Written by S.T. King
I think it goes without saying, here. But just in case. Spoiler Alert.
“Hey, Mister?” he says. “Betcha a ten-spot I can tell you the top three reasons why that show on T.V. is one of the goats.”
I look up. “One of the goats?”
“Yup,” he goes on. “That’s G.O.A.T – the greatest of all time,
Currently, I’d been liking things on Facebook I didn’t really like. And I’d be lying to say I wasn’t slightly irritable. I put down my Nokia. Look at him.
“You with me?” he says.
I say nothing. This is how kids these days rebel.
The guy scoots closer to me and leans forward, both his pink and rawed hands on his knees. And he’s like this for about a minute. Maybe longer. Can’t tell, always. He smells like old sweat and motor oil. And he looks as such too. Complete with a ring of sludge that’s settled on the back of his neck for the long haul.
“First thing you gotta understand is, that I don’t tell no lies. No reason to. Never was and never will be. I’m gonna tell the truth and the whole truth. As much as I know, anyway. And today we’re talking bout Stranger Things, which you can find on the internet.
“First things first.” And he holds up one pudgy index finger against the other. “In the beginning there was the Dungeons and Dragons. You wanna get the long and the short of the whole story then you got it right there. You can stop bout a quarter hour into the first episode, really. Gives you all you need on a silver plate. With a cold soda-pop on the side. None of that weak shit either that don’t got no bite to it. But the good stuff. Strong bubbles. Feels like razors in your chest.
“You one of them fat ladies,” he says, “who can’t wait on her turkey club and diet coke – then there — you can stop watching. No harm no foul. I’ve wasted more time on bad titty-bars. It appeals to you? Check.”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry.”
Why am I apologizing?
Then his hand goes up.
“I see you looking at me like a canary in a coal mine. Remember. I’m only telling the truth. Canaries is yellow, see? The ones I seen at least is yellow. You’ll get it sooner or later. But I’ll explain so you know for sure.”
“It’s because the Demigorgon, right? See that’s your monster. With his face opens up like a flower? When the girl’s got em pinned to the chalkboard? That was him in the beginning. And the little boy, Will – he wants to get it with a fireball but it wasn’t strong enough. Member that? So, all the course of the show he’s stuck in the Upside Down. That’s what they call it on there, see what I’m telling you? Makes sense, don’t it?”
He laughs. “That’s big shit to me. Didn’t do that sort of thing in my day. Tell the whole story time you can lose a continue on the first board of Starfox Nintendo 64.”
For some reason I feel like I’m listening to hieroglyphs.
You see, I watched Stranger Things, too, probably on the same weekends as this guy. And I was born in the nineties. On a clear morning in November, I’m told. I’m a 2000’s kid by heart. I play Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock on “Expert” difficulty (or maybe just Fascination Street). And, amongst other things. I had the biggest crush on Hannah Montana. Now that she’s swinging around on wrecking balls I’m never quite sure what to do with myself.
This is all why, I think – that I don’t get a word what this guy is telling me.
“I see what they did too. Maybe you too young for Dungeons and Dragons but you played a Final Fantasy game, I’m sure. And all the heroes got classes. Same on the show. That’s your reference. Lucas, for instance, he’s a ranger. Physical. He’s gonna fight with his hands.”
Then it clicked. And I beat him to it. Not really beat him per se. He stopped talking. And the silence drives me somewhere between crazy and neurotic.
“And Will loses because he’s not a strong enough Spellcaster.”
“Took you long enough,” he says. “Same page?”
“Oh, I get it,” I say. Admittedly I feel a bit lame. No one wants to admit they watch or play such fantastical games. Especially not to someone who looks so much more “rugged”.
“That’s pretty cool that they did that. Oh, shit. I fucking get it.”
“Aint it nice?” he says.
Then he leans back against the bench.
“There’s other stuff in there, too – that drives it all on home, the black floors in the Upside Down. And the mystical nature of the whole deal. But I’m gonna hit you with something else. Number two.” Index to middle finger now. “Member the comic the boys had been racing for: X-men Hunerd Thirty-four. I got it here for your reference.
He’s got it rolled up in his pocket. And he tosses it. It slides and rests against my jeans pocket. I look at the cover but I don’t touch it. It feels too damning to touch it. Damning because I’m afraid. What does it mean if I pick up this comic book? I’m in high-school.
And yes, he’s the loon who’d been carrying it around in his coveralls — But once I pick it up. What if someone sees me picking up a comic?
“That’s the Uncanny X-men, of which they’d started to be “uncanny” round the mid-seventies. That’s for your information. But you probably saw that lemon, The Last Stand, when Jean got all red in the face and charbroiled everyone. That’s when she was the Phoenix. Ring any bells for you? You seen that one?”
