February 9, 2012 by Ray Yanek
I do it. A lot. I love it. A lot. Books are an escape that doesn’t lead to trouble; they allow me to travel when my wallet won’t, and they help me learn things about people without actually having to interact with them. The majority of my day revolves around the written word now.
And I love that.
Sometimes I think about moments–those moments that pass in flashing seconds and those that ease so subtly through the background you hardly notice. Those moments amaze me, scare me too, that can become so monumental.
A collection of moments taught me to love and value the written word. One moment though, only one, almost took that love away.
Had it not been for Anthrax I may have lost that love of reading back in high school, back in that time where young people tend to lose a lot of good things about themselves.
* * *
I don’t remember much about my childhood. I don’t remember if my mom read me bedtime stories, but I do remember seeing her read. Every night in fact, or anytime she had a free moment.
I was an inquisitive child, consumed with curiosity. What was so fantastic, I wondered, between those covers adorned with men and women who wore less clothing than I did at that age?
I wanted to know. I needed to know.
Later, I remember books in my room. Lots of books. Books with pictures. Books with only words. Books with comic strips. I read them all, lost myself in them and became quite pissed when those books would come to an end.
So I started to write my own continuations. But that’s a story, a moment maybe, for another time.
* * *
I met Gary Gygax one Christmas—the guy that created Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, that guy. And no, I don’t live in my mom’s basement. I moved out when I got married, so screw-you… twice.
Gary Gygax wasn’t actually under my tree, just the Dungeon and Dragons basic rule set. I remember still, ripping the paper away to reveal the shiny red box with a knight and a dragon fixin’ to mortally mess one another up on the top. I was hooked, not so much on the game itself, but on the books. I read those books over and over, my imagination swirling with hurricane-force speeds.
The magic in those books wasn’t just imaginary.
I created character-after-character, drew map-after- map, designed caste-after-castle. I ran adventures and stories through my mind continuously until the books fell apart. My worlds, however, never did.
Not until high school. Not until my misplaced priorities led me to put those books away. Doing that is one of my biggest regrets.
But even though I closed the lid on those worlds, I never forgot the treasures in those books.
Had it not been for Gary Gygax and Dungeons and Dragons, I might not ever have picked up The Hobbit. Had I not picked up The Hobbit, I may never had sat in my living room holding both my son and daughter when they began to sob after Frodo told Sam to go home, that he would finish the journey alone, on the TV in front of us.
* * *
Those same misplaced priorities eventually led me to put my other books away too and to follow other paths.
But thankfully, Anthrax brought me back home.
When I say Anthrax, I don’t mean the stuff that crazies try to send in the mail. I’m talking about Anthrax, the thrash-metal 80’s band.
Yes, I was a metal-head. I wore concert shirts, had long hair and Dave Mustaine’s autograph on a pack of Marlboro Red’s.
I had cassettes and then CD’s, most of which never had a case. I was an inquisitive teen-aged metal head, and I tore those cases apart, unfolded the cassette liners or fanned open the CD booklets and read those liners until they eventually got lost under my bed, or in my car, or vanished into that magical place where one sock of the pair always seems to.
If those liners had the lyrics, you might not see me for days. (If they didn’t have lyrics, I would sit with my ear to the speakers, a pen and paper on my lap, and listen to the songs over and over until I transcribed the lyrics myself). I even read the acknowledgments and all the people (and substances) those bands thanked.
Then one day I read the lyrics to a song I particularly enjoyed, a song called “Among the Living”. It wasn’t so much the music I liked, but rather the catchy chorus:
“I’m the Walkin’ Dude
I can see all of world.
Twist your mind with fear
I’m the man with the power
Among the living, follow me or die.” (you can hear the whole song here…if you’re brave)
In those same liner notes, I learned that the Walkin’ Dude was based on Randall Flagg. I also learned that Randall Flagg was the bad guy in a book by Stephen King called The Stand.
The next day, I drove back to the bookstore with my head bowed and my Metallica hat in my hands like the prodigal son. There was no looking back.
I no longer listen to metal. Those CD’s are long gone. I don’t have the songs on my I-pod, but a part of me remembers that song.
A deep part that sometimes whispers “I’m the man with the power.”
* * *
My subconscious, I imagine, taps its foot to the rhythm of that song as it sits for a cup of tea with Gary Gygax’s dragons. Sometimes I feel them look at me sideways, a glint in their eyes, the dragon’s lips curling back into a smile.
Just remember, the look suggests, misplace those priorities again and we’ll be ready to tangle.
I smile back. Don’t bother with an answer. I go out to the living room instead and listen to my son read his first books out loud.