great story good ending
| Tuesday, June 20, 1995. Brian, Doug, and I depart for uncharted areas; where uncivilized beasts rule through force and fear, luck and savagery are the tools of survival, and the unexpected is truly the inevitable. We were strangers in an unholy land, and only the blessings of the saints and the luck of the Irish could get us through alive.
I am, of course, talking about Bellville, NJ. Our reason for this perilous journey? The graduation of Gary Way. While there had been plenty of second thoughts and last minute doubts, we had forced ourselves into this situation for the sole purpose of providing Gary with the moral support needed in order to make it through something as dismal and pointless as a High School Graduation Ceremony. Besides, Gary's graduation was the turning point of an era, for he was the last member of the Third and Final Generation of the Metropolis Comics Gang to advance beyond the realms of public education. On top of that, I myself had very personal reasons to go, as I have known Gary for quite some time. Over the years I have come to consider Gary as the closest thing I have to a brother. As opposed to my brother, of course, whom I have come to consider the closest thing I have to a Gypsy Curse. The significance of this hackneyed ceremony far outweighed any danger that might befall us, so our attendance would be guaranteed, despite the risks to life and limb.
I should probably point out that Bellville is not, in all honesty, a dangerous town in as much as it is a typical Jersey town filled with the ignorant dregs of humanity that seem to make up seventy four percent of the teenage population. Not to be degrading to Gary's fellow students in particular; my graduating class in Bloomfield was pretty much of the same ilk. Granted, it is not as bad as Nutley (Home of the Comics Explosion, the official comic book store of the Mongoloid Moose), Bloomfield (soon to be New Newark), or any of the other surrounding towns. None the less, it is still a town with its fare share of imbeciles and scumbags, and so it is still worthy of our contempt. And you wonder why we never get invited to block parties. Not that we would go, mind you.
It was decided before the journey was even attempted that Brian would be driving us to and from the event, if for no other reason than that he is short. It seemed like a good argument at the time. After parking four blocks away and trudging through countless residential blocks, we converged on the front gate where three teachers were adamantly checking everyone to make sure they had tickets. You can't get in without a ticket, you see, even though the tickets are given out for free to the graduating students, and anyone who would want to see these people graduate would know someone in the school that would get them a ticket. And I'm really sure that they would actually try to stop a parent that had misplaced their ticket. But I guess precautions must be taken if you want to keep the undesirables out of the festivities If that were the goal, mind you, the graduates themselves would have to accept their Diplomas from the street corner.
Despite the pointlessness of the whole ticket thing, we decided against seeing what would happen if we tried to gate crash the graduation. So we handed our tickets in and made our way up the solid concrete bleachers that overlooked the dismal soccer field where the graduation was to take place.
We arrived at the top of the bleachers to happily discover Shawn perched on the top seat (Bleach?) with Gary's younger brother, Mikey. We immediately seated ourselves with Shawn, although we would soon regret this choice, for Shawn had decided in his supreme wisdom to sit beneath a loudspeaker. Actually, a more correct definition would have to be the only loudspeaker. This being the case, the faculty at Bellville High had decided in their supreme wisdom that they could easily make up for having only one loudspeaker by turning that one loudspeaker up as loud as it could possibly go!
On top of the volume, the quality of the audio hinted that the school was not yet able to afford a modern sound system, being that their money was tied up in posting bail for several of the graduates to appear on the field. You can't very well have a Valedictorian speech when said valedictorian is sweating off a couple of six-packs and a misdemeanor plea in the county drunk tank, can you? So with their entertainment budget awaiting several court dates, they were apparently forced to rely on an old phonograph found at a recent yard sale, resulting in such a poor recording quality that I kept expecting to hear a stirring rendition of "Marry Had A Little Lamb" drown the field.
You can always count on substance to trump quality, and this was most likely the reasoning behind the compilation of an uplifting musical selection including such hope-raising inspirational songs as Bridge Over Troubled Waters and The Battle Hymn Of The Banana Republic, we felt blessed to be subjected to them in all of their static-filled, high-decibel glory from a mere four feet above us.
Despite the real threat of hearing loss involved, the proximity of the loud speaker offered us two advantages: our sarcastic ramblings would not distract the other families seated around us from the frightening festivities, and the stains on our shirts caused by our bleeding ears helped us to easily blend in with the Bellville locals.
