By Anthony Brancaleone
For the young gentlemen & quaintrelles among us, it is nearly impossible to describe the influence Hugh Hefner and PLAYBOY magazine had on the lives of males between the years of 1953 through, at least, 1983.
Perhaps, even more importantly was the impact PLAYBOY had on young boys coming of age during that era.
Back in the day, the closest we ever came to experiencing the thrill of the female form was when our 3rd grade teacher leaned over our shoulder to review our work. Another instance might have been when someone like Farrah Fawcett or Wonder Woman graced the cover of TV Guide magazine (a small publication mailed to your house that provided the television schedule for that week).
That was it. There was nothing else.
Unless, of course, you had an older brother or friend who filled you in on such things. Or, you were fortunate enough to be in the position to overhear a conversation from a group of boys, who gathered quietly together to discuss a mysterious treasure of pictorial information that was hidden away in a secure location somewhere deep in the woods; as was the case with me.
I was sitting about three-quarters of the way in the back of the bus, just over the wheel well, in that seat that forces you to tightly scrunch your legs, but provides the added excitement of extra bounce whenever the Big Yellow rolled over curbs and potholes, when I overheard one of the kids in the cool seats say, “Boobs”.
While, I am sure I was familiar with the term, I was surprised to hear it mouthed in such a cavalier fashion, on public transport, no less, in the middle of the afternoon. I felt guilty, like an accomplice, but couldn’t help also feeling a bit intrigued. For the remainder of the ride, I sat still and dialed my ear in the proper direction.
From what I could gather, it seemed there was an adult periodical that provided mature men with tips on lifestyle and better living, quality articles and interviews on everything from the arts to civil rights, with features on beautiful women who, playfully, exposed their “Boobs”.
What a novel idea, I thought.
The kids, or Burnouts, as it were, continued to discuss this art form, using street vernacular of the day, and through it all I was able to ascertain the whereabouts of a recent issue that was stashed away within one of the rusted out frames of an automobile, which had been left to decay along one of the several dirt bike trails found in a thick part of the neighborhood woods just off the park.
What a coincidence, I thought, as I had plans on riding my bike through those very trails later that afternoon.
Unfortunately, the burnouts were coordinating a rendezvous in the wood to smoke cigarettes and broaden their knowledge of anatomy. Seeing as the last time I bumped into them I was beat up, with my apple stolen and chucked into the distance, I decided to wait for a moment that would prove more convenient for all parties concerned.
The following afternoon, I got off the bus, ran home, grabbed a Town Club, and made my way toward the woods. It was a hot afternoon and there were those various summer bugs that fly and crawl and communicate in intricate clicks that cut through the humidity of late summer.
I stood on the edge of the thicket and surveyed the number of dirt trails I had to choose from. While they all connected at some point inside the vast mounds of hardened dirt, trees, swampy bush, and mud ponds, which acted as a dumping ground for old cars, motor cycles, refrigerators, couches, and other material, used by neighborhood “gangs” to build secret hideouts, I decided it was best to not stroll blindly along, like a tourist, in order to prevent detection from area rivals.
Using the heavy brush as cover, I chose a trail that I knew well. It had many twists and turns, and contained several mounds, which rumor said were filled with either dead bodies or Volkswagen Beetles, ending in a thick cluster of trees and bush, which felt like a good position for just such a campaign.
Once I secured the area, I cracked my soda and peered through the brambles and branches out over the terrain. There were more rolling mounds of hardened dirt, scorched by the sun of an endless summer, downed trees, fallen logs, burned out cars scattered here and there, and stretches of green flora and fauna. I decided to climb the tree next to me to see if I could spot anyone else in the vicinity.
About ten feet up I stopped, but kept myself hidden by the leaves. I slowly panned the fields, horizontally, looking for movement and saw some squirrels, a jack rabbit, and a few bird of prey. Over by the mud pond, which laid in a vast valley of swamp like covering, and produced a rather pungent odor, I noticed another cluster of hardened mounds surrounded by an overgrowth of various vines and brambles, also with a tight cropping of trees.
Motionless, I stared intently on the target, paying attention to the periphery, of course, until I noticed the faintest element of smoke reaching out of the canopy, which I remembered had contained the burned out, weeded over, frame of a 1960s automobile. Listening closely, I was able to pick up on voices that carried over in the slow breeze. There was a few of them, along with what sounded like music from a jam box; Black Sabbath, I thought.
Repelling through the branches, I decided to move in for a closer look. I polished off my neon colored, pineapple soda, tossed it along a lost shopping cart laying on its side in the dirt, and ran and ducked and crawled and army crawled my way to a better vantage point. Once there, I was able to confirm that the primitive hideout was indeed occupied by not only the burnouts from the bus, but their older friends, as well; Sabbath’s ‘Sweet Leaf’ scoring the scene.
Damn it!, I thought. All for naught.
Or, was it?
While I had yet to capture my prize, the exercise provided quality intel regarding its probable location. Later in bed I decided that I would get up early in the morning and beat my competition to the punch. Burnouts, I surmised, were not early risers.
Saturday morning, I got up, put on my jeans and tee-shirt, grabbed some Pop Tarts, and then peddled my bike as fast as I could to the edge of the woods. All was quiet on the front.
I tore off down a trail, maneuvering up and down the mounds and over and under branches at full speed, going Evel Knieval more than a few times, until I halted at a rise. From my position it looked like the coast was clear. I pushed on as hard as I could before skidding through a 10 foot stop along the burnouts fort. I dropped my bike in the brush and ran inside the dense cover without giving any reasonable thought to my exit strategy should I meet with adversity.
