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“Tell me this,” says Tony as he reclines in a chair that’s more like a throne. Fittingly, he’s surrounded by plastic subjects that dedicate all five points of articulation to the whims of their king. Tony is the proprietor of the Old Book & Comic Emporium in Beverly Hills, which specialises in books, toys…and comics.
“In the first one, you had Lex Luthor running a real estate scheme. In this new one, you’ve got Lex Luthor running a real estate scheme. You’re telling me that there wasn’t another plot they could have used from the nearly 70 years’ worth of stories?” He snorts as he dismissively turns the page of the newspaper he’s absently reading. “For that reason alone, I’m not going to bother.”
On the subject of dodgy Superman movies he is, of course, completely right. And he should know; he must have well over a third of those stories in his collection.
At the counter, familiar faces from decades of pop culture stare back. On the far wall, Freddy Krueger dares you to go to sleep. The Joker laughs eternally from behind Tony’s desk, while perched atop his cash register (no EFTPOS) is the withered visage of Emperor Palpatine. They feel as much a part of the place as gruff old Tony. He’s made this shop his own.
I first became aware of Tony’s Old Book & Comic Emporium in about 1999, when I was on a serious nostalgia trip. It’s a familiar story: disposable income, an age that’s at once responsible and irresponsible, a firm grip on the past and a tenuous one on the present. In the shop window was a factory sealed box of Topps trading cards (with gum) from 1989’s Batman, a movie I’d originally seen just down the road. I’d never gotten the whole set as a kid, so I had to have them.
But the cards were the gateway drug. Once inside, I marvelled at just how many blasts from my past the owner had accrued. Monsters in My Pocket. Fangoria. The Inspector Gadget doll with the telescoping Go-Go-Gadget neck. Among these, the past-blaster was set to stun: Hardy Boys books. Monkees lunchboxes. Old Playboys below a sign marked ‘Adults ONLY’. Nice try, Tony.
During the short time I lived in the area, I became a regular. I’d hang out in the shop on Saturday afternoons shooting the shit with Tony about movies, his new arrivals and our favourite topic, the past. Never the future. Tony liked my writing style, and one afternoon wrote down the contact details of the editor of a pulp sci-fi magazine called Andromeda Spaceways for which he thought my work would be a perfect fit. I didn’t see it myself, so I never followed it up.
Thinking back now, it’s gobsmacking to imagine a two-storey modern-age antiques shop in a suburb like Beverly Hills.
Fate must have noticed the oversight. Long after I’d moved away, I swung by one afternoon only to find the shop empty. All that remained was the sign on the side of the awning and the piece of paper with the Andromeda Spaceways details still sitting in my wallet.
If you’re reading this, Tony, I hope your bold and much appreciated experiment didn’t meet too painful an end. You added a bit of colour to an otherwise boring area, and no-one’s ever going to fill your shoes. I mean, I’m sure the world needed another family law centre (especially the long-awaited first choice), but I’m sorry: you ain’t no Tony.