Last Sunday morning, after a night of heavy drinking and little sleep - so worthless there was no veritas which I could type in vino-ed - I was hanging out with a friend of mine when my foggy brain realized that, in his aviator sunglasses, he looked like Steve ... Austin. No. Steve Tyler. Not it either. Steve ... city in Texas; he's a Bloom County character ... Steve Dallas! Compare, here. As he likes the work of Berkeley Breathed, I believe he took the comparison as a compliment. I meant it as a complimentary observation, at least. Then I remembered, "Holy shit. We only have one week until Opus leaves the pages of the comic section, forever." I need to take the little bird out. I need to show him some love. I need to get caught up!
That week has passed, and Opus departed today.
When Breathed announced he'd return to comics, he struck a deal that Opus would be a half-page, front page, one-week only strip. Honey and I were thrilled. Who else but Breathed deserved such an honor? Like Postsecret, it became a Sunday ritual for me. What did Opus have to offer this Sunday morning? This week, I read the preceding four strips only, but I don't feel caught up at all. I had fallen behind in the last year or so. During that time, our paper moved it from the front page of the funnies to the second, then later the third page. Bastards. Also somewhere during that time, my thesis and performing and my job became all-consuming and taking an hour on Sunday to read through the paper became a luxury I didn't afford myself as often as I should have. I needed sleep. Or a drink. Or a Tylenol PM with a benadryl chaser and post-it note reminder to spend 5 minutes with my dear, suffering husband and dog.
Bloom County is the first comic I remember following. (Not that I'm a big comic follower.) It was such a fun world for me. The first time I remember noticing it was when my dad received a copy of Loose Tails for his 40th birthday, from a friend. A wheelchair-bound man bedecked with nerdy kids and wierdo animals? Something about the wheelchair attracted me. Was this about a guy in a wheelchair? What a wonderful country we live in, where one who can't walk can be the hero! And all the little critters and kids riding on him: it's like when my brother and cousins and I used to take turns riding on the back of my cousin S's chair! Awesome!
As I dug into it, it seemed to be less about Cutter John alone, as it was all the awkward misfits who inhabited Bloom County. It was smart and dorky. Kinda like I was when I was 10. Some days I was Milo, principled and precocious, others I was Binkley, clueless and a vegetable resemblant. Incidentally, when I learned that New Orleans' newspaper was called the Times-Picayune, I had a hard time believing that they didn't swipe the name from Bloom County's rag. As a teenager, I decided I should grow up to be Lola Granola; I'm wearing overalls as I type this, ready to garden a bit this afternoon, so maybe that's the connection anymore. I learned what a vegan was from Bloom County. After the aliens swapped Steve Dallas' brain, he ditched Republicanism, got a perm, gave up smoking and eschewed ingesting any animal products. And yes, even though I've been a Democrat since I was a kiddo, I loved Steve, as well. How can you not love a character so sexistly clueless - or cluelessly sexist? He was kind of the antithesis of Cutter John: strapping and healthy, selfish and a defendant of the status quo.
I loved how Bloom County celebrated our hopes and fears, our flaws and fantasies, our accomplishments and mistakes. It's the fault of cockroaches that Bush the elder chose Dan Quayle - I laminated that one, as it was from the last strip received at the doorstep of my native home before our big move downstate; a souvenir. Don't we all need a field of dandelions to escape to to ponder the meaning of life? And of course, there was Opus to love the most. I think I like him - and identify with him - because he's always a little out of place, but wide-eyed, receptive and hopeful. He, like me, suffers from foot-in-mouth disease ("Hare Krishnas = Hairy Fishnuts"). He's both a progressive and a traditionalist. He's a romantic at heart, but also a thinker - for real, he is. And he's got a penchant for silly hats. I don't have that penchant, but I have a deep admiration for it. In recent years, I've assumed that if I ever got a tattoo, it would probably be of Opus; maybe of him looking chastened. Of course, I'm not so sure that pudgy, perplexed penguin anywhere on my body would entice my husband's amourous fingertips to continue their tradition of tracing my curves. (That's for you, VirginiaGal ... you can open your eyes, now, or clean up the puke on your chin, depending on your reaction.)
Now he's gone to live in his fantasy. Even with being so far behind in reading the latest strip as to feel estranged, I can't help but feel loss. My pudgy penguin friend won't be there anymore to greet me on Sundays. My Steve-Dallas-doppelganger pal doesn't think this is the last from Breathed. He's sure he'll pull a Michael Jordan in a couple of years and resurrect something from Bloom County to run for a few years again. I'm not as convinced. Though, I'd be thrilled if he did. Certainly, I'll have the books to keep me company (note to self: ask for entire collection for Christmas?), he'll no longer be part of my Sunday. Who'll fill that gap? Boondocks? Our paper hasn't run that strip in about 2 years. Bastards. Doonesbury? Too overtly political - excellent, but I prefer foibled accessibility. Foxtrot? Puh-leeze. Maybe Pearls Before Swine or Non Sequitir. Apparently, Berkeley Breathed is going to focus on writing childrens' books. I guess if/when Honey and I have kids, I can use those as a starter drug to lure the bairn into the church of Bloom County. Our favorite Homer Simpson quote is, "Raising kids is easy. You teach them to hate the things you hate, and what with the internet and all, they practically raise themselves." I don't hate much, but I do hope I can inculcate them to appreciate the pen of Berke Breathed.