In the beginning there were six of us. There was Ralphie and his older brother William, Wil, and don’t get me started on how confusing it was to have a pair of Wills. Then there was Terry, Steve and me. My name is Jonah and this is our story. I wish I could say I don’t know how it all started but that would be a lie. I know exactly how it started because it was all my terrible idea. And, looking back on it I sometimes wonder how we ever expected to make it out alive. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. It started earlier than all the violence, and in a place really without merit, Ohio. North Central Ohio to be a bit more precise. It can be counted on both hands all the things of note that have come out of this part of the state and we certainly weren’t any exception, although since this is where we began that’s where this story, our story, has to.
We all had our own unique life situations in the beginning. I was working as a low-end IT guy for a Law Firm, and to say I fucking hated it stretched the concept of hate probably had something to do with being referred to as “that boy” by the senior partners. Wil did internet sales and dealt mainly in coins of dubious providence. Eventually that employer would be prosecuted for selling stolen goods. William worked making coloring books because he had an art degree. He did have a bit of a background in IT though from a prior job. Terry was in going into his third year of college on the way towards getting his law degree. Ralphie was working at a quarry involved to some degree with the production of drywall. And little Stevie (I call him little cause he was the youngest amongst us) was still finishing up getting homeschooled by his grandmother.
We were a odd bunch to be sure and at first glance it would be hard to figure out what in the hell we’d even have in common aside from that potential IT connection to the three of us who had that, but the IT connection was a pure coincidence. We all met at the one place where we all felt at home the comic shop. The comic shop was that magical, mystical place where we could go to escape the realities of our daily lives and fit in free of judgment. It was in a way our holy place. All were welcomed and everyone was treated fairly. So te comic shop was where we met and for a while it was how and why we stayed together. After enough years knowing each other it only seemed logical that one day we’d open our own shop. This now brings me to the unbelievably somewhat mostly true story of Pandora’s Box, and just how it came to be.
One day Wil and I were talking over a cigarette and I said quite simply, “Hey man, why don’t we open up a comic shop? I’ve always wanted to and I know you have too. You know we could easily manage the thing and I’m sure we could get the rest of the guys to work the place and collectively we have the minds for managing it.”
He said yes of course, but then it was rare of him to refuse me unless he knew it would get him in trouble with his wife. In that respect he was probably the most pussy-whipped of all of us, but he was still like a little brother to me even if we were only a little over a year apart in age.
His only question was, and it was a good one, was simply, “Ok, but what do we call it?”
We decided the best thing to do was get all the guys together and have a discussion on this topic. So after hours of deliberation on such random things as store layout and how we absolutely had to be the coolest comic shop on the planet (the only way Ralphie would go along with anything) we decided to call our store, our little piece of heaven “Pandora’s Box”. So we began to set our plan in motion since T (this is what we called Terry) was a business/pre-law major in college drew us up a fantastic business plan so we could secure our initial financing from the bank and get ourselves underway.
So a week later we convened a meeting of the six of us. We opted to include Stevie even though he wasn’t even 18. He was in some desperate need of direction and needed to do something that would get him out of the house and away from his computer. For someone who wasn’t yet legally an adult he had seen more in his life than most people could ever hope to. Wil and I tried to keep the others in the dark as to why we wanted to meet, we were dorks like that sometimes, and as it turned out we were successful. This would be the first of many sit downs we’d have at the local pizza place. We had agreed to meet up about 6pm, because Wil and I had something to discuss with the group. We went ahead and told everyone but Ralphie to show up around 5:30pm, because we knew he’d be late. He’d miss his own damn funeral if his attendance wasn’t mandatory. But 6pm came and went and we were all getting sick of waiting. It was like that a lot with him and we’d learned to just deal with it. So, at 6:30pm we went ahead and got started.
“I’m sure all of you are wondering what Wil and I wanted to throw around, so I’m not going to waste any time . . .”, and like a broke-ass clock Ralphie came into the pizza place and sat down. He was always doing shit like this, but he was also always there for a friend in need. And even if he was late, when he said he’d show he did. “… Hey asshole, thanks for showing up!”
“Fuck you man! I’m here aren’t I? What was so secret I had to drive an hour just to hear about it?”
“Well now that you finally decided to grace us with your presence we can get this show under way.” I was always being a dick like that when he showed up late. I knew how far I could push it without turning it into a real fight, and he was usually a pretty good sport about it.
“We want to open a comic and game shop.” Wil is always getting right to the point.
“And you wanted the rest of us here because?” In the beginning Williams was always questioning every decision and suggestion, but he was smart and loyal, both were qualities that I respected.
“We’d like to do it as a group. As a group we possess all the skills necessary to do this. William and Wil and pretty amazing with computers and Wil can spearhead the internet sales. Terry can handle almost all of the business, finance and legal bullshit. Stevie and Ralphie can handle the customers, track stock and work the floor.” And I just looked at the rest of them waiting for a response. Wil and I expected this.
“What the fuck? Work the floor? You don’t think I can handle anything more than that?” I could tell Ralphie was a little pissed about this, but I knew he only ever takes a little, very little really, convincing.
“Jonah and I talked about it and it seemed the most fitting for you. You and Stevie have a really weird knack of doing what you’re told and excelling at it. It just seemed to make you two the most appropriate for those tasks….” Wil with the logical save.
“…Plus we wanted to include everyone. Remember the pact we made when Jared died? But if you guys don’t want to be involved then we can always find people to do that stuff. I didn’t mean to waste your time…” I knew how to work my audience for this.
