Collector’s Inn-formation

      The title of this entry is nod to the cheesily titled newsletter, sporadically put together and released by the owner of the Inn, Mr. Jim Savage. This tale will recount my experiences working in what would have appeared to have been the dream place of employment for any young man. In truth, it was not, and despite some highlights and a few likable customers, it was an onerous task that drove my love of comic books far away from my heart, leaving me a bitter, twisted mockery of a man, set adrift in the torrid night winds of fate. Far be it from me, the ass of accuracy, to exaggerate.           

       Collector’s Inn first opened its doors I believe in 1984, across from the playground of my grammar school, St Paul’s. It was not long before the curiosity of Dave Walsh, Jeff Siuda, and I was piqued, and we soon ventured over. Having little spending money at the time, I had to choose carefully and went with the book with the most action on the cover, ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ issue #1, which I still have to this day, along with 30,000 more I picked up over the next 12 years. Delighted by the wares being offered, we all soon became very regular customers, living for Fridays when the new issues would be delivered. The proprietor and owner Jim Savage, while bearing some resemblance in character to the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy, was a tad more welcoming.            

       I kept up the habit though high school and in to college, even after Dave and Jeff abandoned it. Many a Saturday afternoon was frittered away discussing the better qualities of the Legion of Superheroes with Kevin Lawson, Jim’s first employee. We all thought Kevin only had the best job ever, working the store, palavering with customers, and felt that if he were a wise man he would remain in place until retirement. He was far chattier than Jim, who while friendly, put forth a vibe that time spent talking should ideally be proportionate to what was spent.  We were collectively shocked when arriving one Saturday found an irritable Jim stuck manning the register instead of attending to his golf. Kevin had given notice and left, leaving Jim in the lurch far away from the 19th hole. We never saw Kevin again, and Jim always seemed loath to discuss him.           

       While not directly soliciting the position, being but 15 or 16 at the time, I did put forth the notion that if in the future Jim was ever looking for good help, I was indeed available. He neglected to take advantage at that time, and I think hired on some schlub who was immediately forgettable and not at all the conversationalist Kevin was. The day finally came, however, that Jim remembered my offer from years back and reminded me of it that very summer we moved to Comstock. I was overjoyed, and immediately accepted the position before discussing, much less negotiating, such things as salary, time off and the like. The position paid 10 cents an hour over the minimum wage, an impressive $4.00 an hour. Payment was in cash, under the table, or in equitable trade in comic books. The equitable trade turned out to be anything but, as although the ‘good customer’ discount was applied, I still paid the mark up and received nothing at cost.           

       While no job is ideal in every respect, the shortfalls of this one in particular began to rear their ugly heads early on. The first of course, was salary. Being paid on a daily basis, often in the form of trade, left very little money in my pocket and certainly led to very few bank deposits. For the first few months I was still living off of my summer earnings and the residual amount from student loans, but once the reserves were depleted I was forced to return to food service just to make it from paycheck to paycheck. While I was getting 20 hours a week, about 14 of said hours went right back into Jim’s pockets given my addiction. It was not enough for me to simply read what I liked in the store (which I did as well), but I had to possess them for my very own.           

      The second shortfall was in the logistics. I accepted the job when I was home for the summer, my parent’s house being a 10 minute walk or 3 minute bike ride away. A week after accepting, we moved out to Comstock, which was almost 4 miles away, translating to an hour walk, or 15 minute bike ride. This initially posed no challenge at all, as it was summer and a nice bike ride was good way to wind down for the day. Winter in Buffalo, however, sets in quick, and the bike was soon relegated to the basement for the long winter. My choices were to walk, take the bus, or hitch a ride with someone. My preferred choice back then was to walk. My daily treks between campuses to avoid the overcrowded Bluebirds left my legs strong and fast, though on a frigid day schlepping down Kenmore Ave into a strong wind, stamina far greater than mine would be put to test.           

       The old 30 Kenmore bus was a loathsome alternative, taken only in the most desperate of times. I do not know if it is busses in general or just that route in particular that attract the strange, gross, and insane like a big traveling magnet. Each time I rode, I could not help but notice that aside from a few students peppered in, most of the other travelers looked like they belonged on the set of C.H.U.D., though perhaps not so classy. Once I noted an attractive female get on after me and take an empty seat closer to the front. I contemplated going up to sit next to her, when one of the strange regulars, even too bizarre to have been one of Dan’s friends, plopped down next to her. She looked around, saw my look of pity and gave me a wan smile. Moments later the clod, using the hand closest too her, began rooting around in his nose with fervent enthusiasm, extracting blackish green treasures and flicking them forward from his grimy finger. The poor girl looked back at me in horror for support, frantically darting her head around as if seeking immediate escape. She got off at the next stop, likely to take her chances walking in the rain. To me it was just another typical day on the 30.           

