Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sugar Sugar

In the garage, under a pile of as-yet-unpacked boxes with vague names markered on them like "kitchen stuff", in an old orange crate covered with Beatles and Jimi Hendrix stickers slapped on by my brother in his mid-teen classic-rock-loving phase, lies my most important possession, a collection of memories in ink, pulp and paperboard, friends from my childhood who never quite grew up.  Archie and Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Reggie, Moose and Dilton Doiley, Miss Grundy, Professor Flutesnoot, the venerable Mister Weatherbee.  My home, my family, my community.

For me, the appeal of Riverdale lay in its simplicity.  You knew what to expect from everyone, and exactly what they were looking for.  Archie and Reggie wanted girls with tiny waists and wide, eager eyes.  Lucky for them, almost all of the girls in Riverdale looked just like this, like another species, so alien that it didn’t even occur to me to try to be like them.  Which is good, because it’s hard enough to be a normal girl.  The queens of them all, Betty and Veronica, just wanted Archie, but they’d settle for Reggie on a group date.  Or if Archie’s jalopy was on the fritz again.  Reggie had money which meant he always had wheels, but he was kind of a dick about it and, really, that worked for everybody.  Riverdale ain’t no place for shades of gray.  We like our villains mean and predictable.  Jughead had almost zero interest in girls and instead got his jollies with the common cheeseburger, though any food would do in a pinch.  Juggie was my favorite, and not for the reason you think.  It was because he did not give one single solitary shit about what anyone else wanted him to be.  Dude’s needs were MET and he floated from meal to meal with a bare minimum of hassle and angst.  Every so often, though, he’d run up against poor Ethel.  Ethel was my avatar.  They couldn’t have made her more like me if they had drawn her as a chubby freckled girl with funny hair and glasses.  Ethel Muggs:  our lady of perpetual unfulfilled desire.  She just wanted Jughead’s attention, just the tiniest little bit, please.  And the lengths she went to, the things she was willing to do, the years she held on waiting for his approval.  Girl, I’ve been there.  I’m there right now, though I don’t know anymore whose approval I seek.  

Moose taught me that big dumb jocks can be sweet and loyal.  Dilton, that nerds are some of the best people, and the two of them together (best friends, obviously) made it clear that sometimes the cream of the friendship crop isn’t going to be the center of attention.  Sometimes it’s better to shop the edges of the supermarket, if you know what I mean.  Chuck, the token brown character was the nicest, most average guy you could ever meet.  His only distinguishing characteristic was his complete lack of justifiable anger.  Or maybe they didn’t teach the kids about slavery in Riverdale.  They did manage to make him an athlete though, so there’s that stereotype box checked. 

There were no fat kids in Riverdale, and I have to say I’m glad about that.  I didn’t really want to see Archie and the gang making jokes about the fat kid, or worse, treating him or her with earnest compassion, the way they do whenever they come across anyone with special needs.  Not a person, an other.  Next, on a very special Archie, Jughead makes a friend in a wheelchair!  Hahaha let’s pretend she’s having fun with him at the dance even though she can’t use her legs!  Everything is so far out right now!

But that’s what I loved about Archie comics.  Everything was surface.  Nothing was hidden or confusing or secret, pot-boiling anger.  Everyone always did the right thing in the end, and never intentionally hurt anybody or made them feel worthless or hit them or stole from them or forced sex on them.  There was safety in Riverdale.  So much safety.

They still make Archie comics, of course, but I’ve long since stopped reading them.  I have my own safety now, a tiny house East of town for which I have the only key.  Every so often I’ll hear how my old friends are doing, getting married, choosing careers, finally moving on from those idyllic high school days.  I’m waiting for them to catch up with me, for the Archie gang in their thirties.  I’m waiting for Reggie to figure out there’s more to life than chicks and cash.  I’m waiting for my girl Ethel to email me so we can go out to brunch and hash over her latest boy drama.  I’m waiting for Betty to finally realize she doesn’t need a stupid man to make her happy.  I’m waiting for Jughead to put down that cheeseburger, man, and call me already.  Let’s hang, Riverdale style.