September marked the passing of a cultural icon. Love him, or despise him, Hugh Hefner almost single handedly changed American society…and the lives of many adolescent boys! His passing sparked the memory of my first encounter with his magazine.
I grew up in a small town. It was the 1960’s. Watch a rerun of “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and you get a pretty good idea of life in the 60’s in small town USA. Innocent. Simple.
I don’t think those pre-teen years could have been more stereotypical. My siblings and I walked to school and back every day. At school, I had a close group of friends. We’d been together since Kindergarten. One of the most vivid memories is of my best friend, Jeff and I bent over a transistor radio during recess as the Tigers won the ‘68 World Series, the Tigers themselves could not have been more excited as we celebrated by raising our arms above our heads, and racing across the playground, screaming with joy at the top of our lungs! Most of the memories have faded over the years, but the names and faces have not.
Every day after school, I delivered papers. All the paperboys (and girls) would gather at the newspaper office. We would spend a half hour or so folding our papers before loading them on our bikes and heading out to various parts of town. My route was several blocks south of our house. A lot of my friends lived along my path. I would buzz down the street on my bright yellow Stingray bike tossing papers toward front doors.
Baseball pretty much was IT. Yeah, there was football and basketball, but those were to merely pass the time until baseball. I played Little League baseball. My dad was usually my coach. However, most of our playing was sandlot ball…or water tower ball as we call it now. There was a small grassy area next to one of the town’s water towers. We spent days cleaning it up, hauling away trash (thanks to one of the dads for driving the pickup), and marking base paths. We spent hours and hours playing ball. Not enough kids to have teams?…home run derby was the game of choice.
Other than baseball, we spent the majority of the rest of the time playing some variation of “good guys/bad guys”. This could be Batman and Robin against the evil villains, Green Hornet and Kato, cops and robbers like Adam-12, or Combat. Our neighborhood was our “battlefield”. Our block was mostly residential. It was cut into four sections by two intersecting alleys. In the northwest quadrant was our house and the church where my dad preached. The northeast and southeast were all houses. The southwest quadrant, had an small apartment building, a Citgo gas station, a small, single story office building, and an insurance company. This quadrant was further dissected by a couple of “shortcuts” between the buildings. GREAT hiding places for bad guys and good guys alike! In fact our “Batcave” sat at the intersection of these shortcuts in a small outbuilding that held, of all things, the trash dumpsters for the office building.
It was during one of these neighborhood adventures that Roddy, one of the younger kids from down the street, and I found ourselves in need of a hideout. Not being incredibly creative, we chose the outbuilding. Inside, were two large cardboard boxes about the size of an oven. After checking to be sure they weren’t filled with trash that was “too disgusting”, we jumped in to hide. Within seconds, Roddy exclaimed, “Jeff, look at this!” In his hands was pristine issue of…PLAYBOY! Me, being older and wiser, after all, I was 10 and Roddy was just 7, I snagged the magazine from his hands. Within moments, we were staring at the Centerfold of Miss July 1968!
“Roddy,” I asked incredulously, “where did you find this?”
“Right here! Look, here is another one!”
Sure enough. We had discovered the motherload! The oven box was filled about a third full of dozens and dozens of the magazine! For a young kid who had just seen his first Playbook only seconds ago, this was a discovery of a lifetime! Holy Airbrush, Batman, this was an incredible find!
About that time my younger brother, Joel and his friend, Dale (also from down the street), showed up. For about the next 20 minutes, we dug through the magazines, each one of us in turn holding up another beauty! “Hey, look at her, she’s tough!” (For some reason “tough” was slang for “hot”) Trust me, we were not reading the articles!
Soon it dawned on us that we could not leave our goldmine where it was…we had to move it…but to where. Leaving Roddy to stand guard, the three of us began to scour the neighborhood for a good hiding place. Down the alley just past our house was a row of garages. A friend of my parents owned them and he used them to store antiques for his business. Mr. Carson rarely ventured into those garages. We tried the first door, locked. We tried the second door, locked. We got to the fifth door and the door opened. We lifted the door about two feet and peered inside. It was dark and musty…a perfect place! Our treasure would be safe here until we found a more permanent location.
We spent the next hour carefully moving armload after armload. We had to use all our skill and cunning to avoid discovery. We are on a mission! All those years of playing Good Guys/Bad Guys was really paying off. We took our last load, but before we closed the door, I snagged one of the magazines to hide in a hollow branch of the tree in the back yard. One can never be too careful.
As dinner time approached and we all needed to head home, we took the most solemn oath of all…the pinky swear…we would not breathe a word about our historic discovery. We planned to meet the next day to find a more suitable hiding place.
The next day we met behind our garage as planned. Before we discussed suitable hiding places, we went to gaze at our glorious find. We raised the door on the fifth garage…no magazines. Zippo…zero…zilch…thinking we miscounted the doors, we tried to open the other garages. All of the were locked except the fifth and seventh. No magazines. We were stunned. We’d been robbed! Who were we going to tell? I remembered the lone magazine stuffed in the tree branch. Quickly we ran to the yard and scaled the tree. I reached into the hollow branch…NOTHING. That one was gone as well!
How could this have happened? It didn’t seem possible that Mr. Carson had discovered them, especially since the one in the tree was missing as well. I smelled a rat! Someone had broken our sacred vow! Roddy had no siblings and his mom was a single mom (and honestly, we all thought she should be a centerfold!). I couldn’t imagine even if Roddy had told her that she would have pilfered our contraband, no, she would have called my parents.
I began to interrogate my brother. Had he told our older siblings? He swore not. Besides, I’d been with him all night after all, we did share a room. That left Dale. Dale, who had two older brothers. Dale, who had remained suspiciously quiet after the robbery had been discovered. Dale, who had three sets of eyes now trained on him. Of course, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. After intense interrogation, he finally caved. He had told one of his brothers, but the brother had promised not to tell, he pleaded.
About that time my older brother came walking out of the house. “What’s the matter? Missing something?” The plot thickened! It seems Dale’s older brother had told my brother and sister. They had all had a good laugh as Dale’s brother told his story of stealing our cache of magazines. Not much we could do about it. We couldn’t tell on him. We certainly couldn’t retake our treasure using force, he could whip us all! We could do nothing but accept the fate!
It would be a long time before I found myself in possession of another one of Mr. Hefner’s magazines. Ten-year old preacher’s kids just don’t have many opportunities like the one that was ripped from our grasp! The sixties were drawing to a close. The innocence of those days is long past. I can’t help but wonder, if Hugh Hefner was launching a business today, what societal norm would he help to change?