I nod. But I thought it was pretty good. “See it on the sci-fi channel all the time.”
“Good,” he says. “Now, we can talk.
Being pulled this way and that. That’s what this is like.
“Not saying Eleven was the Phoenix or nothing. But by the time she and flower-face were gone it damn sure looked liked she charbroiled the both of em on high heat. Guess we’ll find out later, right? But no way that little girl’s dead. She’s gonna rise from the ashes.
“Oh,” I said.
Rise from the ashes.
“Me and you aint so different,” he said.
“And the good thing about this show, too – maybe you think the love letter was written to just me and mine. But it’s for you also, you understand? The body of work is immortal. The X-men may die in the comics but they always come back. And we can’t forget these guys in real life either. Jean Grey’s gonna remain a thirty something year old ginger by the time you’re gray in the sideburns with a bad hip.
“As for me, maybe I’ll be somewhere pinching the young nurses on the ass. But best believe I’ll have my comics and my Stephen King books.
“Should have seen me, too — when I realized what they did with the X-men. Damn near fell out my seat, I did. Goddamn genius.”
I go in my bag for a drink a water. “Want one?” I say.
Then he asks me, “You ever feel cursed?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer the question. So instead I took out the bottle and unscrewed the cap. Then I pull out another in case he changes his mind. He does. And he picks up the other bottle and downs most of it in one go. About now is when I realize I don’t know his name. Also, now is when I notice he’s got his index finger on his ring finger.
“I’m serious,” he says. “Can you relate to that at all?”
“I have some bad luck sometimes,” I say. “Not sure I would call it cursed.”
“Member when Hopper said that? You feel cursed? He said it close towards the middle of the season.”
“I do,” I said. “Yeah, I remember.”
“It’s not just because his house costs a dollar, either. I’m not lying to you, okay? Look it up if you don’t believe me.”
I think I will. Give me something to do on the bus-ride back home.
He goes on. “And don’t that house look creepy, where Will’s mom and them stay at? Like a cabin in the woods, ain’t it. And look at the monster too.
“That monster,” he says, it’s like all of em put together.”
It’s now. I felt like I knew what he meant, after all.
Because I had seem Cabin in the Woods. And Alien. And Predator. Yes, the monster in Stranger Things — it was like all of them in a way. That show had brought it all together. And not in a cheap way. It feels summative, progressive.
“The Evil Dead is for me, though. That’s a movie came out early eighties. Bout a troop of college kids who bring out a curse on themselves. Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s what college kids do most of the time, anyway — as far as curses. Maybe you know a kid or two like that. I know I do.
“But when I see that house, the curse is what I see. There’s a girl on there that’s possessed and starts throwing up red kool-aid all on this other chick’s face. Still makes my stomach turn today, when I think about it. But, as far as the house. It’s the same camera shots along the porch. And my main man Hopper. He is cursed, isn’t he?”
I cross myself. “Yes.” I liked Hopper, his character. And yes, he did seem to be cursed. I remember his transformation during the course of the show. And how subtle it was, too. I also remember in the beginning that he reminded me of Jim Gaffigan.
The more the guy talks about it, and you’ll be pleased to know I learned his name. It was Joe. And he works on cars at a little tire-shop. Him and his brother borrowed some money and kept it going. Over ten years strong so far. Over on the East end of Everett Road and Georgina. He give me a business card before he takes his leave. I’d been sitting on a park-bench on the side of Harker School Avenue that overlooks the Harker Middle School football field. This is where I go to skip Home Economics. This is where he strolls through when he’s had a long day at the shop. All this time. He’d been there.
But the more I listened to Joe, I mean really listened. I couldn’t eat my Dandee sandwich because my energies wouldn’t allow it. My favorite ham and cheese and I didn’t want it. Because I’d been here with Joe. And we’d both watched Stranger Things and had been consequently rendered helpless; all we could do now was talk about it.
But that’s the magic of the series. And even though I did feel that Joe, that he got much more out of it than I did. It connected us, oddly enough. And the more he went on about his takeaway the more that I saw that had been the case. We were connected.
That Stranger Things not only captured an era and put it on display. With the beautiful elegance of a sun-lit, grayscale mausoleum. And it does it with it’s own accents. There’s no graveyard without graves. And the latter cannot exist without the former. It makes for both a simple and straightforward, yet deeply entrenching experience. And its advancing, carrying the art of story and sci-fi – pushing it along, though withered by the friction of time. It persists. An old gem of today. Today. That’s when you get it.
Aren’t you lucky?
And isn’t that the hallmark of a great performance or experience? That somehow in spite of our differences we’re drawn together. A strange thing, indeed, I thought. A story about everyman’s monster. And childhood – life and death.
Better than Dandee sandwiches.