What Sort of Man Reads Playboy

Back in the late 60s, somebody gave my father a birthday present of a jigsaw puzzle. It was a Playboy centerfold of a playmate wearing nothing but argyle socks, and it was packaged in a little canister that he put up on a shelf above his suits and ties. If you were a boy of that era and you wanted to see a girl with her clothes off, and I’ll confess that I was one of those boys, you had to do things like make sure everybody was gone, take a stepladder into your dad’s closet, and give yourself enough time to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. Parts of one, anyway.

You couldn’t just buy your own copy of Playboy (I found out later), because they were sold over at a separate stand that was presided over by a gimlet-eyed old coot who knew exactly what you were up to. You couldn’t even look at the cover, because the stack of copies was behind a wooden plinth with a bunny logo on it. Playboy belonged to Adult World, and it was separated very firmly from Kids’ World. You could peek through the fence sometimes, but it remained remote and tantalizing.

This was the very uptight, knees-together America that Hugh Hefner slowly pried open. Impossible now to recapture the guilty thrill of being a young boy looking at a Playboy centerfold. Not just the photo, but the fact that it was three times the size of the magazine, and if you were actually able to pull it out, you were making a statement. You weren’t just looking at pornography, you were holding a poster of it with both hands. No hiding it. Something about this act of assertion got into your blood, gave you a first taste of what it might be like to be that unimaginable thing: a man.

There’s a moment in the best James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), when George Lazenby is cracking a safe, and in this highly tense moment while he’s waiting for the decoder to finish working, he picks up a Playboy and glances at the centerfold. Just to be cool, you know. Sixties Bond was the Sort of Man Who Read Playboy, and I will risk branding myself as an old coot when I say we lost something when the Bond movies lost their blatant sexism. Yes, women had to endure the Male Gaze, but they were a lot wiser about it than you think. The blatancy of it looks faintly absurd now, but guess what? It was absurd then, too, but people had something back then called a sense of humor. Pussy Galore — that was a joke, son, and everybody was in on it. The joke kind of wore thin by the 70s, and nothing ages worse than a previous generation’s idea of what’s naughty, and of course for me like everyone else, the reality of becoming a man was nothing like the fantasy. Bond cried at the end of OHMSS, cradling the body of the strong, resourceful, beautiful woman he loved. That might have been a clue.

So yeah, we started reading it for the articles. And in fact the articles were often really fine: long, detailed, and informed by the publisher’s intelligence and taste, and Libertarian politics that now look leftist. Slowly and subtly things changed… life became serious and complicated and the forces of Puritanism that Hefner seemed to have vanquished just became meaner, more punitive, and more dangerous. I was reading Playboy on December 8, 1980, in the dim, cavernous basement of the department store where I sort-of worked the night shift. A young man by that point, I was having my own adventures, grimy though they may have been. I was drinking a beer and paging through an epic, exhaustive interview with John Lennon on the occasion of his first album in five years. I was halfway through when my friend Gary called to say Lennon had been shot. There were no cellphones then; he had to call the store and make them find me. The interview went from being a hopeful new beginning to a tragic remembrance right in the course of reading it; that long night of blood and sorrow turned out to be the overture to a decade of ugly new political realities. Culturally, psychologically, energetically, the 60s died that night. How fitting that I had a Playboy in my hands.

The President’s Guide to Being a Man

If you’re paying attention, the President is providing an object lesson in how to be a fine, upstanding, honorable man. Just watch what he does, and do the exact opposite. Call them Trump Tips:

  • Stay informed and be hungry for knowledge.
  • Work hard.
  • Think before you speak. Maybe don’t speak at all.
  • Let your reputation take care of itself.
  • Remember, you get what you give. Bullying and force will come back to bite you.
  • Be mindful about your diet and get regular exercise.
  • Watch very little TV. Never watch Fox News.
  • Value women for more than their ladyparts.
  • Pay your vendors in full, and on time.
  • Make sure people can rely on your word.
  • Cosmetics make you look like a fool.
  • Airing your grievances makes you sound like a fool.
  • Keep business and family separate.
  • If you plan on being successful, learn the difference between a reporter and a PR person.
  • Minimize your time on social media.
  • Never take on any role (father, boss, partner) unless you intend to totally fulfill its obligations.
  • The more bling, the less class.
  • Neither your adoring crowds nor your dick are as big as you wish they were. Deal with it.
  • Don’t be a racist.
  • Money isn’t everything.

 

Life After Irma

Some random thoughts on this first “real” morning for the past week in Central Florida, after Irma came through.

That was a trauma we went through here in the state of Florida. Knowing a huge storm was coming was like being forced to play Russian roulette. Like having a gun pointed at your head for a week. Sunday night, the last news I could get was that it had veered off track and was headed right for us. Then the internet went down. As a matter of fact, it seems to have come right over my house, but thankfully it had weakened enough that it didn’t flatten everything.

There’s a tendency after a traumatic event to push it away, to bury it in being busy (and now there’s a lot more to do, which makes that easier). The thought goes something like this: “well I didn’t die, I’m not even really hurt, so it must have been nothing.” But that’s the brain trying to heal so it can move on. I’m doing the opposite. I’m sitting with it. I’m honoring it by giving it some attention. I’m not denying that I feel roughed up, that my emotions are off-kilter. I’m moving back into my routine slowly and mindfully.

We drove around the immediate ten-mile area yesterday. If there’s such a thing as driving gingerly, that’s what we did. It was a gorgeous afternoon… nothing like a hurricane to make the air sparkle and shine. Storm damage generally got lighter as you traveled to the east. Not much damage in Sanford, the next town over, except for one street where an entire line of big trees was uprooted and lay fallen toward the south, like dominoes. A little micro tornado must have gone up the block. Those are the worst; I hate those little mofos.

This storm showed me that I’ve gotten complacent about the threat of hurricanes. I’m taking them more seriously now. Back when I lived in California I was totally prepared for a major earthquake, so it’s not like I don’t know how to do this. There’s a whole list of precautions and actions you can take. It’s not complicated. But I wasn’t ready for this, and I had to scramble, and it added to a feeling of powerlessness. I had a dream last night in which I was supposed to give a keynote speech at a dinner, and I had forgotten to print out my script and couldn’t access it online; the time of my talk kept coming closer and closer and I felt this dread of letting everyone down who was depending on me, this fear of total unpreparedness. Don’t need Freud to figure that one out.

I’m not specifically worried about the next storm, Jose. Right now that looks like it’s no threat to Florida. I’m not panicking about that one. But I do expect more big hurricanes will be coming through here more often. I’m not leaving Florida, in fact I’m planning to die here—of natural causes—so it’s necessary to start living differently. Be more on guard; have more contingency plans. If a micro tornado hits my house all bets are off, but I should be ready for a big, blustery old storm now and then.

Another random thought: for the past week, the furthest thing from my mind was Donald J. Trump and whether he might squeeze on a pair of jeans and come down to hand me and my neighbors some bottled water. The ins and outs of politics seemed very far away, and my concerns were exclusively local. I’m not reading the news in general. I know what I want to know, which is that the people I care about all came through this intact. The beauty of this post-traumatic moment is that we all know the same thing: with that gun pointed at our heads, we thought only of each other, and wished each other well. Something to ponder as we pick up the pieces.