My Front Pages
The other day I was at one of those News Center stores. If you are not familiar with this chain, each store is about 75 percent filled up with Hallmark crapola and the likegreeting cards, cute little figurines, fuzzy little stuffed animals, calendars with pictures of bears and fire trucks on 'em. The rest is basically one gigantor magazine rack, stretching back into the bowels of the News Center. I never walk into a News Center for any specific reason other than to huff all the vapors from the ink on all those shiny magazines and look over all the slick publications and try to figure out how a place like this stays in business peddling Scale Aviation Modeller International, Birds USA, Veggie Life, Catfish Insider, Billiards Digest, Trailer Boats (which proudly proclaims itself America's only trailer boating magazine), Turkey Hunting Strategies, and Brill's Content. I always feel kinda bad when I see a copy of Radio Control Car Action on the stand. Please, somebody, buy it so it doesn't have to go to magazine hell.
I don't paw through the pages of the magazines like a lot of the cheapskates who visit do. I'm a browser, a book-by-its-cover judger. Like some kind of great idiot bird, if I see a glittery, brightly colored cover, I snatch it and fly away to the cash register. Awk! Pretty! Me buy! Rawwk! Flapflapflapflap-ka-ching!. I don't care if it's Startling Detective or Bronze Thrills, I'm on it.
Of course, there's porno at the News Centers, usually at the part of the rack closest to the front. At the store I frequent, the arrangement is (from the front) porno mags; nonporno (but usually with some greased-up half-nekkid starlet or sexpot on the cover so it looks like a porno mag) men's mags like Details, or Gear; then legit magazine mags like Time, Scientific American, and the Greatest and Most Important Magazine Ever Made, TV Guide, now available in the giant-sized "Ultimate Cable" format. Then come women's mags like Working Woman, New Woman, Country Woman, Complete Woman, and Vogue. From there it degenerates into a blur of crap like Cigar Aficionado, Spin, Roto News Fantasy Baseball, Walking, Thrasher, Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness, Rod & Custom, Low Rider, Spot & Circle Puzzles, True Police Cases, Teen, Teen People, Teen Prom, and Teen Style. And then all the way in the back it's comic books.
But back up front to the porno: I betcha less than 1/20 of the total rack space is devoted to dirty magazines, but 99.9 percent of the men in the store are always clustered in front of it. I feel weird just standing in front of the porno mags long enough to look at the covers, let alone standing there like these guys do, carefully flipping through the pages of Taboo, D Cup, Leg Action, Black Tail, Perfect 10, and Swank with their backs to the "I Wuv You This Much" figurines.
Anyway, I spot a copy of National Lampoon, which used to be, at least arguably, the nation's preeminent humor magazine before all the writers left for better-paying jobs, and once in a while somebody tries to start the old 'poon back up, and it sucks, but I always fall for it and grab a copy. This magazine has been stocked on the bottom shelf of the very busy porno section right next to the latest edition of Asian Beauties, most likely a snap decision made by someone who has to stock thousands of these magazines a month and scanned the "Exclusive: Girls of the Correspondence Schools!" and "True Sex Facts" lines on the cover without connecting it with attempted humor.
So I start to hunch down low and reach for a copy, and out of the corner of my eye I can see that there's a guy solidly positioned in kind of a baseball-catcher squat, intently scrutinizing the pages of Asian Beauties. Since I already feel weird enough in this too-many-porno-piggies-for-not-enough-teats environment, I just reach past him for my magazine, thereupon invading his personal space with my outstretched arm. I don't want to talk or establish eye contact with somebody who's looking at nekkid Asian beauties in gynecological poses, dig? So I don't say "Excuse me" or "Howyadoin'?" or even "Hey, those are some nice Asian beauties you are looking at. Excuse me while I reach for my nonpornographic magazine that has been unjustly imprisoned in the gulag of smut in which you willingly browse, which is OK by me, this is America and everything, but I feel oogie having to acknowledge your presence along with all these other guys who are leafing through all these porno mags because it's like I'm part of your horn-dog activity. And now I can see out of the corner of my eye that you are glaring at me because I have disrespected your personal space, but I am going to pretend like I don't see you glaring because now I think maybe all of your pent-up Asian Beauties energy is going to be released in anger because of space invasion, but I am going to withdraw my arm with my copy of National Lampoon." Which, of course, turned out to be suckier than ever.
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Baltimore, MD 21201