Shawn informed us over the racket that Chris was supposed to meet us at the graduation, but as there was no sign of him yet, we were convinced that he would be late. Actually, we were convinced that Chris would arrive during the middle of the graduation and decide to save time by cutting through the field. Of course, the Nutley Police that were graciously overseeing the event would undoubtedly see Chris as a threat to the safety of society's innocents and attempt to take him down. This promise of senseless violence built our hopes up, as we now had something to look forward to.
As there was still time to kill, we had time to talk idly amongst ourselves. Or, to be more specific, scream at each other at the top of our lungs so that we could be heard over the 1927 turntable blaring above us. We chatted as we joyfully watched the Bellville Motorcade, a lone motorcycle cop, ride his circuit on the dirt track encircling the soccer field where the ceremonies would take place, no doubt keeping a constant watch on the surroundings. We kept waiting for dirt bikes to join him, and when he would occasionally change directions from clockwise to counterclockwise, we would loudly cheer him on for being another cop that doesn't play by the rules. Someone pointed out that we should have passed up the bleachers in exchange for a grassy knoll nearby and set Mike up in the classroom above the school library as a patsy.
There was also some discussion as to whether the graduating class was going to be loaded into a state facility bus afterwards and transported directly to their respective trials. Time could be well managed if they handed out the handcuffs with the Diplomas and instructed the graduates at the end of the ceremony to "Throw the caps in the air and spread 'em". It would be such an original photo, the entire class of 95 lined up against the side of the building. Then again, there was always the chance that the senior class boat ride was actually a planned mass suicide, something that shouldn't come as much of surprise when your class president's name is Jim Jones. What do you expect from a school that almost settled on the Prom Theme “Village of the Damned?”
Ah yes, the Prom. Gary would later entertain us for hours with stories of him and his friends getting drunk in strange bars that the Limo Driver took them to, throwing up on themselves and each other in the back of the Limo, and changing out of vomit-soaked clothes on the side of Route 22 at three in the morning. Good times, good memories.
The Graduation Ceremony finally began with the graduating class marching down the field in two lines.
I must interrupt here for a second to mention that in Bloomfield, they have a much more dramatic way of starting the graduation ceremony. Since the Bloomfield sports field isn't next to the school, the town chooses to block off the major road in town and bestow upon the lucky graduates the honor of walking a mile and a half to their own graduation under the hot June sun in cheap graduation robes that are handed out the cautionary warning” "Do not iron the gowns, for they will melt.”
Anyway. The graduation ceremony began as the students marched down the field. Gary was easily noticeable to us amongst the graduating class, as he had died his hair a bright shade of red the night before, in my opinion a step up from the pink hue that it had been the previous week. After the seniors had all been properly seated and manacled in place, the Principal of the school addressed the audience.
The Principal, setting a true example for this year's graduating class as what sort of social behavior would be expected of them, was quite obviously stewed to the gills. Either that or someone kept screwing around with his cue cards. He must have been fully aware of the field’s lack of more than one loudspeaker, as he attempted to make up for it by yelling as loudly as he possibly could into the microphone.
The resulting shockwave from the combination of booming static and feedback was unbelievable. As we were right beneath the solitary loudspeaker, we absorbed the brunt of the assault. Mike, being the youngest among us, lost consciousness. Brian and I clamped our hands tightly over each other’s ears in a touching moment of self sacrifice. Shawn ate his Yankees cap to distract himself from the pain. Doug just sat idly while listening to the speech, confused with our reaction to the Principal’s introduction. Doug happens to have the loudest family in North America, so for him close proximity to ear-splitting sound was rather comforting.
The crowd was then instructed to stand and salute the flag for the pledge of allegiance. We, knowing full well that the odds were in favor of Shawn wearing his Stars & Stripes boxer shorts, saluted Shawn instead. The Anthem followed, and we were then seated for the long haul. The Principal introduced the Head Faculty, with each name met by us with a resounding "Guilty,” sentence to be carried out immediately.
Next was the Valedictorian speech. Two students had actually tied for the position, so in order to keep things fair, the decision was made by a Duel to the death. Fortunately, thumbs up prevailed throughout the audience at the end, and a fatality was avoided. They got off lucky, though; if it had been a three way tie, they would have had to resort to a Trial by Fire.
