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Two Comic Strips

By Fran Sussman

In my favorite comic strip, there is a bird in a tree and a cat in the grass below. Spring has arrived, it’s a glorious day, and the bird starts singing. I know this because musical notes are in the balloon pointing to its beak. The cat looks around and then looks up at the bird. And then the cat starts singing the same song! I feel their joy and want to be transported to their little world on the comic page of my newspaper.

My second favorite comic strip is one that I made, but it requires a bit of explanation. In the first frame I am walking north on Allen Street. I am heading to the wake of a young woman who was stabbed by an ex-boyfriend.

She had been my kindergarten student, Tina.  I had taught her older sister and met her still older brother who had been in college when she was in my class. Sweet, smart, loving kids. Because her mom was deaf, Tina scored poorly on a language test at the beginning of the year. And because she had a Spanish surname, she was going to be transferred to a bilingual class.  Her mom was happy that she was going to learn Spanish, a new language for her.  It was with difficulty that I explained that the bilingual class was for children who already spoke Spanish.  When she understood, Tina’s mom stopped the transfer.

In the second frame, I am passing the large plate glass window of a restaurant at the corner, on Houston Street. I spot Chris sitting inside, with friends, right next to the window. It had been months since I had last seen him and he had lost a lot of weight. He was looking healthy and happy.

Chris was my favorite contestant in a clothing designer competition on TV. The contest, Project Runway, went on for weeks and weeks, and Chris survived almost to the end. He was an expert in making costumes for transvestite performers and brought a unique viewpoint to his designs. (Unfortunately, his final effort, a beautiful black gown enhanced by shimmering layers of human hair, a look somewhat like a long flapper dress of the 20’s, failed to impress the judges.) Chris added an element of joy to the show with his easy smile and rich, infectious laugh.  I loved his laugh.  I paused. I had one of those should I or shouldn’t I conversations inside my head. We New Yorkers leave celebrities, even semi-celebrities, alone, but I couldn’t resist.  I went in, apologized for disturbing him, wished him well, and asked him to laugh for me. He did. He filled my heart. I thanked him.

In the third frame I am continuing my walk to the funeral parlor, but I have been released from my sadness.

The fourth frame is of me, at home the same night, watching reruns of Project Runway. Chris is there, happy,creative, and very fat. The guy in the restaurant had been much thinner, much smaller. I began to doubt myself. I watched and thought. I stared at the TV. Had I really met Chris and missed my opportunity to learn about the world’s best diet, or had I been mistaken, and was now a character in someone else’s “Only in New York” story? I frowned. I smiled.

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