I met a man named King Wizard, Son of a Gypsy outside a comic book convention in Richmond, Virginia. He told me he got the name King Wizard, Son of a Gypsy because once when he was young he’d gone gambling in Atlantic City and had an epic run playing Blackjack, ended the night with a huge pile of cash that he stacked up on a table in his hotel room and posed with for a picture that he made a bunch of copies of and distributed to all his friends.
If that explanation makes sense to you, please write in and I’ll send you some sort of prize.
This was not a comic book convention like the big one in San Diego, where celebrities feign enthusiasm for the properties they’re being paid to represent and do their best to choke back their horror. This was a real comic book convention, which is defined by grime and desperation. Where bitter middle-aged vendors bicker with children over the price of old Iron Man issues; where you can buy oversized prints of She-Hulk with erect nipples or Harley Quinn fellating a .38 that look like they were created by an aggressive eight-year old boy with a leaky can of spray paint but are in fact the life’s work of a middle-aged man with business cards that read “Professional Illustrator” in the same font the “Pows!” came up in on the old Batman TV show from the 60’s.
The San Diego Comicon has all that stuff, too, but there it’s easier to ignore on account of the celebrities and the fact that the crush of the crowd makes it impossible to stop and look at anything for longer than sixteen seconds.
This convention was in a hotel, and I met King Wizard in the lobby. I’d just been helping my friend, who was there selling back issues, wipe away the blood that some awful goon with a torn nail bed had drizzled everywhere while browsing. While we were cleaning up the blood this bloated dude wearing a faded t-shirt stretched so thin across his belly that it looked more like he’d been laminated than dressed that morning wandered over and offered us free Taco Bell tacos out of a garbage bag he had slung over his shoulder like Santa Claus.
A fat guy in a tiny shirt offering me a taco out of a trash bag while I’m cleaning up the blood of another guy too determined to amass every issue of Teen Titans featuring Terra to stop and tend to an open wound. It’s hard enough sharing what you love with other people, let alone people like this. I felt superior, and since nothing goes with a sense of superiority like isolation, I told my buddy I needed a break and walked out to the lobby, found an open couch and sat down with my feet up on the coffee table.
King Wizard, Son of a Gypsy was sitting across from me on the facing couch. He was huge, broad across and thick all the way through, probably around 50 years old, with a Super Mario mustache and a Tennessee Titans cap wedged over his massive head. Sitting in the way that really bulky dudes have to sit straight up on the edge of a couch with their shoulders thrown forward that makes them look like they’re ready to spring into action when really they just can’t lean back lest it become impossible to get back up, with the look and smell of someone who spent a lot of time smoking cigarettes in a small, windowless room packed with memorabilia. I knew right away he was going to strike up a conversation. He had the same look in his eyes that my dog gets when it spots a rabbit in the yard. With zero prompting or as much as a hello he told me his name and that his favorite band of all time was AC/DC. “The early stuff,” he said. “Bon Scott. Not that pretender they brought in after Scott went on to his reward.”
King Wizard told me he was up from Florida, in town visiting family, staying at the hotel because his brother’s place had been damaged in a flood. I asked him how he got his name and he explained it, then abruptly changed the subject to ask me how much I could bench press. I’m not making this up. I was living that scene in Boogie Nights where John C. Reilly and Marky Mark are feeling each other out by the pool. I shrugged and told him I did all right, and King Wizard told me that he used to max out around 350, before his first heart attack. “After that I could do 250, until my second heart attack. Now I’m at 150. Every time I have a heart attack I go down exactly 100 pounds, it’s weird.”
“That is weird,” I said.
King Wizard nodded, paused, then said “You know what I’ve always wanted to try? I’ve always wanted to have a chick ride me while I was working out. Like, I’d be benching and she’d be riding my thing, and she’d be keyed into my rhythm so she’d buck at the same pace I’m lifting. You ever think about that?”
“Sounds dangerous,” I said. “You’d need a spotter with an open mind.”
“Yeah,” King Wizard said. “Here’s what I wonder. You did have a spotter, would that count as a ménage a trois?” He winked, paused for laughter, adjusted his cap and turned serious. “Spotter would have to be a woman. I don’t like other men in the room when I’m making love. I don’t approve of that lifestyle. I’ve tried it, wasn’t for me. This dude I used to know, he’d sell me cheap eight balls if I let him watch me pop his old lady. She was smoking hot, too. Still, I know from experience, one dick in the room is plenty. Me and the chick, that’s it. Got nothing to do with the Bible, anything like that. Just makes me uncomfortable. People want to call me a bigot, say I’m closed minded? I know who I am and what I like. What’s wrong with that?”
I’m not sure, I wanted to say. I’m trying to articulate it, give me a minute.
King Wizard changed the subject again, leaned forward and said, “Lemme ask, you ever think about committing suicide?”
Which was weird, because that question made me want to kill myself.
“Same friend of mine, with the cheap coke? Had a dream life. Cocaine all day, his own Les Paul, was like a year away from a black belt in karate. Owned a two-thousand dollar house. And then one day he sticks a shotgun in his mouth and blows his brains out. Craziest thing. He had it all, and it wasn’t enough. Why do you think someone might do something like that?”
Now, if my greatest achievements were owning a guitar and being good at karate and my hobby was watching my friends hump my wife in what must have been more of a shack than a house, I could sort of see killing myself. But here’s where King Wizard, Son of a Gypsy broke my heart a little. “I think about all he had,” he said, “and I ain’t got half that. If he had it all and killed himself, what’s keeping me from doing the same?”
His eyes were wet and probing. Was it possible he’d been waiting in the hotel lobby for someone to come along that he could lure in with chat about heavy metal and weight lifting in order to work up to what was really on his mind, which was suicide?
What kind of life was King Wizard living? He had less than half of what his friend had? Did he sleep in a big pile of dead rats every night? Had he been born sans butthole, so that his body steadily filled with waste all day so that he stank and ached until he could get home and hook up to a special machine that drained it out?
I wanted to tell him he’d be fine, toss him platitudes until he smiled and said something like, I never thought of it that way, you’re right! I wondered if that guy with the garbage bag was still making the rounds. King Wizard seemed like someone that would really like a free taco. I asked him if he was hungry. “There’s a guy handing out tacos over there,” I said. “I can go grab us a couple.” I pointed over King Wizard’s shoulder, down the hall to the convention floor.
King Wizard turned and looked. People were milling around the door to the convention hall, some of them in costumes. “That some kind of swap meet?” he asked.
“It’s a comic book convention,” I said.
“Comic books?” King Wizard chuckled. “Grown men getting off reading about dudes in tights. Some people might call them faggots or retards. You ask me? I feel bad for those guys. Those poor guys just kind of break my heart.”