Sunday, January 16, 2005


The Garfield Hunt

Looking at the small collection of autographed books I own--the best of the lot are Stephen King, Oliver Stone, and John Irving--I wondered what had become of my Jim Davis autograph.

I was in junior high school, and I went to Chicago on the Greyhound to see my friend David over Christmas. Though I've now not seen David in more than twenty years, this was an AMAZINGLY important trip. It was a formative trip. How cool is it when you can define key moments like that?

I had received Billy Joel's 52nd Street album (yeah, it was an ALBUM) for Christmas, but this was all because I'd told my parents I liked "My Life." I took it with me to David's. We played it incessantly, and I discovered that Billy Joel was a badass. "My Life" was moderately defiant; "Big Shot" was outright hostile. "Stiletto" stood a pretty good chance of warping my perception of romance. And "Zanzibar"? Where's Zanzibar??

My lifelong appreciation for Billy Joel and Africa--that's where Zanzibar is--has its roots in this trip.

David and some of his friends liked just across the Wisconsin border; they'd all been to Lake Geneva, and they were all players of a roleplaying game that had been around roughly three or four years in their neck of the woods. Dungeons & Dragons. They taught me to play over those three days (I was a wizard who got polymorphed into a troll, discovered that chopping limbs off of trolls makes MORE trolls with a weird allegiance to the original troll they grew from, and who ultimately lost his life when he tried to take over a pirate ship with a small army of amputee-trolls whose allegiance to me also degenerated with each generation they were removed from me. Boy, talk about information you could have used YESTERDAY...).

Not only have I played D&D for the rest of my life, but it also led to my interest in Magic: The Gathering, my job in Seattle at Wizards of the Coast, and pretty much everything I have to be thankful for right now.

When the weekend was over, David accompanied me back to downtown Chicago to catch the bus. Across the street from the station was a massive, three-story tall bookstore. In Decatur, my hometown, NOTHING has three stories. But this bookstore... We went shopping, of course. David was ecstatic to discover a new hardback out by an author he loved, some guy named Donaldson who wrote fantasy.

"The Wounded Land is the first book in the second trilogy," David said as he scooped his book up. "You should read the first series. It's all here in paperback. Get all three."

I did. I read them, all thousand pages of them, over the next week. The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant became books I would talk about to this day, and they convinced me to try my hand at writing fantasy. I've not yet given up that idea.

Finally, on the top floor was a booksigning that we stumbled into. Again, David knew about the book in question.

"You have to get one of these," he said as we stood in line. "This cartoon is in the newspaper up here every day. It's about this big, fat, mean cat. It's hysterical."

So, I bought the first book of Garfield comic strips, Garfield at Large. The guy who still draws it to this day, Jim Davis, signed my copy. On the bus ride home, I read the whole book, laughing out loud. Often. Garfield was still very cat-like back then, and the jokes were all REAL cat jokes. Why cats hang on screen doors. Why they eat plants. Why they clearly love us and hate us at the same time.

So, this weekend, I tore my office apart looking for that old book, and as of yet, I've not found it. But the search reminded me just how significant that one weekend in Wisconsin was. Sometimes we can't remember how we met someone or what we liked about an author or a movie. We can't remember how things began, only how they ended. First dates are hard to remember; divorces are easy. Happiness is elusive but sadness is always right there, waiting for you, whether it's welcome or not.

The memories of that important weekend--even if I haven't found that old Garfield book again yet (I'm sure it's in my office SOMEWHERE)--were very welcome this weekend. If you've got those kinds of memories, I'd recommend finding a notebook, a Word file, or a blog to write them down in.

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