in the window of a bodega several blocks outside of my normally allowed walking range (this was '75, so I'd have been 8), but I didn't have the 25 cents to buy it. By the time I finally got the money for it, and, presumably, got an adult to take me there, it was GONE!! We lived on Warren st. in Brooklyn, between Court and Clinton. The boundaries of my world were Court st. to the East, Hicks (or, really, the BQE) to the West, Atlantic Ave to the North, and Caroll st. to the South. The bodega was probably either on Smith, though I guess it could have been Hoyt -- but Court was the "big street", and I wasn't allowed to cross it by myself. Disturbingly, looking at a Brooklyn map today, it's probably just about where ROCKETSHIP is today... though I remember the bodega having a corner location, so *whew*

I probably had found a copy of THE JOKER #4 by 1980... though it seemed like forever to me. When I did my FIRST comics purge (I was 13 and I wanted weed more than comics), I sold it and never looked back -- it really wasn't that good of a story.

The second thing I remember coveting was the soundtrack albulm of THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH. I saw it in a store on Atlantic, but same thing, didn't have the cash (IRONIC!), and when I came back it was sold out. I'd seen the broadcast on what I remember being on PBS, and thought it was the funniest thing ever. That one took me much longer to find, probably well into my teens, though, of course, now you can just buy the film, AND the soundtrack from the internet, and the soundtrack has a score of songs that weren't on the LP.

The THIRD thing I remember coveting was something called MAD MONSTER PARTY? made by Rankin-Bass in 1969. It's claymation-whatever, just like RUDOLPH THE RED NOSE REINDEER or FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, but this one is Halloween and it has all of the monsters -- Dracula, and Frankenstein, and the mummy and the werewolf, and the Invisible man, and so on. It's also co-written by Harvey Kurtzman, something I didn't know until it was released on DVD last (?) year.

I saw MAD MONSTER PARTY? on TV on what I'm going to guess was '76 or '77, and it was broadcast (as far as I know) exactly the one time. It's obscure, and, usually, when I mention it to be they're all "Uh.... what?"

So I was pretty joyous when I found it last year on DVD.

Well, it's not very good, actually, but I, of course, bought it, because I had to -- it was a childhood Grail.

A couple of months ago, I decided that Ben could watch it -- the monsters are all cute, and what kid doesn't like that style of animation. But little did I know I was UNLEASHING a monster!

Ben, as he is wont to do (see: his Superman obsession, or his garbage/garbage truck obsession), DEVOURED it, and wanted more more more. He especially liked the Mummy, which led us getting him various books on Egypt and Pyramids and Mummies. He's probably one of a few 3 year olds in America who knows about Egyptian burial customs, and how they remove the brain through the nose, and stored the organs in canopic jars, and so on. He'll have a 10 minute conversation about mummies with you, if you'll let him.

A part of me kind of regrets it -- part of getting him into monsters is explaining what they are. He knows something about corpses now, and that's not a usual 3-year old topic, really. Some days I'm afraid I'm sending him down a path towards black fingernail polish, and hanging around Hot Topic. But then the other side of me says its good for him to start understanding that part of society's unconscious, and it will make him less likely to be afraid of those kinds of things as he gets older (he's had a few bad dreams in his life, but they're always "generic" monsters, not the Name ones)

His grandmother even made him some mummy "action figures", by wrapping some dolls up in gauze, and making him a "tomb" out of an old check box, and some 99 cent costume jewelry. Then, after we went to the Ginsberg's baby shower, where there were little micro babies frozen in the ice cubes, and Ben collected like 9 of them, he had us glue those to the roof of his tomb. It's really quite surreal!

Anyway, I bring this all up as a sort of a way to try to explain how impressed I am with Ben's brain being able to inter-relate concepts and intuitively build upon them. Ben's never seen FRANKENSTIEN yet, though he's seen the Dr.'s lab indirectly in books like (the TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME) Maurice Sendak pop-up book "Mommy?", or in MMP? and things like that. I've also verbally described how Frankenstein’s Monster was created, with lightning providing the spark of life. ("though, son, you should always be careful and respectful of electricity, because it can be very dangerous" "I know, daddy, don't worry.")

So today, he starts gathering up all of his action figures, and tells me they're a pile of corpses. Um, alright. Why are they corpses, though? The superheroes are there to help people not be hurt. "I know, Daddy, its just 'magination"; Fair enough!

Then he carefully arranges the corpses, and starts talking in the sing-song that all little kids do when they verbalize what's happening in their play -- I'm not even sure they know they're doing it, really -- "we need all of the body parts, I want this one's leg, here I'm taking the lungs" and stuff like that. He piles the bodies up between two dollhouse-bed-sized mattresses (meant to be the operating table, I think), then sets up this industrial-sized construction bolt (he likes me to hold it up to my neck and pretend I'm F's Monster), and says something like "and this is the Frankenstein machine", and then places 2 old dead batteries that we let him keep as part of his "garbage dump" on top and declares "then the 'lectricy strikes, wha-boom! wha-boom!" and tells me that tomorrow his Frankenstein monster will be alive.

Maybe it's just crazy proud-poppa syndrome, but, to me, for a 3 year old to make the intuitive leap between the electricity in batteries, and lightning, and to further assemble that all in his own "laboratory", to make his OWN monster is just pretty insanely smart.

Plus I told you last week how he's pooping in the potty solo? Well, the potty is upstairs in the bedroom (since he needs it to pee before going to bed, and that makes it harder to use bathroom breaks as an excuse to stay awake, with the production number of going all the way downstairs), and I usually sleep an hour past him. So, when he was doing his morning business, he'd yell out "Mommy, come upstairs and wipe my boo!", and by day 4 I was Grumpy McIwantToSleepMore, and I snarled "Dang it, kid, just wipe it yourself!" from my half-asleep bed. And so he did, and he hasn't gone back yet.

Man, that was easy!

Now all we got to do is get him to sleep in his own bed (we co-slept in the beginning because it felt exactly right. At year 3, I'm sorta sick of it), and he'll have made the full transition away from baby. I really can't wait.

He can freeze there, as far as I'm concerned -- childhood is something that shouldn't be rushed, and should be treasured as much as possible -- but I'll be happy once we're fully past the baby stage.

His brain, though... the kid terrifies me with how he's able to make conceptual leaps between topics, and apply logic to a situation.

Anyway, I wanted to tell that story... sorry it's only tangentially related to comics. I *will* be doing reviews sometime this week, and I'm sure Jeff and Graeme both will too, given the week's contents.