      Getting a ride from someone was a fairly rare occurrence, and sometimes a gift of dubious value. On extremely cold days, my father would be so kind as to venture in to the nighttime chill and give me a ride back to the old pad, and this was always greatly appreciated, as it saved me from the cold and gave me more time to study. My other source of rides, however, involved making choices. Dave’s heart was always in the right place when he would volunteer to come pick me up and drive me back. In the beginning, I appreciated it, although the rides seemed to come attached with clauses. The first of these was that I usually had to wait until almost 8:30 to be picked up. Fastidious and anal about time, I would lock up at the exact moment the clock hit 8:00, then stand shivering, peering down Delaware Ave, and looking for the Cavalier headlights. Once he did show, and he always did, there was almost always a required stop at Noco, where he worked down the street.  This was never a fast affair, as Dave had developed a deep and personal relationship with not only every employee, but every customer who walked though the door more than once. Invariably, many of these close friends would be encountered each and every time, and a quick errand to check on the nightly take would degenerate into hours of idle chit chat as I slowly went insane, crumpling packs of strawberry Zingers to a pulp to avoid screaming in frustration. Seeing home on the early side of 10 was a rare deal and I soon took to politely declining future offers.           

       While working in what had been my favorite place in the world for the previous 10 years had been a dream for all that time, it never occurred to me what I would actually be doing there. As it turned out, not much. My primary duties were to ring up customers when they finally got around buying something, performing the arduous task of making sure all the back issues were in order, detecting thieves, and acting as caretaker to hoards of hyperactive kids, filled to the brim with sugar and likely cocaine as well. The first duty was a piece of cake, and really only involved me taking action perhaps once an hour except for Fridays. The second I avoided as much as possible, much to Jim’s annoyance. What happened was that our inconsiderate customers would extract each and every issue they may have been remotely interested in purchasing, actually buy perhaps 10% of the pile, then  randomly reinsert the cast offs into wherever they fit. Jim’s theory, and probably a correct one, was that if this went unchecked for very long, the entire inventory would become a random mess. His great fear was that a prospective customer, unable to find Alpha-Force #21, would leave in abject disgust and vindictive fury to spew venom at Seeley and Kane’s down the street. He probably had a point, but as the pleasure of my evenings was directly proportional to how few people came by, my motivation simply was not there.

       Saturdays were just pure hell. For one, it was a full 8 hour day in which I would both open the store and close when done. To make the day more unpredictable for me, Jim like to randomly pop in from time to time, always unexpectedly. As he preferred that I didn’t read at the counter when customers were in the store, his pop-ins made my disregard for this wish more stressful, inconsiderately forcing me to read with one eye on the door looking for that big white Astrovan to pull up. Worse yet was that all the good children of the world were off of school that day. Some were well behaved and quiet, silently looking through the issues, or engaging in some chatter. My least favorite were the Hyperboys. Each Saturday, sometime close after lunch, the station wagon would pull up to the front of the store, and 4 or 5 extremely excited boys would spill out and sprint for the door. The weary parent would pull away, looking relaxed and smug, having hoisted their excruciating brood upon me. None of them ever stopped moving for even a second, bouncing too and fro, and feeling the need to share with me, at full rock concert volume, each and every random thought that popped into their meth addled brains. Worse yet, they expected me to answer, and would repeat themselves with increasing loudness until I did. Ugh. The wagon didn’t usually come back for them until almost time to close, leaving me with the 5 dollars they collectively spent and a raging headache. I begged Jim to ban them all together, but greedy for the weekly fin, he refused.

       Sometime in my second year there, Jim got the notion to expand into the world of video rental and acquired an impressive stock of low budget horror movies. While this addition, set up in the basement, didn’t deter the ADD set, it did attract a different type of clientele. It remains a subject of debate that opening a pornography store attracts an undesirable element into the neighborhood. I cannot attest to whether this is true or not, but can say with great confidence that stocking low grade horror certainly brings in a class of individual one would prefer to stay well away from children, animals and perhaps even hardened criminals. Jim rented to these treasures at a buck a film, daily limit of 3. The most popular selections were those that either hinted that they were real deal snuff pieces, or that showed a woman in a dungeon setting on the box. They only came in at night, and I usually felt the need to wash my hands after they left.

       The upside to the films was that Jim had generously given me the privilege to borrow them without paying the rental fee. I would bring a stack home from time to time and Aaron and I would feel compelled to watch them. As an additional bonus, they offended Jason’s sensibilities, thus ensuring we would have one going at every instant he was home. As I recall, the best of the lot was ‘Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers’, a cinematography classic from the big hair days of the 80’s, ripe with cheesy humor, and posing threat to the exalted perch on which ‘Citizen Kane’ sits. These films, some of which were purchased for $1 each when Jim liquidated his stock, made a fine addition to our media center along with the box of house comics that Jim was about to throw away.

       Anyone stumbling across this entry who was a patron back in those days is assuredly wondering if they were lumped among the annoying freaks who liked to darken my day just by showing up. Chances are, they probably were. One of the rare exceptions was Jeff, a stay at home dad, who wandered in almost daily and was full of intelligent conversation, even if it was just a running debate as to whether Valiant’s Unity crossover was better than Crisis or not. Also appreciated were Zack (my eventual replacement), Ben (who also filled my shoes later on) a different guy named Jim, and TVs very own Mike Igoo. I’m sure there may have been a couple more, but I don’t really care.

