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They who laugh last …

“I’ve got tomorrow off,” said Jen-Ex. “You wanna go on an adventure?”

“An adventure?” I said. “Where to? Deepest, darkest Africa? Kathmandu? Tahiti?”

“Nope,” she said. “Somewhere more exotic.”

“Oh?” I said. “And where would that be?”

“The garden spot of the Western Hemisphere,” she said. “Malone.”

“How could I have not guessed?” I said. “And what amazing attractions await us?”

“Only one,” she said. “The Market Barn.”

“OK, you got me swinging,” I said. “What’s the Market Barn?”

“It’s a place with lots of vendors’ booths, full of all kinds of stuff.”

Full of all kinds of stuff: Truer words were never spoken.

There were two floors of booths, all of them neatly arranged and showcasing “stuff” of every ilk.

There were wagon wheels, milk cans, antique furniture, retro “vintage,” real vintage, homemade jellies, jams and aprons, art from Deco to Drecko, and everything else between, beyond and above.

I enjoyed checking out all the booths, not the least because the place was so clean and organized, but nothing leaped out at me. And I thought nothing would, till I went into the last booth.

One thing immediately caught my eye — a Navy chief’s uniform from World War II. It had campaign ribbons, and both coat and pants were in perfect shape. As good a souvenir of The Big One that it was, I wasn’t really in the mood or market for it. Then, as I turned to leave, I saw a magazine rack chockful of old comic books. Further investigation was immediately called for …

Comics

Last week I wrote about comic books and got two emails in return.

One was from Brother Tony Elrod, who said he and his brother had a huge comic collection — hundreds of them. Right after high school, his brother joined the Marines, and the next year Tony did the same. When he returned home, after his discharge, all the comics were gone.

Tony assumed his mother got rid of them, thinking that he and his bro, as vets, had “outgrown” comics. That was a common scenario nationwide, repeated so often as to become cliche. It also illustrates perfectly that mothers don’t understand sons. Or maybe it shows females don’t understand males. Or perhaps it’s even more sweeping — one gender doesn’t understand the other. Sociological musing aside, the fact remains Tony’s comics collection was as long gone as whalebone corsets and mustache cups.

The second email was from Adam Brayshaw. I’d mentioned Archie comics in my column, and Adam sent a link to a Yankee Magazine article about Archie. It turns out Archie’s creator, Bob Montana, was a Yankee. He was brought up in Haverhill, Mass., and later lived in Meredith, New Hampshire. Most interesting were the replies to the article, saying Archie’s high school, Riverdale High, was based on Montana’s high school. Plus people said which characters in the strip were based on real kids from Montana’s high school days (or at least who they’d heard they were based on).

So, speaking of Archie comics, there in the Market Barn, right in front of my fine Semitic nose, were a whole bunch of them. Holy moly!

Now here’s a subtext: One of my grandnieces, Nova, is a diehard Archie fan. In fact, my brother gives her a subscription to it every year. So aside from the Archie covers firing up a bunch of my Old Home Week synapses, I thought they’d be a great present for Nova. I would read them, get my yucks, and then send them to her. A better balance of Avuncular Benevolence and Reversion to Adolescence would be harder to find.

The stars were aligned. Not only were the comics in good shape, but they cost a paltry two bucks apiece. The other comics cost three times as much — proof of the disappearance of sophisticated humor in This Great Land of Ours.

Loads of yucks

Assuredly, when it comes to a sense of sophisticated humor, mine is intact. And thus, as I read the comics, I got laugh after laugh, starting with the cover of the first one.

It had Archie and Betty in Miss Grundy’s class. (Note: that’s Miss Grundy, not Ms. Grundy.) On the board were three algebra questions, and Miss Grundy said, “How did you find the questions, Archie?”

“Very easy,” said Archie. “It’s the answers I’m having trouble with.”

Is that a side-splitter, or what?

Another three-frame winner: Jughead tells Archie, “I hearVeronica’s rich boyfriends are all giving her birthday presents made of gold!” The next frame shows Archie in deep thought (or at least as deep as his thought ever gets), and the last frame shows him in a pet store buying two goldfish.

Then there are all the ongoing bits involving Veronica’s father, who can’t stand Archie. In one, keeping with the times when the astronaut was king, Archie is telling Veronica and her father that he wants to be the first person to land on Mars. The next panel shows Veronica’s father on the phone saying, “Cape Kennedy? –How much does it cost to rent out a rocket to Mars?”

Another skit has Archie working in the stock room of Veronica’s father’s business, and he tells Veronica her dad is paying him 20 bucks a week. She’s outraged because, as she so selflessly says, “It’s nowhere near enough to pay for our dates.” Then she grabs Archie and confronts her father, telling him, “I demand you pay Archie the going rate!”

“I’d be delighted to,” says her father. “How much will it take to make him go?”

Then we have the two female leads of the comic, Betty and Veronica, who are constant rivals. In class, Veronica hands Archie a note and says to pass it to Betty. Archie looks at it and says, “But Veronica, it’s blank!” And Veronica, in perfect character, says, “That’s because we’re not speaking to each other!”

The last one I’ll share with you shows Veronica, Betty and Archie. Veronica says, “Congratulations, Archie!” Betty says, “Coach Kleats said you were responsible for the baseball team’s victory!” Then she asks, “How did you do it?” And Archie gives the secret of the team’s success: He says, “I forgot to show up!”

Big deal

After I’d read the comics I called my brother and told him about my bargains.

“And ya know what? “ I said.

“What?” he said.

“To me, the stuff is still funny,” I said.

Then I read him a bunch of the bits, and he laughed at all of them.

“Amazing we’re still laughing at them, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said. “That humor is timeless.”

He might be right. Then again, there’s another distinct possibility: The humor is as dated as DAs, poodle skirts and Toni Home Permanents, and we’re just two old farts trapped in time. Not that it matters.

But what does matter is this: Some innocent, silly gags gave us a bunch of laughs, for mere pennies.

If you don’t think that’s a big deal, see how often you can say the same thing.