We had a lot of interesting customers at our laundry. The laundry was located near the Nob Hill section of San Francisco, so we had fairly affluent customers.
For example, during the 1964 Republican Convention, my dad provided one-day service and did the shirts of one of the presidential candidates staying at either the Mark Hopkins or Fairmont Hotel.
Another customer was also named Harold was Mr. Dobbs. He lived in an apartment next door. Mr. Dobbs was a double amputee, arm and leg. He was the victim of a lumbering accident in Montana. His job was being the elevator operator at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. He would tell me stories of all the celebrities who occupied his elevator, Frank Sinatra being one of them.
On Saturday nights he would get drunk and come into our laundry. It would be just before closing time and he would ask us kids the following question: “What year was the war of 1812?” We would reply, “1812!” He would then laugh and give us a quarter and then he would stumble down the block to his apartment.
A third memorable customer was a lady whose name I have forgotten but she was one our favorite customers because she would bring us her son’s used comic books. Every few months we would receive a garbage bag full of comic books.
As fate would have it, it occurred at the time when I was struggling in school. My fourth- grade teacher, Mrs. Threadgill, told my dad that I needed to read more. She suggested a good way to improve my reading skills and my interest in reading was to read comic books.
The comic books that our customer gave us were a great collection of both DC and Marvel comics, with also other titles. For example, we accumulated a huge collection of Classic Illustrated, which were visual representations of classic novels. Later on, I would use them as a source for book reports.
I have fond memories of sitting at our laundry with my brother and sister reading comic books. My sister Helen loved the Archie and Millie the Model comics. My brother and I were fans of Superman, Batman, the Flash and of course Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.
At the time my brother and I did not realize how valuable the comic book gifts in the garbage bags were. We scored most of the No. 1 issues of the Marvel universe. For example, we still have somewhere in storage the first issue of Spider-Man. We have the first issues of Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, the Avengers, and most of the early Fantastic Four.
Because I was a WWII fanatic, I loved both the Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos comics too.
As we got older and more aware of the collectable value of our comics, we catalogued them and put them in protective covers. I don’t think we would have ever imagined these comic book characters would become blockbuster movies and such a big part of our current popular culture.
A few years ago, I told my brother I would should sell our collection and take the whole family on a cruise. He was shocked and said, “You can’t sell our childhood memories.” In hindsight, I guess he was right! We spent a lot of the hours of our youth reading comic books and debating which characters were the best.
For example, you have the debate between Superman fans versus Batman fans. Who was better and who would win if the two fought? Sort of like the question “Mary Ann or Ginger?”
Collecting and reading comic books was a unique experience of growing up as Baby Boomers.
Now somewhere in the world, there is a guy about my age telling all of his friends that if his mom hadn’t given away all of his comic books, he might have had a more comfortable retirement.
Bill Yee is a retired Alhambra High School history teacher. He can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.