The worthy victor was now Valedictorian, and she proceeded to give her speech. I won $10 when she cried before she finished, thank God for predictably cliché behavior. Other various "Honor Students" took their respective turns speaking, as Shawn kept us entertained through the more boring portions by shoving his fist in his mouth, an act that never fails to amuse.
As the long winded seniors tried to wrap up the opening, it became evident that there was a rapidly moving storm closing in. High winds, sheet lightening, and a blood red setting sun are not exactly the best omens for graduation day. It's hard to be optimistic about the future when it appears that God himself is objecting to the whole situation. Then again, it could have been the other way around; I would be hard pressed not to believe that at least one of the graduating students had actually sold his soul for their Diploma, and with the odds of the kids around here actually graduating getting lower every year, I'm surprised that Demon Summoning isn't an open elective. However, odds are that Beelzebub didn't have a ticket to get into the graduation.
The storm got worse as the speeches progressed, and it began to rain by the time they began to hand out the parole papers... er, I mean Diplomas. It didn't look like the rain was going to let up anytime soon, and the fact that Gary's last name ends in W made pneumonia seem like an unavoidable option, so we began to motion to Gary to get up and barge through the line to get his Diploma so we could seek lower ground. Yes, there was also the threat of lightening to consider, as we were currently sitting under the highest metal point in the field thanks to Shawn's supreme wisdom, the pole mounted loud speaker that now doubled as a somewhat rusty lightening rod. We were also concerned that the dye in Gary's hair would begin to run and color his entire face deep red, so that when he stepped up to the podium his drunken Principal would beat him senseless with the nearest chair after mistaking him for a demonic entity. It wouldn't be the first time that something like that happened.
Gary was unwilling to elbow his way past his fellow graduates, however, so we were forced to shield ourselves from the rain with Mike's still unconscious and limp body. It was at this point that we came to the conclusion that either someone had broken into the school records and inserted dozens of joke names into the list of graduates, or that Immigration had started hitting the hard stuff when the grandparents of these people had joined the great Melting Pot. Not only were half of the names mispronounced, but seven different people ended up calling off the names of the graduates, as none of them seemed up to the challenge of braving the list solo. I myself was in tears by the L's, and Brian could barely be heard hollering over the loudspeaker "A Smith! A Jones! I'd sell my soul for a Brown or Roberts!"
It seemed like an eternity until they got to Gary. But the time finally arrived for the announcement of "Gerard Arthur Way", and that fateful moment of final passage was greeted by The Mongoloid Moose staff and friends with the hearty cheer of "Yeah Chauncey!" We had originally planned on yelling "Gooooo Jesus!", as we had seen a “Go Jesus” on a bumper sticker on the way to the graduation (which we found quite amusing, as none of us could ever recall Jesus belonging to a football team: The Midtown Martyrs?), but at the last minute we settled on screaming out the name he had put on his fake ID, an NYU student pass that identified Gary as Chauncey P. Sim, a Vietnam Vet in his late forties.
As Gary proudly marched up to the podium to receive his diploma, I realized that in a way this was the end of a very special time in our lives. We had all met as High School students that would meet on a regular bases at Metropolis Comics, and there share a group friendship that can honestly be said to have effected us all in one way or another. We found ourselves to be, and have since remained, a twisted motley crew of artists, idealists, dreamers, believers, creators, innovators and self stylized philosophers. We created a world of our own in that little comic shop, and it was there that we shared all that we felt and believed, loved and hated, enjoyed and desired, created and destroyed.
But now that do-it-yourself universe we built on the foundation of fantasy and heroism is gone, closed after a robbery at gun point in a steadily declining neighborhood left doubts as to whether the existence of Metropolis was worth the safety of its young customers. The Metropolis Gang has been thrust into the real world at last, perhaps slightly unprepared for survival amongst the normals. But our reach shall always exceed our grasp, as we are not merely content to survive. There will always be a bit of Metropolis Comics residing in each and every one of us, and we will constantly attempt to touch others through the creative influences that inspired us and gave us the courage to believe in the power of our own imaginations.
Good luck, Gary. Keep it alive. And always remember that in a world such as ours, Heroism, no matter how it is perceived or defined, is not merely an event to hope for, but a goal to strive for.
Comments 1 to 1 of 1
Comments 1 to 1 of 1