By the time the summer of 1993 rolled around, my days as an active member of UMB’s Sci-Fi Club had come to an end. I still maintained friendships with a handful of members, but disengaged from the org’s day to day business and the churning clouds of geek-drama which surrounded the Cool Dude’s ascendency to Alpha Dork status. It was a messy divorce, full of nastiness of my part as I doubled down on railing against the immutable while burning through what remaining political capital I still retained. Eventually, I realized that it was a fruitless struggle and I had better things to do with my life than get het up over a bunch of sad souls trying to reinvent themselves as live-action World of Darkness characters.
Instead, I refocused my attention on more pressing concerns. My relationship with Maura was first and foremost of these, but there were other significant things unfolding around me. It was around this time that I managed to score a job at the campus library’s reserve desk, where I spent my Saturdays assisting a half dozen patrons in between seeking out interesting finds in the stacks to keep me entertained during the dead stretches of my shift. The job also introduced me to the nascent wonders of the “world wide web,” thanks to a monochrome public VAX terminal I used to browse the Internet Movie Database and dabble in the realm of MUDs and Roguelikes.
My look and sense of subcultural identity underwent a slow but dramatic change during this period, as well. My previously rigid conception of “punk” had already taken a beating after I’d discovered the anarcho-scene and its anti-conformist moralizing. My initial reaction to their anti-fashion stance was along the lines of “get fucked, hippie.” As the early 90s alterna-splosion built in intensity and aggressively commodified anything remotely punk-adjacent, however, I started to grasp the meaning behind the message.
Being an anachronistic outlier was part of the thrill for me. When that vanished, so did my interest in maintaining the look. I had my devilock buzzed back into a rockabilly buzzcut that eventually grew out into a shaggy-banged shoegaze ‘do. I hung up my leather jacket and flannels in favor of a Euro-cut dress shirts, pullovers, vests, and bolo ties. The trio of safety pins I wore in my ear were replaced by a single gold hoop that was a gift from Maura and has stayed there to the present day.
My vast collection of Oi records got shelved, replaced by a wider roster of post-punk, gothic, new wave, and import industrial jams — which mysteriously seemed to sound a lot better than when I’d first listened to them and rejected them during my days of spikes ‘n’ sneering.
And I started getting seriously back into the world of the Warhammer 40k. There was no one specific incident that triggered it — or one that has stuck in my memory, at least. All I have are vague recollections of a swiping a then-recent copy of White Dwarf from the Sci-Fi Club on one of my last visits, digging out my old copy of Rogue Trader to mine for ideas to use in a pirate-themed Star Wars RPG campaign I mapped out and never did anything with, and using the haughty Eldar (i.e. “Space Elves”) as the basis for my faction in a short-lived Mekton Empire starship battle thing I organized.
Whatever the actual reason or reasons, I finally viewed the system and setting as a thing unto itself rather than a complicated mess whose only value was on the inspirational front. It had been years since I’d last dabbled with the game, and it had slowly mutated into a strange and convoluted direction since then. The origin concept of an open-ended, RPG-flavored skirmish wargame had been imperfectly upscaled into a tangled mess of army lists and large unit actions conducted with rules designed to handle maybe a dozen figures per side.
Games Workshop promised these issues were going to be hashed out in the upcoming second edition of Warhammer 40k, due out later that year. In the meantime, the core 40k system had entered a semi-fallow state, eclipsed by the larger scale/smaller figure “Epic” game set in the same grim future universe. Realizing there was no point in getting hung up on specifics until the revision dropped, I fixated on the breathy hype pieces published in White Dwarf and worked on marshalling my miniature forces for when the game arrived.
The figures themselves were pretty thin on the ground in the months leading up to the second edition. Games Workshop’s attention was focused on supporting its more current offerings and caught up in the switch from lead-based models to less toxic “white metal” and plastic ones. Finding anything associated with my two armies of choice — the aforementioned Eldar and the Imperial Guard — was minor triumph, and required a good deal of legwork.
I found a box of plastic Guardsmen collecting dust at Excalibur in Malden, along with a blister two-pack of metal Commissars. The Guard Command section came from Eric Fuchs in the Burlington Mall, along with a quarter of Dire Avenger aspect warriors. Sears’ short-lived attempt at an in-house hobby shop provided a full metal penal legion squad and a pair of old school (and goofy looking) Sentinel Walkers.
I can vividly remember the afternoon when I stumbled across a blister of Fire Dragons at the Complete Strategist. I forced Maura into making a side trip there before catching So I Married an Axe Murderer at the Copley theater, and afterward I marveled at the models while we ate pizza from Sbarros in the food court.
After hauling these rare finds home, I’d clean them off with a craft knife at my desk before attempting to paint them with the finest budget acrylics Michaels had to offer. It usually took two or three tries before I hit an acceptable balance of competency and color scheme, so there was always a tumbler full of failed attempts soaking in rubbing alcohol on my windowsill.
By the time the second edition of Warhammer 40k dropped, I had assembled and painted the core elements of two respectably sized armies. Or so I thought.