December 18th, 2002

2010

Toasted

Hung over, I woke up Saturday to revise my toast for Mike Hueston's wedding party -- AGAIN. I was editing and rewriting and pulling my hair out. I got a Marvel paycheck in the mail and breathed a sigh of relief. I could pay these months bills and coast on small change in Paris. I'd still need to hustle some pages for the week I wouldn't be drawing and spending funds abroad. Shit, maybe I'd bust out the credit card for a few dinners and French recreation? I'd have to. Ack -- I didn't want to think about it.

SBX came over for some hot buttered hump and grind before powdering our noses and splitting to Mike & Marie's wedding reception party at the 66 Water Street Bar. We bumped into Doug B. and neighbor Lena, on the F-train ride over and entered the basement level together, knocking elbows with pals, old and new. Excited by the festivities, family & friends simmered and stirred, which included: Josh & Sari, Bob & Michele, Sean Smith & wife, Mike's little half brother Colin [who has the back of a Rhino!], Raf, Cooly C & Pagan, Trevor, Domenica & husband, Nick & Kim & their little girl Sabina, Rich C. & wife, Danielle & Steve, etc., etc. Danielle's boyfriend Steve [who is in his early 40s] asked me how my career was going. I told him it was going but that working home alone was tough. That self-discipline was a bitch. That hustling the next gig was a daunting challenge. Steve told me that I should get to a point in my professional life where I only work one hour a day. One hour? That, most of the workday is spent in preparation to only actually be working for one solid hour. What the FUCK was he talking about? Sure, maybe in a corporate job it's possible to manifest such a coup, but I don't know any veteran cartoonist [or minimalist, for that matter], who is capable of drawing an entire comic book page in one hour. Blasphemy. Unless, the project calls for a one hour per page limit [like the legendary Scott McCloud '24-hour comic book challenge" where you draw 24-pages in 24 hours -- which I tried once, earlier this summer, and failed], then it is nearly impossible to achieve such satisfactory economy. I drank to his proposal but the liquor left a sting in my mouth. I don't think Steve quite "got" what it is I do.

Soon enough, Danielle was pulling me towards the center of the room to deliver the first toast. I was nervous. I didn't have my game face on. I tried to delay the inevitable speech and, after Mike & Marie said a few words atop a faux-podium, I was called to the spotlight. I sucked in a 7-minute pocket of air and exhaled my toast. Verbatim, This is what I read:

"We met September 9th, 1979, at I.S. 44, on the first day of "open classroom." I was 12-years old. He was standing there on the school line in front of me, reading a comic book. My height. My weight. My vibe. Cool. Only, he was reading THE AVENGERS #3, an old comic book from 1964. Who was this kid and how could he afford such a classic comic book? I broke ice with this kid and his name was Mike Hueston. I told him that I read THE FANTASTIC FOUR. Unimpressed, Mike told me that the comic was a birthday gift from his mother. I was jealous. Then Mike dropped the other shoe; TODAY was his birthday. Almost every year the first day of school landed on his birthday. No wonder he got such an extreme present. That was one cool mom. No matter, he was still wrong about one thing: THE FANTASTIC FOUR could kick THE AVENGERS ass any day of the week. We became best friends, right there and then.

Mike has always been a radical enigma, to me. He used to take Karate lessons and I remember witnessing in disbelief as he washed and then tried to dry his white Kung-Fu outfit by heating it in the kitchen oven at 400-degrees. No, Mike, that's NOT how you get a black belt! He used to read a series of sci-fi military pulp novels called DORSAI. Mike would often yell "Dorsai" whenever we'd play tag-no-touch or shoot 'em up war games. It was his signature battle cry. Many years later, "Dorsai" would be transformed into a different kind of declaration -- one that recognized a rare standard of female. Ergo, the divine, Marie Proeller.

When our gang of close High School friends formed Spy Club, we gave each other nicknames to match our misadventures. Mike got dubbed "Manipulating Mike" and was the natural leader of our pack, keeping us in check. Mike was famous for his Oreo Cookie Stalactite Torture, where he would pin you down on all fours, chew an Oreo cookie, mix it in his mouth, and let the chunky brown saliva slowly dangle an inch above your face while you screamed for help! When we hit puberty, Mike started growing facial hair before me. I was jealous until I looked closer at his budding mustache and noticed that the hairs above his lip were blue. Blue hair? Mike had been drawing in one hair at a time and had mistakenly groomed his charade with different colored pens! Mike was always one step ahead of the rest of us in practice and in theory.

And then the paradigm shifted. We met girls. We liked them. A lot. Spy Club shut down and 'Spin the Bottle' became our new sport. After high school, Mike split for Buffalo to study law and six years passed. Mike moved back home to our old clubhouse only, the kid came back a man. A man who wore a suit and tie, had a driver's license, and liked an awful lot of 80s white music. My best friend was back in town to fight NYC crime and yet, was always the second one to take off his shirt at a party. Shortly thereafter, Mike opened up his own law firm with a new posse, fell in love with a beautiful writer from Staten Island, and they eloped.

