Thursday, August 09, 2007


I started working on a Nick Fury action figure after I found this interesting figure on Old Joe Infirmary that had a very Nick Fury–like face, right down to the cigar in his mouth. It seemed like a relatively easy costume to create, and I always had a soft-spot for the old soldier in the futuristic paramilitary organization. I guess I also have a fondness for him because he got me through a rather harrowing night as a child.

I knew from as far back as I could remember that my father had a drinking problem. Until I was eight years old, however, the concept was completely abstract, like saying the neighbor down the street is a water skier. His behavior when drunk did not affect me as a very small child, except when my parents would fight, which was as confusing as it was disturbing. Then, one Saturday afternoon in the fall of ’72, I finally understood the seriousness of my father’s alcoholism. My mom had been a stay-at-home mom most of the time that I was little, but with inflation rearing its ugly head, she decided to take a part-time job at a catalog clearance center to make extra money during the holiday shopping season. This meant that she had to work some Saturdays, and my dad had to watch my brother and me. My dad pretended that his pride was hurt by my mom going to work and showing the world that he was not a big enough bread winner to support his family, and he chose to take it out on her (and, unthinkingly, on my brother and I as well) by getting rip-roaring drunk during the day that he was supposed to be watching us. Of course, I later realized that any excuse, like the sky was blue for example, was a good enough excuse if my dad chose to get drunk. But this was my first, full-blown awareness of my dad being drunk.

He seemed fine in the morning, and was quite happy to give me a few bucks to go off to a kids movie festival at my elementary school. My friend Linda and I spent the afternoon eating candy and watching cartoons and poorly dubbed children’s movies from Sweden or someplace, all spooling through a crappy 16-millimeter projector that would periodically eat the film and have to be re-threaded. Anyway, Linda and I had a reasonably fun time, and we wandered back to my house shortly before dinner time. As soon as I walked in the door, there was a palpable tension in the air. I can’t explain it, but I would feel it for the rest of my childhood, every time I walked into the house when my father was drinking. I recall my dad and my brother were doing some project out in the back yard, and my dad looked crazed. His fiery red hair was sticking up on end, and his normally ruddy face was completely red. He looked like the Heat Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus, although that cultural reference was not available to me in 1972. My brother, six years older and more aware, just looked frustrated and a bit scared.

My dad came into the house ranting and raving to no one in particular, but with a gravelly, slurring voice which made it feel personal. I told Linda to go home and tried to make myself scarce until my mom returned from work. Maybe she could deal with the demon that had possessed my father. Of course, her arrival only made matters worse as he unleashed his full venom on her and this wicked job that was keeping her away from her true duty of watching the kids. Somehow, Mom kept her cool as my father kept up his non-stop rant for the entire evening. She made us dinner, washed the dishes, ran a bath for me, and put me into my pajamas while the entire time my dad spewed forth his nonsensical verbal venom. Being that this was the first time I connected the drinking with my father’s yelling, I truly tried to follow what exactly his grievances were. No matter how closely I listened, however, nothing really made sense. Sometimes he wouldn’t even finish sentences, but start a completely new line of thought just as irrational as the last. This was my first survival lesson for living with an alcoholic: they make no sense, so it’s best to not pay any attention to what they are saying, lest you lose your own sanity trying to understand them.

I’m not sure where my brother was in all of this, but my mom most likely told him to go to a friend’s house. By about 9:30, my father had completely exhausted himself and passed out on the bed. A little while later, he grumbled to my mom to go to the store and get him some cigarettes (that’s back when smoking was good for you). Willing to do anything to keep him quiet, my mom put some pants and shoes on me and we drove to the 7-11 store. Given what we had been through, I guess Mom felt I deserved a comic book and an ice cream. I quickly scanned the spinner rack of comics to settle on a choice (I didn’t need to aggravate my mom with indecisiveness). I stumbled onto something called Nick Fury and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (for you comic fans, this was the first reprint issue featuring old stories from Strange Tales). Now I had read Sgt. Fury comics before, but this was something new. It definitely was set in present day and not World War II, and this Nick Fury looked a little different from the Howling Commando Leader. I was confused, but the fancy gadgets and spy-movie feel sucked me in. I grabbed it.

When we got home, I eagerly started reading my new comic. Then the haunted, slurring voice called from upstairs, “Neal!” Cautiously, l pulled myself up the stairs and walked into the darkened bedroom. My dad remained prone on the bed. From the faint light in the hallway, I could only see my father’s eyes, and they appeared to glow.

“Where’d you and your mother go?” he croaked out, suspicion hanging on each syllable.

“We went to the 7-11 to get you cigarettes,” I replied, incredulous that he would even ask.

“Are you sure?” he groaned, like some ambulance-chasing lawyer.

I nodded, feeling guilty for no apparent reason.

“No place else?” my father added, accusingly.

“Yes, just to the 7-11,” I said, feeling more and more creeped out by the minute.

I don’t know exactly how long this interrogation went on, but he eventually let me go. Some years later, I realized that my father, in his twisted, alcoholic haze, was setting a trap for my mom. Thinking that she was having an affair, he gave her an excuse to leave the house so she could meet with the non-existent boyfriend. I guess I was supposed to tattle on her transgression, which only occurred in his sick, clouded head. Truly mindbending!

Once back downstairs, I continued to read about the adventures of Nick Fury. So intent was I to leave my current time and space that I poured myself into those pages. I was right alongside Nick Fury on whatever escapade he was having. I welcomed the challenge, for no villain could be any scarier than my own father at that point.

The next morning, I read through the comic again. I was thrilled to discover that this was, in fact, the same Nick Fury from WW II, only a little older and with cooler weapons. My dad eventually came downstairs, hung over and full of self-reproach. My parents’ whispers in the kitchen barely contained the seething tension underneath, eventually ebbing to a simmer of conciliatory repartee. I tried to block it out, focusing only on Nick Fury. It was the second survival technique I learned in so many days.

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