The Siren Song of the Squeaky Rack or how to stop worrying and learn to love randomness
It’s difficult to imagine “Americans” as one large collective at this particular moment in time. There is however, one thing that all Americans do well…nostalgia. We have, as a country, totally passed Nostalgia 101 and are just skating through the AP Class. Race, gender, religious beliefs, wearing fuzzy tails, all of our various tribes feel nostalgic about something. In fact, America rocks the nostalgia thing so hard, we can actually feel wistful about the period of time that happens before X even comes into existence. That’s right, we can manage to mine nostalgia out of the here and now, because we know the robots are coming. “Pay heed Timmy, you should deeply feel the gravitas of the now, because you never know when Skynet will become self aware.” America, land of a thousand points of singularity just waiting to happen.
Let’s take a moment to wax rhapsodic about the delivery systems of yore, shall we? We love our tiny Nintendo console, the one filled with tons of classic NES games. There are wee recreations of actual arcade cabinets filled with wee centipedes . The people old enough to remember arcades are probably starting to shrink, so that makes some sense. A fair number of folks are going to purchase a long playing record album today. In 2018. On purpose. We are a society of people who, in a large amount of cases, can get whatever they want reasonably soon after they want it. Our America is the Land o’ Choices. You wanna watch episode #19 of Golden Girls second season? It’s 4:00 in the morning and you’ve got a hankering for a game of Dig Dug? No problemo, Masters of the Choices Universe! It’s all for you Damien! It’s all for you!
However, it wasn’t always this way. In the world before all of the emojis, the memes, and the cats playing piano, there were times you didn’t get your heart’s desire delivered to your door, your workplace, or the trunk of your car. Lots of times. Choices were truly Slim Pickens back in the day. Imagine a world with only a handful of options were available for your favorite method of entertainment. Of course, there were only the five methods available, T.V. (or television. You kids might have a favorite “moniter show” that you talk about near the watercooler on Monday morning now), movies, the popular radio plays of the day, those wonderful Viewmaster reels, or funny books. The comics had their very own delivery system as well, it was known as the spinner rack.
Oh, the dubious qualities of the spinner racks of old. Most modern comic shops still have a spinner or two twirling about. They’re old-er examples, to be sure, but they’re not old school. The old spinner racks were something of an Iron Maiden for the comic book. No display for a product has ever been more brutally destructive than the Beast that squeeks like a Mouse. If modern recording devices had existed back then, we would have sonic proof that every one of these spinning lament configurations was haunted. It was a piercing sound, and a dead giveaway that there was a comic book reader in the environs. Thus, the spinner rack was also the first documented “nerd trap”. There were tales of roving gangs of bully jocks who would stake out a local spinner rack. and just wait. Maybe they were just tales. Maybe.
None of this mattered, of course. You would endure the sonic onslaught, the taunts of the wedgie hunters, and the disappointed look on your parents faces. You would suck it up for a chance at 40 pockets of possibility. Assuming that each pocket had something in it. Assuming that you didn’t mind a comic that had been folded in thirds. Assuming that any new issues had arrived. There were a lot of assumptions because you just didn’t know. There were no apps to alert you to anything. The New Release Board was called a movie poster. It was “Get what you get and don’t get upset”, and we loved it. Also, all lawns were 100% hoodlum free, which meant that nobody had any reason to shout. Ever.
Sometimes you’d squeak yourself into the latest copy of Amazing Spider-Man. Other times, you might have to settle for Two-Gun Kid or whatever Charlton book was left languishing in its wire prison. There were even times when you missed an issue entirely. Truly the end of days. Except for the part where it wasn’t.
The spinner rack had made us tough. We got hard. Only a beautiful unique snowflake needs to know every damn thing that ever happened to a clearly make believe person. We knew none of this, ” I don’t want to start a series…on #3.” bleating. That kind of talk is for the weak , thumb-talking , tall children born ensnared within the world wide web of lies . Oddly, the internet has become the new improved version of the nerd trap. It’s a nearly silent, sticky web, that’s really hard to get away from.
The point of the ‘membering, if there is a point, is about how much it seemed to absolutely suck to miss an issue of anything. I was unaware at the time that Rack was showing me a new way. A better way. It forced me to try new things. The punk who was granted the last copy of Avengers by the Will of the Glorious Spin, was the same kid who tacitly forced me into buying my first issue of Swamp Thing. I didn’t need to read any earlier issues because I quickly figured out that swamp dude talked slow and fought monsters. It’s easy! You can do it too! What’s the harm in trying something different? At least now there are whole stores full of comics. If you don’t like it, other ones are coming out next Wednesday. Every Wednesday.
Sometimes I wake up, drenched in sweat, troubled by dreams of drowning in a sea of rusting wire, spinning me relentlessly. My screams vanishing under the din of squealing metal. I look over at my wife and my 3 year old, who’s climbed into bed sometime around the Hour of the Wolf, and I remember things. Hey kid, relax. It’s just comics. It’s always been both the best of times, and the blurst of times. All the times.
Well, my rantings done, my spinners spun, and I’m of a mind to see through peculiar eyes. I’ve heard tales of old dogs learning new tricks. Maybe they were just tales. Maybe I might even find out for myself. I might even poke around on the internet later today, just to try something different.
~Shawn Spurlock, 10/2018