There's a certain smell that only comes from well-trod wood plank flooring, the kind of flooring remembered in Woolworth's, G.C. Murphy's and countless candy stores and soda fountains across Young America. Wood floors baked by shafts of afternoon summer. There's a look, too: the reflection of the sun patches as they fragment from shelf to shelf, mirroring the thin rectangular panes, ambiently lighting the dusty interior, bright and blinding at the feet, glowing up the body, masking the faces and upper shelves and setting a brown twilight above where the eternal ceiling fans rotate, humming into the twirl of heat. The radiance breathes on the Lunch Counter next to the Candy Counter piled high with mysteries and wonders, other dark wood shelves boast birthday cards and stationery, packing supplies next to little bits of Hardware alongside sewing notions and dress patterns: objects of further interest glint deeper into the store. Small toys are arrayed next to combs and hairpins, Harmonicas and razor blades, wallets and gymp, lighters and flint.
The screen door, closed against wandering insects, opens, flashing the heated Coke and Luckys sign, closes again, a kid shape slapping Keds to the magazine counter near the telephone booth. Outlined in a beam of falling sun the kid flops to the floor in a fine cloud of luminescent dust. There, puddled on the near edge of the bright slab of window-heated light, the kid begins the afternoon ritual, delving into the realm of the Imagination.
What is the year? The month...the day: any long summer of any American year: the day of eternal youth where dreams are inspired in the heart to be cupped in memory: the Timeless Time poured out of all our lives, enjoyed in the moment, tasted for a lingering hour, day, week, then lost, seemingly, to other fancies, only to catch the breath thirty years in the future.
Through the bottom square of the screen door the kid's dog sits sentry, head to the side, back to the world, watching every movement. It's the dog's job to sit patiently, as it's the kid's job to crouch and lean through the sunbeam while questing for the heroes among the primary-colored covers on the lower rack. A good storekeeper knows not to invade this reverie with, "This ain't a library, kid: buy it or get out..." The kid will read and revel, then buy the favorites, as always, taking them out into the bright world... but here, now it's a private sharing time where the familiar costumes and familiar criminals riot in the quiet sound forced into the mind by lettered effects, larger and larger as the pages flip faster until the final BOOM... and the exhalation of young breath allows the dust motes to curl again. The release and intake matches the shift of one book to the next and the process is repeated, though, to the kid, ever new... the breathing slows as the text hints at future perils, the sounds of the living world die away. This fugue state of Child in Wonderment renders the world mundane and the kid invisible to that same, mundane world. The action moves from the pages into the mind, where real movement occurs, melding with the nine-year-old understanding, amplifying the experience beyond expression, beyond encompassment, and far beyond any intent of the unknown writers, editors and artists.
Automatically the hand reaches back to the rack, delving blindly, expecting the next familiar buckaroo or captain of space. In the same graceless manner of a sock dropped to the floor, the dark comic moves into the beam of sun. There is a sudden pulse of blood that actually rocks the child. The cover flashes, outsized by the effect of surprise:
Issue #1: The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine.
Hands both cold and warm, it is an act of will to open the cover, lest the interior deny its power and promise. There is no expression for this inner feeling, this undefined fear of betrayal that melts into an equally inexpressible satisfaction of being as the pages extend a new world of common originality and effortless adventure. The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine: almost a direct reflection of the actual world the kid lives through, made manifest and interesting, reasoned and familiar. These people, though older by some little bit, live next door, or should. There is every chance that this story is about a guy just down the street, maybe the guy who works all night on his car, whistling, parts scattered across the driveway, maybe this girl, this wonderful girl might be the girl from the paper route that lives at 2110 Henderson, the one who looks out her window as the cars go by so slowly. There's an old fellow at the gas station who wears that hat, that exact hat. And the kid has seen this very same jacket hanging in someone's closet: an Uncle? The kid knows there are secret things about growing up, and here is one never thought of: that a person could fly without wings or powers or being anything but a bigger kid, amazed as any kid would be with a roaring engine strapped to their back. There's no denying this new world is the precise world to live in given a choice, and the choice is right in the kid's hand.
For the first time in this child's life the unbought comics, the old familiar heroes and villains, are left behind, strewn in the abandoned pool of afternoon. As money is pushed over the counter, the youth looks carefully at the adult for a sign of knowing, of sharing, of believing. In a deepening dream state the kid glides through the screen door onto the baking sidewalk, comic open, reading while walking, happy bulldog following close behind, down the tree-shadowed lane toward the future, breathing over and over: