In a small clearing next to the I-5 exit in Mission Beach, bounded by Pine, Maple, and Cypress on three sides and the San Diego Channel and Jogging Path on the other, the Shopping Carts lived in the Shopping Cart Graveyard. “They can’t really live in a graveyard,” Arthur would say, and the Rabbi Cart would reply that he had a point, and perhaps they were all ghostses of shopping carts, and then K-Marx the Communist Cart would vociferously deny any belief in the existence of ghostses and finally René Des-Cart would adduce from those premises that one of two conclusions must be true, that either K-Marx then did not exist, or K-Marx was not a ghost, and following the axiom “I think, therefore I Cart,” K-Marx would have to personally believe in his own existence (although René could not be sure of any other than René’s existence, and wasn’t particularly sure about that and didn’t have the thought pool left to believe in anyone else’s), therefore the Carts could not in fact be ghostses, well, by then everyone was out of breath and they all decided that “the Shopping Carts lived in the Shopping Cart Graveyard” would just have to do until further evidence presented itself.

The Shopping Carts lived in the Shopping Cart Graveyard. Arthur was not a shopping cart, nor was his girlfriend Voniece (you may read that to say that Voniece was not a shopping cart, or that Voniece was not his girlfriend; Arthur will not contradict either interpretation). Arthur lived in the Graveyard since running away from his dad (or, more specifically, since his father the Senator ran away from him), and Voniece just visited because she was in love and Arthur was not, which meant that Arthur would not visit her. This was problematic because Voniece was paraplegic and her wheelchair was not willing to sully even an inch of tread on the Graveyard, whose denizens it considered a far lower class of wheel. So Voniece had to wait until Fisher the Plastic Shopping Cart called on her to carry her to the Graveyard, or she had to trick her wheelchair into thinking they were going to see, for example, a monster truck rally, oh yes, they’ve built a new track just off the I-5 in Mission Beach beyond those pines. Her wheelchair was a snob but not particularly stupid. It was usually more reliable to wait on Fisher.

It was the kind of day that San Diego was famous for. Just a little too much sun at three in the afternoon but otherwise spot-on, especially if you were a homeless six-year-old and his five-year-old paraplegic girlfriend. Arthur would take offense at “homeless”, but unless you are a shopping cart you would probably consider it a just description, and if you are a shopping cart you are probably aghast that shopping carts, even in San Diego, would allow a pusher to live amongst them, especially the short, nasty variety that stick gum on axles and wipe chocolate on new, shiny chrome.

Arthur slept with a new 38 Smith & Wesson revolver close to hand. He’d purchased the 38 through trade with the local meth dealer. He’d traded brand new brand name branded tennis shoes. He’d gotten the tennis shoes in trade with the local police department. He’d traded, for that, an old, rusty, sand-filled 38 he’d found on the beach. He didn’t quite understand how that trade was allowed to be to his advantage, as most trades with adults are not, but he was told that because guns are bad things for children to have, it was okay to trade up on a better one. He liked that argument, because he wanted a new television as well. He’d heard that television was bad for children so he brought an old, busted, sandy TV to the police annex but no one would give him a new TV in exchange for that. One comic book store did give him a comic book in exchange. The store owner wanted to be able to watch Japanese anime during the afternoon shift. So he gave Arthur a #1 Ronin. The store had 300 of them in stock, although 157 had begun to mold in San Diego’s record humidity in their specially-designed moisture-retaining plastic covers.

It didn’t matter to Arthur what he got for the TV. You can’t get cable in the Shopping Cart Graveyard.

So Arthur slept in the Shopping Cart Graveyard, his 38 wrapped in oil-soaked rags underneath a rock a few feet to his right and Voniece wrapped in old newspapers to his left. And a Number One Issue of Frank Miller’s “Ronin” rolled up under his head as a pillow.

This particular morning was Thursday or Friday. Arthur didn’t know. He knew when the weekends were from the migratory patterns of joggers along the bicycle path. But he tended to lose track of the day again by Tuesday or Wednesday. Since he didn’t know what day it was, he figured it must be Thursday or Friday. No suspense needed: It was Thursday.

