When I was in junior high I would go with my mom to the grocery store, the purpose of which for me was to browse at the magazines. Hot Rod, Mad, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone were my windows to a world wider than the impoverished domain of my parents’ house in Pomona, CA, where my dad was a foreman at a local factory and my mom was a housewife.
We never traveled, went to the movies or even visited family, not very often. Man, we didn’t even have a color TV, just some old 19” black and white job. Still, we always had a roof over our heads and food, however meager, on the table.
Since I was an only child, my parents could devote what few resources they had to providing me a decent home. Nonetheless, because I was a rather precocious child, as I entered the threshold of my teens, I inevitably became aware of two things concurrently. First, I learned that there was a more exciting world of faraway places, where people made music, art, movies and literature. Second, I sensed my own changing mind and body, complete with an interest in and a yearning for what is now archaically called “the opposite sex.”
As for the magazines that I perused at my mom’s favorite grocery store, while much of what I looked at satisfied my thirst for glamorous and exciting images of rock stars, athletes and movie icons, eventually my explorations into print media ventured into more forbidden territory. Of particular interest were the pages of True Detective, True Crime and Real Detective. The beauty of these magazines was that they simultaneously satiated my appetite for sex and violence.
While ostensibly consuming stories about gangland hits, serial killers and jealous lovers gone homicidal, when I turned to the back pages my eyes widened at the low budget ads for XXX Rated fucking on 8mm film! If only I could purchase these things, not to mention a film projector. Wonder where you get one of those? Feeling the temptation of the flesh, I leered at these nameless women whose sultry looks mesmerized my inexperienced mind as I attempted to imagine what they looked like without those black bars covering their otherwise exposed breasts.
None of the girls and women who populated my world as a junior high school student looked anything like the ones represented in the pulp pages I held in my hands. But what did I know about anything? I had scarcely even touched a girl before. My so-called sexual awareness was nurtured by the soft-core porn that was , for better or worse, a normal part of American consumer society.
Speaking of which, at the top of the magazine rack was the most forbidden fruit of them all, Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. For a thirteen year old boy living in an era when “internet porn” wasn’t even on the horizon, the allure of these publications for “gentlemen,” 18 years and older, was almost maddening.
I didn’t have an older brother, nor did I know any older males who kept issues of these coveted magazines laying around. I had an uncle in Phoenix who, according to some of my male cousins, supposedly kept a copy of Penthouse underneath his bathroom floor mat. But a lot good that was doing me here, in my sexually frustrated pubescent existence. Obviously, I needed a plan. Detective magazines were no longer enough.
One of the advantages of the Stater Brothers market where I set my sites is the placement of the magazine rack. Unlike Alpha Beta, which kept its magazines in the main aisles (and its men’s magazines up at the registers), Stater Brothers displayed everything on this large multi-tiered rack at the front of the store, next to the carpet-cleaner rentals. All I had to do was snag one and make a beeline out the automated doors to my mom’s car.
Fortunately, as I plotted my next trip to the market with my mom, the weather had been rather cool, at least for southern California. Cool enough for my jean jacket, which I wore as my mom drove us in her ’71 Ford Falcon the two miles to do her weekly grocery shopping. The plan was simple, go about my usual browsing, during which I’d casually reach for this month’s playboy, hide it under my jacket, then go wait for my mom in the car. Brilliant!
Since grocery day was typically Saturday, after my dad got paid, the market was always bustling with shoppers. Every register had a long line of customers with shopping carts loaded to overflowing. As I scoped out the scene, everyone was too busy to pay attention to me.
Despite all of the “disadvantages” I enumerated earlier, one thing I definitely possessed regardless of my background was a sense of right and wrong. I could feel the adrenaline pumping as I prepared for the right moment to reach for the magazine I wanted. Eventually, I made my move.
As I held the Playboy in my hands, I waited a moment to see if any of the lady cashiers would yell at me to “put that back!” But nothing happened. Only the constant churning of the cash registers, mixed in with the chatter of shoppers, cashiers and bag boys. I then pressed the magazine against my chest, then slid it under my jacket, turned and left the store.
As I passed through the double doors exiting into the parking lot I walked stiffly and anxiously toward the passenger side of my mom’s Falcon. I thought that as soon as I’m sitting in that vehicle I’d be home free! Feeling myself farther and farther away from the site of my daring crime I got to my mom’s car, grabbed the door handle and, what? The door was locked! “When did she start locking her car?”
Once upon a time in California, hardly anyone locked their car doors, including my mom. However, a PSA had started running on TV for the past several weeks, which stated “Lock It Or Lose It!” Apparently, Californians were seeing a problem with car thieves and such.
In the tense moment I stood helplessly next to my mom’s car, I knew I couldn’t go back in the store. So, I tried to quickly think of what to tell my mom when she came out the market, pushing her cart, only to see me standing by her locked car, looking like an idiot.
“Hey guy, you gotta come back in the store.”
A look of “huh?” entered my face as I turned around at the unexpected voice.
“I saw you take that magazine.”
It was one of the bag boys.
“For reals?” I thought. “This wasn’t suppose to happen.”
I don’t remember saying anything to the young guy wearing the Stater Borthers apron who led me back through those double doors. However, I do remember seeing my mom standing in line as I reentered the premises.
“Oh, David! Why did you do that for?” my mom said full of anger and embarrassment.
By this point the store manager was on the scene, where he met me and the bag boy. At which point, he led me into the back room, through another set of double doors, which opened manually and were restricted to employees.
What I remember mostly is that I still had the Playboy tucked under my jacket when the manager asked to see what I’d taken. When he asked why I did it, my answer was a straightforward “because there’s no way you’re gonna sell this to me.” Other than that, I recall the manager taking down some background info, such as my name and address. All the while, my mom stood there with the same angry and mortified expression on her face she had standing in the checkout line. Also, there was a young girl, older than me, but still in her teens. Another store employee, judging by the attire. She never said a thing, just kept staring at me with a look of disappointment.
In the end, my master plan didn’t get me the magazine I wanted, not even close. All I got was the dubious pleasure of having to tell my dad what I’d done. However, as much of a temper as he had, I was surprised that he didn’t lose it. Instead, he came to talk to me “man-to-man” in my room, where he made sure I understood that not only was it wrong to steal, but also to publicly humiliate my mother like that. I felt ashamed. Between that and not getting my allowance for a couple of weeks pretty much made me think twice about trying that again anytime soon.
As for my desire to see an adult magazine, at school I happened to have a friend, Rodney, who hooked me up. He had an older brother who kept a stash of these things. When I asked if I could get one, he said, “Sure.” All I had to do was pay $2 and he would bring me the goods. However, since we were both eighth graders, this transaction obviously couldn’t take place on campus. The arrangement, then, was for me to give him the money and the next day he would hide a magazine underneath this giant, half-dead oak tree that was in the middle of a vacant lot that we both had to go through on our way to school. As promised, the magazine was there at the end of the day, which I snuck into my room and hid in my chest-of-drawers, where my thirteen-year-old mind was sure that my mom would never find it.