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December 18, 2008

Life According To Maddie

A visitor came to my office at Marvel and, finding the door locked, knocked. The door opened about eight inches to a hard stop at the foot of my assistant editor who scowled through the opening, “What.” Material would then be passed through the opening with the door locking securely thereafter. And that was the only way I ever got any work done around there. Thank God for Adam Blaustein.

I didn’t know Maddie Blaustein. By the time Adam became Maddie, we were orbiting different planets. There was absolutely no animosity or falling out, more like a falling away, with my moving in new directions and living far from New York. So I wouldn’t be able to tell you much about Maddie, who passed away this week, but I can share an awful lot about Adam. These are just a few highlights:

I’d known Adam for at least a year before it even occurred to me to hire him. He was working as a framer at an art supply store a few blocks from Marvel, and I routinely had things framed for the office. When my assistant, Keith Williams, went freelance, I remember whining to Adam about the politics of replacing him. I caught a lot of grief for hiring Keith, who was black, some people figuring that’s why I hired him—which wasn’t true. I’d interviewed a bunch of writers and one artist. I hired Keith because he was an artist, because he could circumvent the at-times arduous production delays by closing the door and doing things ourselves. I was a writer, I didn’t need another writer in the room.

While waiting on my framing job, Adam suggested himself for the AE position, and I actually tried to talk him out of it. It paid next to nothing and it was often thankless work. I may have been one of the least popular editors at Marvel Comics in the early 1980’s, and I rightly assumed the immeasurable maturity level of most Eds working there at the time would invite hostility toward Adam. If he actually wanted a career in comics, being my assistant was probably not the best way to go.

But, surprise, this Blaustein guy was a comics fan who knew the universe. He became my assistant and, ultimately, one of my best friends. He married my wife’s best friend, and for awhile it was one of those sickening sitcoms with the two guy best friends and the two girl best friends.

He had amazing insight and depth of character and was a constant source of personal and professional advice. He had a great place in Jersey City, where we could climb up on the roof at night and watch the most spectacular view of the New York skyline you could imagine. He got arrested once for carrying a dull sword on a New York subway. That sword is in my house, now.

We tended to close bars even though neither of us drank. Some of the best times of my life, the very best, occurred with Adam riding shotgun on some night adventure in lower Manhattan.

We usually patrolled the Marvel offices armed. We had full-scale, official-weight replica model Colt 1911 automatic pistols tucked into our waistbands, which Marvel VP Mike Hobson would have to routinely explain to the uninitiated straights he routinely entertained next door. We wore ties. My, how that was hated, too. Of course, they weren’t real ties. They were Morris Day ties—skinny ties that are laughably out of fashion these days.

When Congress passed the bill making Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, Marvel chose not to observe that day. I pulled out my checkbook and wrote Adam a check for his salary for the day, and we closed the Spider-Man office—Adam drawing a defiant Spider-Man “black power” fist (in black symbiote costume, of course) and adhering it to our window.

The one time I ever borrowed money from Mark Bright was to loan it to Adam so he could take Golda—who later became his wife—out on a date. Golda, my wife’s best friend, was a Haitian American who, once they were married, was regularly harassed at department stores for presenting an Amex card belonging to “Golda Blaustein.” This is stuff you just can’t make up.

I bought one of the first Apple Macintosh computers, an odd little thing that came with something called a “mouse.” Adam and I stared at it for about an hour, wondering how on earth to work the thing. I knew MS-DOS fairly well, but had never seen a GUI and certainly had never seen a mouse. Reading the instructions, which said “point at an element on screen using the mouse,” I picked the mouse up, placed it flat against the screen. The thing didn’t work, and I grew frustrated, handing the manual to Adam with the mandate: figure out how this thing works. Which he did. And later taught me hw to use it.

We were, it seemed, loathed by other editors. Mainly because Adam really wasn’t a guy who took crap off people. I didn’t take much crap, either, but I’m pretty sure I took more crap than Adam did. Some people didn’t like him because they didn’t like me and couldn’t woo him over to their clique. Some didn’t like him because not only was he not in the clique but he thought cliques were stupid and said so.

Many of the editors called our office, “the Robo-Office” because I bought an answering machine and hooked it up in there (this was pre-voicemail). We were openly scoffed at in editorial meetings for needing “a computer and an answering machine”—two things no working editor today could conceive of being without.

Adam once made Peter David jot down scenes from his comic book plot on flash cards. Over lunch, Peter ran through the plot, with Adam routinely plucking out “Peter Scenes”—usually moments of brilliance ruined by Peter either not trusting the readers to get it or congratulating himself on his brilliance—out of the deck and tossing them on the floor. By coffee and desert, Peter had a leaner stack, “There ya go, Go write that!” We both loved Peter. We both thought Peter was brilliant, and felt awful about the manhandling we, well, really, I, had to do Because The Boss Said So.

