Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dead Man Walking

circa 1957-58
I really like the modernist design of these 1950s magazines. But the design wasn’t what interested me that fateful day in the summer of 1963. It was Cup Cake Cassidy... and maybe a few others with names obviously not from my neighborhood.

I remember, as a boy of about 13 in Winston-Salem, NC, playing in the basement of my buddy Donnie’s home one afternoon. My friend had just left me alone to go back outside and he left through the basement walk out exit to the backyard. I stayed back because I was mystified by all the cool old stuff on the shelves. (was this the start of something, doctor?) Oil cans with skinny spouts. Jars with nails and screws. Tools of all kinds. Old magazines, closets to peer into, whatnots, old tool catalogs... this place was great!

And then it happened. There, two issues deep under Popular Mechanics, I saw them. The mother lode of my pre-pubescent dreams. Magazines similar to the ones you see above. There were a lot of them, maybe 10 or 12. I felt this adrenaline rush and my heart started pounding. I looked around. Though I didn’t know it at the time, natural, normal boy curiosity was at work here, and I knew that I had discovered the Klondike of scantily clad women. No one was around— and I had only seconds to make the biggest decision of my life. I could walk away—pretend I never saw them, go to church on Sunday and purge my mind of them. Or, I could grab them—stuff one or two of them in my shirt (he’ll never miss one or two, I thought!!), and try to make it past Donnie’s parents who were just outside the ONLY exit at their family BBQ.

Of course, I made the right decision—I took them ALL.

With my heart absolutely POUNDING through my chest, my face ashen white and eyes probably as wide as saucers, I began jamming the magazines under my shirt and behind my belt until I couldn’t get another one in. I compare it now to that horrible scene in Midnight Express, with the character Billy Hayes (played by Brad Davis) trying to make it through airport customs at the Turkish airport with bags of hashish strapped to his chest. Not only were the kid’s parents just outside, but so were other adults, sitting and yapping and drinking their beer and smoking their cigs. I would have to walk out of the basement door, casually walk THROUGH them all (maybe I should whistle?), LOOK NORMAL, make it to the gate, OPEN the gate, CLO-SE the gate, W A L K down the driveway, turn the corner and still, my house was 2 houses away. This was tantamount to a prison break. A rifle shot from the guard tower could still bring me down. Was I nuts??

I was a gutsy kid, but THIS?? The horror! If I got busted—not only would my parents know I was a pervert, but the entire neighborhood would know. Even worse... my twin sister, who was pure and sweet with straight A’s in school, would know that I had evil thoughts. She wasn’t interested in this stuff, what would she think if I got caught? For gawd’s sake, the lingerie section of the Sear’s catalog just wasn’t working for me anymore.

Here I was getting ready to be a convicted felon. I calculated there was a 50-50 chance I would not make it. So, I started on the longest walk of my heretofore uninteresting, short life. The green mile. This was dead man walking. Each step I took felt as if I had cinder blocks on my feet. I was SO obvious. This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy! My chest was so... square. I looked like Frankenstein! OK, fine! I WAS a monster! Not only was I a thief but I was sick and demented. Maybe I needed to be put away!

As I slugged through the gauntlet of adults their conversations seemed garbled, all of it was in S L O W - M O T I O N. Their voices were like a Jimmy Dean song played backwards and slowed down to 33-1/3 rpm. Wait??!! Did they suddenly quit talking? Was Donnie’s father looking at ME? He IS! OMG, No! My life is OVER! A thousand things raced through my head. Should I run—make a break for it? Maybe I should I turn right around on my heels, walk back inside and return them? Or, maybe I should try something totally WEIRD and unexpected, like fall on the ground and start crying and eating handfuls of grass... then they would think I was REALLY mentally sick and have pity on me. Yes! That’s it! No wait! These magazines were HIS after all, what could HE do? He is just as SICK as me... NO, he is SICKER! He’s the ADULT! The world will expose HIM as well. My mind was in overdrive. Suddenly I was before the juvenile judge—in shackles. But I didn’t know they were bad magazines, your honor! Whaaa-aat? REFORM SCHOOL?? Please your honor, I don’t belong here! Mom! Help-p!!

Well, to make a long story short, I made it through the gauntlet of adults, was somehow able to open and close the gate successfully and slowly walked down the driveway from hell to... freedom! With each step I felt the cinder blocks releasing and the 100 lb. sack of sand falling from my shoulders. I did it! I pulled off the caper of the century. I was going to be a freakin’ hero to my friends. I was in possession of something more valuable to my buddies than... Kryptonite or maybe even a Mickey Mantle rookie card. Come to think of it— I think my older brother’s friend Tommy Hester traded me a Roger Maris and a Mickey Mantle card for just one of my 1958 mint issues of Black Nylons Magazine. Now I had something to work with, my friends... trading material—not to mention my own private stash of garter-belted women with great names like Cupcake.

It was to become one of the best summers of my boyhood life.

To this day, whenever I happen upon one of these rather innocent 1950s men’s magazines at a flea market, I am reminded of that fateful summer afternoon in 1962, when I risked life and limb as I knew it then and made that long and intentional walk from innocence.

The management asks that if anyone is offended by the images above (I know, I know!) I will remove them immediately and replace with the same year of Sear’s catalog pages. Then, you’ll understand.


Linda Davick said...

Thanks for the wonderful story!

South City Shiner said...

I LOVE how Nightclub Exotic is "an impressive study in photography" !!! HA!!!! seriously awesome

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