Shopping carts sleep late because they party all night. Voniece slept late because she worried about Arthur all night. Arthur was the first up in the morning and so he was the only one to see the bus go by without a beg for new employees plastered across the side. Instead, it was a picture of a mean old superman. It was an ad for a comic book convention at the San Diego Convention Center. Arthur decided to go see if he could sell his Ronin #1, or maybe trade it in on a new TV.

Just as he started to walk down the bicycle path towards the city, Voniece heard him leaving and woke up.

“Where are you going, Arthur?” she said.

“Come on,” he said waving his comic book, “I’m going to the comic convention to sell my comic.”

He wheeled Fisher over to Voniece and dumped Voniece into Fisher. He dug out his revolver and pushed Voniece up to the roadside and started the trek downtown. Occasionally he waved the revolver in the air with one hand and held out his thumb on the other trying to hitch a ride. Most cars ignored him, preferably in the far lane. But after an hour or so a rental car stopped for them.

The rental car was driven by a newspaperman from Chicago. He stopped because, being from Chicago, he had a soft spot in his heart for kids with revolvers who sleep with Frank Miller. Arthur dragged Voniece into the front seat. A Civic behind them honked at them for stopping by the side of the exit ramp. The newspaperman took out his own revolver and fired a warning shot off of the Civic’s bow. Then he took out his own copy of Miller’s “Ronin” #1 and used it to wipe the powder residue off of the windshield.

“You can never be too careful with potential evidence,” he said. “Where you off to?”

“The San Diego Convention Center,” said Arthur.

“No problem,” said the newspaperman. “I can drop you off on the way to the Coronado Bridge. I’m on my way back from there right now.”

“On your way to there, don’t you mean?” said Arthur.

“No, on my way back. I spent all night looking for it.”

“But its right next to the convention center,” said Arthur.

“I got lost,” the newspaperman shrugged.

“But you’re going in the right direction now,” said Arthur.

“I figured I might be,” said the newspaperman. “Once I realized I didn’t know where I was going, I gave myself directions there.”

“If you didn’t know where you were going, what good were your directions?

“Perfect,” said the newspaperman. “Because not only was I lost, but I can’t give directions either. So by giving myself the wrong directions to the Bridge, I ended up taking the right directions. It’s simple logic. I’m a newspaperman, you see.”

“That makes sense,” said Arthur.

The newspaperman dropped Arthur off at 4th and J. He liked the kid well enough, but didn’t feel like carrying the dirty boy, his dirty girlfriend, and that ragged old toy cart any further than he had to. He also didn’t like how Arthur kept talking to the toy cart. Those were not the qualities a Chicago newspaperman looks for in a young boy carrying a 38 special.

Arthur stepped out of the car and was almost blinded by all the middle-aged comic book fans carrying comic con tags and comic con bags and personal portfolios. Many of them were balding and the sun had honed their skin to a shiny red. He resolved to look at the ground as much as possible.

If you were flying your custom-designed late-seventies station wagon in outer space past the Interstellar House of Pancakes and happened to see the San Diego Marriott floating by, it would not be a particularly startling site. If San Diego had one of Southern California’s signature natural disasters and the San Diego Marriott remained standing, that would be somewhat more startling. Arthur heard two Marvel executives talking about the ongoing shake-up in the comics biz and hurried past the Marriott with trepidation. Voniece had a bumpy ride of it.

Arthur and Voniece took their place in line. It was a relatively short line. It went from the start of the convention center towards the middle and within half an hour began to move. The line became somewhat longer when he turned the corner and saw that the line snaked for as far as his eyes could see.

Americans have never been patient with lines, but they certainly create enough of them. Arthur had bypassed most of them by living in the Shopping Cart Graveyard, but the Comic Con line made up for any he had missed. It made up for the Rubella shot he didn’t wait in line for last spring, the first grade registration he wasn’t going to wait in line for this fall, and every line up to and including the incinerator queue in the twenty-first century that he didn’t wait in line for when the first bomb fell on San Diego’s Nuclear Port.

