Monday, December 26, 2016


No offense to any of the other local comic book shops, but my go-to place is Unicorn in Villa Park. I've been going there for ages, back when I was a kid getting G.I. Joe and Transformers books and then again when I discovered Evil Ernie, Preacher and Hitman. I thought I knew the place pretty well, but every once in a while I get a surprise out of the place.

I live across the street in Elmhurst from the Prairie Path. It used to be a railroad (which, from what I understand, my grandfather worked on when he was a kid), but all that remains is a gravel path and a few abandoned train stations. One of them is the old Elmhurst station which is by the water fountain on York. It's boarded up, but it's still an attraction, especially on warm summer nights when the kids are dipping their hands in the fountain and young lovers cast their penny wishes into the gushing waters. The cobwebs shine in the eaves, highlighted by the ever-changing colors from the fountain, ancient life lurking in the forgotten corners of a monument from the not-so-distant past.

Keep moving west and you'll reach the Villa Park station, which is a bit more of an attraction. They turned it into a museum, and it's actually pretty cool to look around inside. I once went in with a friend, and we saw a bunch of old York High yearbooks from the 'Seventies. I found my dad in one of them, and in the very same book she found her uncle. Small world.

There is a parking lot there, and across from it is an attorney's office. I believe that it used to be the site of a general store in the pioneer days of Villa Park. It's now owned by the brother of my comics guy, who has his shop next door.

I was in there a couple of weekends ago, and much to my delight there was a fellow customer in there--a first time customer, no less--looking for the greatest Punisher stories of all time. Naturally my guy led him to the Garth Ennis MAX series, which contains the most adult, violent, vicious, hardstories in the Punisher's history. And then my guy, who knows my taste very well, asked me for my opinion to bolster this customer's confidence, and I delivered in spades. Good luck getting me to shut up about a comics series I love once I get started.

And then the conversation took an odd turn. My guy, and I don't know how comfortable he'd be having his name mentioned here, so I'll keep calling him "my guy," then confided to us that he'd bought his first comic book in this very establishment. I was shocked because I thought he was the first and only owner of Unicorn. Well, he is. Was this place a comic book shop before? Because that seemed highly unlikely. There wasn't a direct market when he was a kid.

And then came his magical answer, one that people my age and younger will never get to experience in our lives. Maybe you're familiar with smoke shops. They didn't just sell tobacco products. They sold everything, even books and such. And every single one of them had at least one comic book rack where you could meet the superheroes of old for the first time, and maybe some of the pulp stars that came before them like Doc Savage, the Shadow, etc.

My guy pointed to the corner by the door, where now he has a row of Marvel comics, and said that there was a spinner rack over there, and that's where he picked up the book. Both me and the customer looked reverently into that corner, trying to imagine a time gone by. Trying to imagine my guy as a kid buying the very thing that would send him down the path to his life's passion.

Time comes around. The shop that you buy your first passion could very well become your shop someday, where you will sell the next generation's first passion. The circle of time continues.

There are no more smoke shops. While time moves on, the past is never far behind. All it takes is a photograph. A film. A memory. It comes back alive if only for a moment in the imagination.

This time will never come again, but it is never too far behind that you can't remember it and possibly pass it on.

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