Light pushed itself through the tightly knit leaves and branches of the canopy revealing the metal skeleton of a four door death machine; it’s engine rusting, tires slashed, doors missing, and trunk open. Inside the frame were bench seats, sticks, twigs, old shoes, beer cans, cigarette butts, and a rusted out dashboard. The remainder of the natural fort contained two weathered bucket seats from a different vehicle, a makeshift table, small fire pit, and some old boards of wood.
I took a moment to catch my breath.
Now, if I were hiding my most prized possession, where would it be?
Quickly, I rummaged through the trunk; nothing, but dried leaves, a couple dirty bottles, and a rusted tire jack. I checked the table and bucket seats. Nothing. I lifted the boards and found a dead possum underneath; maggots and other little insects devouring its body. And, then I noticed that the glove compartment of the car was closed and still intact.
I slid into the passenger seat and brushed the dust and cobwebs from the dash. A daddy long leg scurried away. I grabbed the handle to the compartment, turned it to the right, and heard it click. Slowly, I opened the small hatch and looked inside to find … black fingerless gloves (with metal studs), a zippo lighter, and a pipe.
Dejected, I exited the car and made my way out of the burnouts lair. I had to bend over to squeeze out of a hole in the tangled overgrowth and that’s when I saw it; a piece of what was then ephemeral but has since become a moment lodged in time.
Obscured beneath the dented lid of a trash can, camouflaged amongst the dried leaves, vines, and a few bricks, lay a weathered magazine with the picture of a nude woman on the cover; her nakedness hidden by what looked like three feet of blond hair.
She looked like sunshine; like honey dripping from a glass jar.
I moved toward her image and carefully removed the thick magazine from its place of hiding. It was damaged and worn, its pages stiff and bloated from the elements. It’s cover had faded, with edges that looked as if they had been burned. Yet, the woman on the cover still smiled. Almost, as if she were smiling at me. Smiling, I imagined, for finally being rescued from the debris.
At the top of the cover appeared the word PLAYBOY.
The woman was named Debra Jo and it seemed she was the “Playmate of the Year” (whatever that meant). Quite simply, she was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Upon further analysis, however, I was disappointed to discover that featured within the magazine was an “Inside Story” promising to expose the corruption in Washington.
Those bastards, I thought.
The pages were brittle, many of them stuck together, as I returned to sit in one of the bucket seats; the morning sun illuminating both print and imagery. As I flipped through my inaugural issue I came across cartoons that discussed sex, a really old guy named George Burns, Kojak, and a bunch of famous baseball players – Rod Carew, Thurman Munson, Pete Rose, and Tom Seaver.
What the hell were they doing in here?
But, then I came across decaying images of pretty women with their bottoms exposed. I had never seen a woman’s buttocks before and quickly made the decision that from now on it would be a priority.
I flipped through more fibrous pages, some faded, others clumped together, not knowing what I would find until I stumbled upon Debra Jo in various positions, wearing nothing but her long, golden hair. There, in waning color, were images of the thighs, butt, and boobs of a Goddess.
Look how the amber light dances across her skin.
Then, as I continued to carefully pry open the remainder of the magazine, a long piece of glossy paper, deteriorating from mold, unfolded from the center of the publication. I grabbed it with one hand and stretched it out. I had to rotate my hands from 12 and 6 to 9 and 3 in order to get the image of yet another Goddess, this one with dark hair and tan skin, kneeling on all fours, with her snow-white bottom pushed up toward the heavens, as she too looked me directly in the eye.
I stared at her a long while and was beginning to feel a bit unusual; the way I felt when the lifeguards at the pool rubbed suntan oil into their skin before they undid the strap on their bikini tops and then laid on their stomachs to tan. (In truth, I remember also thinking the model’s ankles were a bit large in proportion to the rest of her perfection, but decided it was the imperfection that made the art.)
I had no idea what to do with this discovery but felt compelled to do something …
In my hands was a gift from the Gods that held secrets my mind was only beginning to imagine. I had to steal this artifact away. It didn’t belong in this dump. It belonged somewhere it would be appreciated. But, then, in the distance, a trembling sound ripped through the thickets.
“I AM IRON MAN …”
What the fuck is that?
Then came the thunderous riffs of black destruction. Louder and louder they grew, as Sabbath and a gang of burnouts shuffled their boots and chains along the dirt trail in my direction.
Panicked, I froze.
But, the voice from The Prince of Darkness tore through my indecision and I knew I had to get out of Dodge. I took the PLAYBOY and, reluctantly, put it back in its hiding place; no way I was going to get caught red-handed.
The music was getting closer, and now I could make out their voices. They said Fuck and Shit and Faggot a lot and their laughter carried on the wind like hyenas. If they caught me in their lair there is no telling what they’d make me do. I spotted a small hole in the base of the fort, squeezed through, prickly burrs cutting my arms and sticking to my clothes, grabbed my bike and, bleeding, peddled as hard as I could all the way home.
You see, dear gentlemen (and ladies), how times have changed?
Today, there is no need to go to such lengths. Unfortunately, we have so much at our fingertips that it makes first discoveries almost meaningless. We can find anything we want, any fetish, any fancy, with a push of the button.
But, where is the mystery?
What comes without context leaves without consequence …
What Hugh Hefner provided through decades of PLAYBOY was an open conversation about sexuality and it’s place in society. In doing so, he framed the female form with reverence, and honored her as the centerpiece of an intelligent conversation that challenged the American male to elevate his cultural game, in an ongoing effort to unravel the enigma that is woman.
Thank you, Hef.
Note: For more on Hugh Hefner see American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story