The San Diego Convention Center is large. The Comic Con line wraps through every room in the Center (except the useful one, the exhibition floor). The Comic-Con runs their own obituary column on their web site, and the ‘died of old-age’ section crashes their server regular by 11 AM each morning. The Comic-Con does not run the list of pre-registered visitors. This list is far too trivial for a web site and would not crash their computer. Forty thousand people visit the Comic Con every year, 39,998 appeared to be in front of Arthur. He didn’t mind. He was homeless. He wondered how many others in line were homeless, or would be by the time the Con ended.

While Arthur was waiting in line a television reporter came up with her camera crew in tow. She was interviewing the most unique members of the registration line. And so of course the little kid with the paraplegic girlfriend and the plastic shopping cart counted. Fortunately he had concealed the revolver.

“What’s your name, little boy?” she asked.

“Arthur”, he replied.

Actually, he didn’t know his name. But it helps to have a name beginning with ‘A’ in America. They often form their lines in alphabetical order.

“What advice would you give to comic-con visitors, Arthur?”

“If you’re bald, wear a hat.”

She turned towards the camera and motioned to go to the next in line.

“I can’t see us using that,” she said to the photographer.

“So wear a hat,” the cameraman said and moved along with her.

Sometime towards noon, Arthur began to tire of waiting in line even though he was homeless. Some kids in front of him began to complain about the long line as well. Some kids behind him joined in. The security guard asked them to quiet down and they started throwing bubble gum and rocks at the security guard. The security guard left.

Arthur waved his gun around. The complaints stopped. Those in line who didn’t really want to see a bunch of stupid kid’s books went off to the Juke Joint and had a few drinks. This brought Arthur to the front. He went in, signed up, handed over a ten dollar bill he had neglected to ask the newspaperman if he could borrow, and walked away with his badge, his bag of goodies, and his comic book. The security guard had confiscated the 38, wore it openly the rest of the day, and there were no more outbursts on Thursday.

The Comic-Con registrars were embarrassed by Voniece riding in a plastic shopping cart. They called for a volunteer wheelchair and forced it to carry her for the rest of the day. It turned out to be her normal wheelchair. It had volunteered in order to get in free. It wanted to see the special guest appearance of Professor Charles Xavier’s personal wheelchair. Instead it spent all four days carrying people who were unable to walk on their own.

Arthur squared his shoulders and pushed Voniece and her wheelchair into the exhibition hall. Fisher followed.

Arthur’s Pal Jerry Stratton

The goddam ants were everywhere and not a Chinese grocer in sight. I usually prefer my stout at room temperature but that’s a dangerous degree for alcohol in San Diego today. The ants didn’t like their beer at room temperature any more than I did when the humidity reached 90 at the same time as the thermometer. Chinese grocery stores are the only places where you can get Chinese Killer Chalk. Since I couldn’t find any I hit the local Ace Hardware and picked up normal chemical bug killer. Normal bug killer has the major disadvantage that, while it works over the short term, it has the tendency to breed insects that, by the time the year is out, can swallow your cat in one gulp.

If you want to complain about all the damn breasts in small town storefront windows, show up at Room 16A at 11:30 AM for “The State of Censorship and Comics”. Let Chris Oarr know what it feels like to be on the other side of the spit.

If you are 21 or older (Arthur is not), show up in the Bayside Terrace for the Elfquest drinking fest. Be considerate and bring some everclear out for the kids hovering wide-eyed by the door with their funny cigarettes.

Cannibal the Musical is at the Hillcrest Cinema on Thursday night.

If you would like to build a website that has viewers masturbating across the net, see Karen Willson’s “Website Design”. If you design it right, they will come!

Star Wars, which is older than most of us can remember (if we were born before Star Wars, our memory is fogged by drugs), now has a kid’s book, where we can read wonderful puns based on Boba Fett’s name. Which bounty hunter tastes best on salads? Boba Feta, of course.

Speaking of Food, this fall from Marvel Comics you can Eat At Spidey’s if you happen to be in Hollywood. I’m not sure I want to know what goes into the salads there.

Overheard from another con-goer at Karl Strauss’ on Columbia: “Give me America’s Finest Pilsner. I always wanted to try America’s Finest Pilsner.”