       In addition to manning the battlements against the geekish onslaught, Jim also came up with a zany promotional idea not at all to my liking. One day, apparently with nothing constructive to do, he decided to paint a logo for the store on the back of a jean jacket, along with Spiderman and Venom. Not a bad job he did. My objection to the object de art was that he expected me to wear the thing around campus; that I would be his roving billboard if you will. The assignment was not given as a choice. Now, I was already at a disadvantage at attracting the opposite sex, smelling of greasy scrambled eggs after my morning work, and wearing the badge of all geek-dom would assuredly have rocketed me into 40 year old virgin territory. I handled it passive-aggressively, taking the jacket and leaving it in my closet at all times. When Jim finally got it that this was never going to happen, he turned the humiliating item over to Josh, a much younger customer.

       The absolute and very worst part of the job was that shops such as this had an enormous attraction factor to thieves. Jim was well aware of this, yet managed to construct the environs as such that half of the most pilfer able items were completely out of view when ringing someone up at the register. I continuously brought this up, although Jim cited the presence of a filthy concave mirror, blurrily reflecting a portion of the obscured area as a fine deterrent. He was firmly under the impression that even the savviest of thieves was unable to even abscond with a pack of baseball card under his watchful eye (I recently ran into someone, who shall remain nameless, who admitted they were able to steal right from under Jim’s nose with nary a worry). Any theft that occurred, therefore, must have been my fault. While I’m sure it is true that items likely did disappear from under my watch, especially during busy times, I felt the layout was to blame. Jim begged to differ, and when he found items missing that neither of us could recall selling (something I foolishly admitted to), he docked the cost of them from my pay. To this day I still feel this was an extremely asshole-ish thing to do, and had I had the perspective I do now, would have walked out immediately the first time this happened.

       One theft in particular still stands out in my mind and causes that sick feeling when I think about it. Jim was able to acquire excellent condition copies of Avengers #1 and Daredevil #1 and had priced them out at a whopping $2500 each. Instead of keeping them in the glass case that was occupied by items of much less value, Jim had them proudly displayed on the wall right behind the cash register and but one step of accessibility away from customers. This made me nervous from the get go and said as much, but this changed nothing. One evening I had a few unfamiliar customers in (nothing unusual). As time neared closing, one of them, who already paid for his purchases, leaned on the counter and chatted with me for some time about the latest doings of the Justice League. The other, fairly short, was having a hard time reaching a book from the highest level of the floor display (a common problem) and needed help. This was in the farthest part of the shop away from the register, and as I was reaching up to retrieve the items, I heard a noise and turned. The chatty customer was around the counter and had both books off the wall. My heart rose into my throat. He looked at me with wide eyes and bolted out the door.

       I was after him like a shot and flagged down a Kenmore cop who happened to be going by and sputtered out what had happened. They turned on the lights and gave chase. I came back into the shop and shorty was still there and asked what happened. I told him. He expressed amazement and wandered out the door, then began running in the opposite direction from his cohort, which is when I discerned exactly what had happened. The police came back sometime later, not having found the guy and I filled out the requisite report. With heavy heart I called Jim and home and left a message, then locked up for the night. The next day when I came in, Jim handled it all actually pretty nice. While he claimed the thieves would not have fooled him as such, he this time declined to lay the blame solely at my feet and did not charge me the cost. A fortunate thing as given my wage rate, I would have remained in indentured servitude to this very day.

       About 6 months after the big theft, I finally decided I had enough. Jim rearranged the shop once again to make it less attractive to theft, but it was simply not enough. I hated the customers, the work, and was even starting to hate the comics themselves. With little fanfare, I gave final notice, worked 2 more weeks, and then walked out the door. I continued to collect for a little while after, but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Jim also became less attentive to my orders, as I found I was missing key issues in runs I had been fervently keeping up on. By then I had entered my tele-dating phase and just stopped showing up all together; an uninspiring end to a 12 year love affair with comics.

       As an update, I’m pretty sure Jim is still there on Delaware Ave in the same location, although I understand he has changed his focus to Magic cards, the must-have gamer geek item of the 90’s. I ran into him at Media Play a couple years ago, where he took a job and was promoted to manager. He seemed very excited by it since the store apparently didn’t bring in the income it used to. I felt a little bad when the whole chain folded with no prior notice only a few weeks after.

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2 Responses

  1. Wolf dragged me into the world of comics for a brief time, thought he disapproved of all my choices (2099 series) except the perpetual Venom mini series. Being a stictlet for neatness, I demanded a plastic bag and cardboard backing for each and every issue. I last checked the value of my collection a few years ago and they ate worth a few cents more than I paid. My dream of passing along a valuable comic collection to my offspring is far off.

    Our selection of cheap horror videos usually came to the cover sporting the name or picture of some imbarased, now-famous star who stopped short of porn to enter the industry. The star always died in the first five minutes and we were left with 85 minutes of nausea.

    Speaking of painful film; Louis, you need to document the night spent watching Sid and Nancy on the roof. You perspective is most unique.

  2. The Sid and Nancy night would make a good story. From my perspective, we began watching a movie on the roof and next thing I know, it was over and time to go to bed. What is so painful about that? 🙂

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