He had great hair. “So, let me get this straight,” I said to him, “you... wash it, then let it dry.” That’s all he ever did to it. Back in those days I had Morris Day hair, meticulously layered and time-consuming to maintain. This guy rolls out of bed, washes it in the shower and heads to work with it wet.

We mainlined coffee. We played jazz cassettes on a high-end stereo—not a boom box—in the office, next to a chaise lounge, beach ball and palm tree. The Spider-Man office was the coolest editor office in the joint, which also tended to invite ridiculous criticism from the other editors. But, if the joint was cool, Adam was a huge part of that. He was the sharpest, hippest, cigarettes-and-coffee guy you’d ever meet, which geeks like me tended to find threatening. A gifted mimic, he’d have me in stitches, at times entertaining the freelancers who routinely dropped anchor in the Spider-Office.

We moved apart in later years, which I’ll take the blame for. After my divorce, my reclusive tendencies took firm hold as I drifted out toward Pennsylvania and ultimately Colorado and out of comics altogether, losing track of a lot of friends along the way. I’m deeply saddened I could not be there for Maddie toward the end, but I have great expectation and hope for Maddie to be, finally, at peace, enraptured in love.


May he rest in peace.


That's a truly touching story there. And I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, Priest. I think everyone has lost touch with friends, but no matter how much time passes when you lose them in a final sense, it still hurts.

I hope that Maddie is at peace now. She sounds like she was a great person when she was called Adam.

From what little I know, she kept on being great.

First her, then Majel Barrett. It was not a good day, was it?


I miss Adam. I guess I miss Maddy too, even though I never got to know her. I suspect she was always in there, waiting to emerge. I'm sure all the intelligent and biting and sardonic qualities stayed in his/her transfer.

Adam would always be upset with me when I wore black on black, because I never successfully wore the exact shades of black (from shirt to pants). He would scold me because it was so incredibly unfashionable. He acted like my lack of fashion sensibilities were the most egregious offense to society, then he would pat me on the back and say something nice and encouraging and then hilariously funny, and then send me on my way.

Adam held court one day in the Marvel Bullpen, pointing out that many of Tom DeFalco's comics stories were based upon standard Scooby Doo plots. Things got even more hilarious when he produced evidence of such, and read it out loud to everyone. You could tell he was a true performer, and he held a crowd very strongly.

Adam was gracious to those who were likewise, argumentative to those who gave him shit or simply loved debate. Smart as a whip, and incredibly talented.

Great voice, too. He should have gotten paid for that fun voice of his. Oh wait, he did. I'll always smile now whenever I hear Meowth on the Pokemon cartoons, knowing that's Maddie having fun.

I was told by [I won't give his name] that Adam had become Maddy, in the way you tell someone that someone had become the most disgusting terrible creature that even God would reject, obviously for having been brave enough to pursue his/her true self. This [person]'s bile was meant to make me wince at the notion of this - I won't repeat the words used - person's depravity for having done this to him/herself, and all that he/she represented in the world.

But I'm happy to say all I could do was respond (after my initial surprise at the news) to say that Adam had always been one of the best people I had ever known or worked for, and that [he] could not ever convince me that the core of who and what Maddy was, was anything but that of a wonderful person I was happy to have had time to know, even for a short time. [He] scowled when I said I was happy Maddy had pursued her happiness, in whatever way she chose to.

I knew Maddie was in there long before Adam became Addie became Maddie. It was Adam's private business, shared with me years before he chose to do something abut it. It was through Adam that I first became aware of such a thing as "transgendered" persons, a condition Adam kept to himself for a very long time. His subsequent bravery in making a very personal issue public, in an industry whose aggregate maturity level is about that of a grade-school playground, was simply amazing, a rare quality in any human being.

Matt Adler:

That's tragic. The medical process transgendered people undergo can be very risky. Hopefully science will find a way to ensure that people are born in their "right body", so they don't have to go through this.

My sympathies on the loss of your friend, Priest. Adam/Maddie sounds like a person I would like to have had as a friend. I can only hope that when I pass on I'll have at least one friend who understood who I really was at my core and be articulate enough to express it to the world as you've done here.



Thanks for sharing...

Thank you for sharing, Priest. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Wow, what a moving tribute. Thank you for sharing this, Priest. I hope we can hear more from you in the near future.

Wow, what a moving tribute. Thank you for sharing this, Priest. I hope we can hear more from you in the near future.


According To Me

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