My Uncle Bud came to visit once when I was about 13 or so. He would have been not quite 60. I think he must have come to town on the bus, because I don’t remember him having a car. He was a veteran, though I never heard him talk about the war. I was told he’d been wounded, and that while in the hospital he had become addicted to morphine, and that either the injury or the addiction or both had inflicted permanent damage on his nerves. Mostly I remember he was a bit shaky and his train of thought was difficult to follow.
He loved kids. He would do that trick of expanding his tattooed bicep like a balloon by blowing into his thumb. He showed me the malocchio hand gesture and asked me if I knew what it meant, because my dad, his brother-in-law, is Sicilian, I guess. I didn’t know – I thought it meant “bullshit.” When he died about ten years later Uncle Bud left his money to all of the cousins. There were quite a few of us and probably not so much money to begin with, but everybody got something.
I think on the way from the intercity to the intracity bus terminal he must have stopped at Moondance Records – the local counter-culture record/incense/jewelry store and head shop – to pick up gifts for us. He got me the first issue of Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman. I don’t think he really knew what it was, other than a comic book. It was penned by Vancouver illustrator David Boswell and starred a hard-drinking, philandering, foul-mouthed and gleefully violent milkman, and as you can imagine was pretty much the best thing I had ever seen in my life at the time. I rescued it from the garbage once after my dad got hold of it. I still have it.
Interspersed among some truly epic action sequences was a teen’s garden of quotable dialogue. My university-age brother picked up a couple of nifty t-shirts depicting Reid shouting his catchphrase, “I thought I told you to shut up!” But there’s one exchange that has always stuck with me. Reid is at a New Year’s party with his stoner (and private detective) friend Ken. Reid has just ended a conversation by calling the other participant a jerk, which happened often. Ken snarls resignedly, “The dump’s full of ’em, Reid!”
Since I first saw that frame, every time I hear someone call someone else a jerk – or pretty much any epithet – I think, “The dump’s full of ’em.” Sometimes I say it out loud. A pitiful few get the reference. To my adult self, it’s a near-universal truth. I didn’t realize it when I was 13, it was just a funny thing for a comic strip character to say. But the dump really is full of them. Forget it Reid, it’s Jerktown.
The entire Reid Fleming ouvre is currently available in the form of pay-what-you-can PDF downloads at reidfleming.com. I suggest you visit, download, and throw a bunch of cash at Mr. David Boswell, and maybe pick up a t-shirt or two – or risk being outed as some kind of jerk.