Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rise Hawk Rise

Haunted for weeks afterward I would recall the way we sat, the skeletal appearance of the emptying convention hall, Hawk's stoic candor.
I see it now, sometimes from his perspective, sometimes from mine, sometimes hovering beyond us both. I was leaned back in a chair with my long  legs in stockings stretched out in front of me, heels forsaken, devouring a bag of generic brand party mix. There I slumped watching exhibitors drag carts laden with boxes of comics and the trappings of their booths out the yawning cargo door 120 ft away.

I was waiting for my partner to bring the truck around. A moment earlier she called to say the line of vehicles waiting to reach the loading dock was wrapped around the hotel. It would be a while.
So I was resigned to sitting there in a numb stupor when Hawk returned to his table beside mine. Presently my chair was turned with the back to him.
When we started talking I sat up and turned sideways so that I could twist around to face him, gripping the metal back of the chair to stay in place.

At that moment I still knew him as Jim and not Hawk, the quiet artist that sat beside us for two days dressed in a black t-shirt and slacks, his steel colored hair being all that I could see while his face was turned down to his work.
On Saturday, I had decided that maybe he was a snob who thought himself better than us. He didn’t do much to initiate conversation or contact. That was the day that I wore the tight red dress with the push up bra.
On the morning of day two I glanced over and saw him applying color to a drawing of Harlequin. I felt a sort of jolt realizing that the perfect plastic look of these characters was coming from Jim’s attentive work. This quiet man wearing wire framed spectacles seated next to me was making those drawings look like that.

That was why at the end of the day as we started tearing down the booth I turned to Jim and told him I had taken the opportunity to watch him work and was impressed. I told him his work was beautiful.
He welcomed me to flip through the pages of his portfolios. When I had finished looking through them he offered  to let me choose one.
I selected the Harlequin I had seen him working on in the morning and packed it carefully away. Now he stood beside his suitcases on wheels and talked to me as I craned around in my chair.

Jim’s father had insisted that he would never amount to anything. He didn’t like or understand comics. He thought they were for kids and couldn’t understand his grown son’s interest in them.
One day Jim showed his Dad a copy of Arkham Asylum to demonstrate that comics weren’t just for kids. It left his father speechless on the subject ever after. Jim suspected that it was merely because he was afraid of being shown something like that again.

Jim bought and ran a comic store during the comic boom in the 80’s when you could find a comic book shop on every block. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the craze of the day.  It was during this era that Jim started attending exhibitions, carting all the wares of his comic shop into convention halls. A few years later his employees suggested he table as an artist while they ran the booth dedicated to the shop.

One year a boy approached and asked Jim to sketch something for him. Jim explained that he wasn’t that sort of artist. He was afraid of how it would turn out.
But when he saw the forlorn look on the kid's face as he walked away empty handed, Jim called him back and sketched a hawk man. The kid loved it, but Jim, not convinced that this was work he’d want to be known for, signed it “Hawk” rather than using his real name.

The following year the kid returned with an army of other kids, all eager to get sketches from Hawk. So Jim became Hawk, a fixture at the comic book conventions each year.
He was the longest tabling artist at Wonder Con. When they moved the operation from San Francisco to Anaheim they offered to fly him out to maintain the record. But Hawk had to decline because at this point he was caught up caring for his mother.

Hawk had to sell his comic book store after his father's death because the old man had left his wife with nothing but a mountain of debt. Hawk stepped in to care for his mother.
He took a job at Cisco Systems as the personal assistant for a man who wouldn’t walk five feet to fetch his own coke from the mini fridge.
He started building her a house. He still sold comics from a van to some of his old customers making special deliveries, but his finger was no longer on the pulse. He simply used the catalog to look up and order the items they requested and lost sight of the vast complicated scene that had once been his area of expertise. Slowly the number of customers dealing with him in this way dwindled until there were less than a handful left.

To  fend off the wave of sorrow that was threatening us with silence I said,
“But at least you still have your passion. You’re here.”
And Hawk looked at me and said,
“To tell you the truth I don’t feel passionate about it any more.”
I looked at him, Hawk, battered by the storm of life, weighed down by his father's curse; Hawk, resigned to being pulled into the abyss, and I cried.
“Then you have to find something else, something to be passionate about. You must have passion!”
Hawk blinked at me, digesting my outburst.
My partner arrived with the dolly and without ceremony we began to load it up. Hawk offered to help but we said we had it covered.
“See you next time.”
I smiled as we headed towards the light cascading in through the cargo bay. Hawk waved and rolled his suitcases towards the hotel lobby.

And so it was that for weeks I would be haunted by the incomplete tale of Hawk. Would he rise at last beyond fear, beyond his father’s voice within, beyond the mortal coil, to soar and grasp with outstretched talons the fire eternal that burns in the hearts of the pure?
Or would the cold gray wave that was the hand of his ancestors pull him quietly into oblivion?
And I hoped, I hoped that Hawk would rise, that the encounter with the dame in the red dress would shake the sleep from his wings and remind him of what it is to be alive and striving against the cold and the curses. I hung the picture of Harlequin in the hallway and I whispered to it:
“Rise Hawk. Rise.”

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