“Hey, I never said I didn’t want in. You know I’ll help you in any way I can. Will you guys actually be paying me or will it be slave labor as usual?” –Stevie was always so worried about shit. I guess he was just used to getting the calls that we were doing some project around our respective houses and we needed an unpaid assistant.
“Yes, we’ll be paying you. Ok, so I got a green light from the minor. Anyone else have an opinion one way or the other?” I saw no point in wasting time moving forward on this.
“Did we mention that we wanted to do this as partners and not with the rest of you as employees?” Wil mentioning the detail that I’d neglected to bring up.
“All of us? You guys sure about this?” Bless him, but William was always so freaked when it came to going in on anything together financially.
So I continued, “Yeah, we’re sure. As a group we believe we can’t fail. History has shown this time and again”
“T, any thoughts? You’ve been awful quiet through this whole thing.” Wil said and we are just sort of staring at him silently running things over in his head.
“Honestly, it sounds really out there, but I’d expect no less from Jonah. You can count me in, but you guys know I’ve still got school and I can’t just drop it.” And with that Terry just smiled.
Time to start laying out the finer points of the plan Wil and I had kind of worked out. “Dude, you know we got that shit planned for, or we wouldn’t even be having this talk. All the financial information would be forwarded to you nightly, and you would just need to come back on the weekends to straighten the books up. I’d be working the day to day and you would be working the assist.”
“What about you? What are will you going to be doing in all this?” William asked.
“I’ll be the day to day manager and help in whatever area it’s needed. If Wil has too much going on online, then I come in for the assist. We get a rush of customers; again, I come in for the assist. T needs help getting all the paperwork straight, once again I come in. I’ll do what needs to be done so that we can stay afloat. Is that good enough for you.” Sometimes I had to be a dick to William so that he’d accept something and let it. Otherwise we’d spend the whole night focused on just what I’d be doing for the business. He just nodded.
Time to button this conversation up, “So, any other questions, concerns or war stories?”
There was a moment of silence. That was weird for us, but it happened sometimes.
“Alright then if nobody has anything else, Ralphie you in or out?” Sometimes we’d have to push the issue with him.
“I still think its bullshit that you wanna treat me like a trained fucking dog.”
“So does that mean you’re in?”
“Yeah, I’m in.”
“Good boy, play your cards right and you’ll get a treat. And maybe if you don’t piss on the floor we’ll rub your belly.” Sometimes I’d really screw with him, but it got the group to laugh and got the response I was hoping for.
“Fuck you, dick.” Yep that was the response I expected from Ralphie.
“Love you too, man. So William, what do you say, are you in?” I could tell he was agonizing over this. He hated being financially tied to anyone. I don’t know how he’d stayed married for so long. It was clear that he was agonizing over this decision, because he just sat there and didn’t say anything.
“Ok, we’ll come back to you. T, what do you say? You in?” Wil would do this sometimes. He’d occasionally butt heads with William over stuff and he would just push on forward, while William would just sit there.
“As long as it doesn’t stop me from going to school, then I’m ok with it. It’ll look good on a resume anyways.” T was about the only one of us who would really be focused on the future. It’s not like it was a huge fault of the rest of us, but sometimes it happened.
“So William, I’m really gonna need your answer. I know you don’t like to take risks, hell we all do, but you know we all know this shit. We can do this man. But it won’t be the same without you, and you know it.” I knew just how to get him to go along with things sometimes. It was just a matter of goading him just enough, but not so much that it turns into a real fight.
“You guys are sure about this? This isn’t gonna be like all those other things we say we’re gonna do, but then just ignore and lose interest in, is it? If there’s money involved in this, then there need to be certainties.” William seemed eerily confident. I had to admit I was a little surprised at the direction he was coming from on this. I looked at Wil and we just kinda nodded at each other. Wil beat me to a response.
“Hell yeah, man, we’re sure. Jonah and I have kicking this around as a ‘pipe dream’ for a couple of years now, and we all seem to be at a place in our lives where it just makes sense to try something different and new. Do you really wanna spend the rest of your life doing what you do now? I know I don’t, and I know that Jonah doesn’t. We want something more from life and we wanna be able to do something we actually love to do. This is it for us. Fail or succeed it’ll sit on us. But, we wanted to include everyone. So, are you in or what, dude?” I have to admit that in that moment Wil had it down. We’d never talked about it like that, but damn if it didn’t just make perfect sense. I could tell Willam was still thinking about it, but even still he surprised me.
“And we would be equal partners? Equal partners with equal say?” It was like William’s response was a statement he’d already started in his head. I couldn’t do anything but smile.
“Yeah man, equal partners with equal say, but Stevie gets an equal share upon his 18th birthday, and that’s non-negotiable. He’s one of us; he’s just a little on the young side.” I was hoping that would be the end of it there, and we wouldn’t spend the rest of our time debating this, cause I was starting to get hungry. And as if reading my mind, a server finally showed up.
“Can I get you guys something to drink?” So we gave our drink orders to the guy and I looked at William. Before I could say anything else to him he’d made up his mind.
“Alright, I can agree to that. I’m in.”
With his agreement, events would ultimately get set in motion that would test all of our friendships, endanger our lives and those of our spouses and result in a lot of blood spilled, bullets fired and money earned. I fully recognize that last statement has no real place in the context of opening a comic and game, but we don’t do shit in half measures, and sometimes opportunities fall in your lap that you just can’t pass up. It didn’t matter in that moment though, because in that moment we were gonna be businessmen and we were going to be masters of our own futures. So we ate and talked and threw around all kinds of ideas for what we could do and sell and offer. After the meal we formulated a communication chain to keep everyone informed of all happenings and any dealings so that all would be in place for our projected store opening.