It's been 23-years since I first met that little kid reading that old AVENGERS comic book. Only, today, I'm actually drawing a FANTASTIC FOUR comic, and Mike is getting paid good money to dangle his special brand of Oreo Cookie Torture over unsuspecting judges and juries, winning court cases with his decidedly "Dorsai" methodology.

Mike - you've always had my back and I'll always have yours. You are a gentleman and scholar. You are loyal and strong. Stealthy and intelligent. My main man. My blood brother. My example.

Marie - you are tender, warm, and kind. You keep Mike on point yet a Spy Club kid at heart. You allow for silliness, honesty, courage, recreation, & respite. I am honored that you are my best friend's wife.

I wish you both a galaxy of harmony & peace, high romance, perfect health, a bathtub of babies, tons of fun, "a Lincoln Continental, and a brand new Cadillac."

I love you."

Pow.

The speech went over like gangbusters. The crowd reacted to the right beats and I scored points with the "mom" and "Marie" bits. BUT, I forgot to raise a glass to the actual toast. Damn! In my emotional candor with Mike & Marie, I stepped off the faux-podium and gave 'em big fat hugs. Family & friends clapped and cheered. I was too caught up in the moment to notice if glasses clinked and sips imbibed. Danielle was slated to toast Marie next but she got shy and sent up another college pal named Jessie who fumbled the ball and dragged on and on and on. Jessie read a bunch of private emails between she and Marie, and Marie looked like a deer in traffic headlights, embarrassed by the spectacle. It was bold yet long and ultimately boring. After Jessie slid from the spotlight, Mike made an executive decision to 86 any more toasts and got the deejay to put the needle on a record. Mike & Marie danced to "their song" and drinks began to flow again.

I think it was Prince's "Kiss" that got my shirt off first. As usual, Mike stripped second and Cooly C wasn't far behind. Relatives got a closer look at the proper way to party and I got loose on the dance floor with SBX. It was electrifying to slip and slide in and around SBX. We hadn't danced like that in awhile, something we complain about not doing enough of, often. So we took full advantage of the space and made it ours. I kept refilling the cups with alcohol and SBX kept the dance floor thumping. At one point, SBX was shimmying backwards down the middle of the bar floor with Trevor in high pursuit. Like a bull in a China shop, I was astounded by SBX’s abilities, proud of her verve. The rest of the night became a blur of dance and song, smiles and legs. Michele and Colin joined the fray until we could balance no more. Goodbye hugs and kisses ended the wonderful affair @2AM and we were on the F-train back to Park Slope.

Happily drunk, SBX dropped a bomb. She admitted to lying to me about ME waking up the girls and making them cry on Thursday night. SBX wanted to sleep and couldn't handle a late night argument. So she lied to send me away. I was flabbergasted. Offended, I searched for my tooth brush. In her guilty drunken state, SBX tried to second-guess my response to her bomb and got cold. Bitter. I couldn't find my tooth brush. It was important that I find my tooth brush. She suggested I leave if I had a problem with her revealing an ugly lie. I just wanted to brush my teeth and let her lie sit and hope it wouldn't stew. I was taking a page from SBX's book and wanted to let things chill. No knee-jerk reaction from ME tonight. Nuh-uh. Regardless, SBX was on a roll -- getting cold and bitchy with me. Ordering me to leave. I couldn't understand her behavior. My tooth brush. Where was my tooth brush? Was she psycho? We'd gone from Romeo & Juliet on the dance floor to a John Woo gun porno festival within minutes. I felt betrayed but tried to let it slide. Her shitty, Thursday night actions would not sway my love for her. I was baffled by her terrible error in judgment but was willing to bury it. There it was! I finally found my tooth brush and went upstairs where she was stumbling over her clothes. She told me to fuck off. Leave. I put tooth paste on the tooth brush. Get out. Brushed my teeth. Fuck you.

"Fuck you?"

"Fuck you!"

"Leave?"

"Leave."

"Now."

Her eyes shut. Her body slumped on the bed. SBX was no more. I lifted her arm. It dropped like a dead slab of wet meat. She was out for the count. Comatose.

I tied on my shoes and walked across the street to suck in the scene from a little bit of distance. I studied her home. I stared at her open front door and thought about her kids. Her sleeping kids. Her little angels. And then I thought about SBX. Beautiful SBX. My Dorsai Queen. Her savage frame laying up there on the second floor. Unconscious. Alone. Drunk to the nines.

No matter the insanity I decided to be Mighty Joe Young and stay by her savage side. I was convinced that this too, would blow over. That, SBX would be sorry in the morning. So, I went back inside the house, locked the door, turned off all the lights, and walked back up the stairs and into her bedroom. She was three sheets to the wind under her covers. So, I tore the cover off her bed and tossed it to the side. Threw all four pillows to the floor. I turned off the bedroom light and laid next to her as uncomfortable as possible. We were naked and cold. If I was going to suffer tonight, so would she.