It was the summer of 1968 and I had just turned 12 years old. My three buds, Greg, Mike and Richie, and I constantly scrounged for a few nickels and dimes to spend at the corner store or at the new McDonald’s across 24th Street. We combed the fields near busy streets in search of returnable bottles worth two cents each, cut lawns for one dollar and washed the older kid’s cars for a quarter. We worked together as a team and split our proceeds right down the middle.
Greg’s latest money making scheme was to collect newspapers and take it to Goldman’s Scrap where he heard they paid 35¢ per 100 pounds. We pulled Richie’s Radio Flyer around our neighborhood, pounded on every door and begged anyone who answered for their old newspapers. Most people people felt obliged to surrender a small pile of papers stacked in their laundry room or basement.
One neighbor, Mrs. Emerson, beamed with delight and marched us to her garage. She flipped the single-car door up and pointed into the darkness.
“It’s all yours,” she said.
Once our eyes adjusted, the mother lode of newspapers revealed itself. Stacks and stacks of newspapers leaning against the back wall towered over our heads. It was abundantly clear with this windfall that we were financially set for the summer. No more two-cent returnable bottles for us. This was big time, baby. We could kick back and enjoy the good life. The Big Mac® sandwich was brand new that year and Mike decided he was going to eat two of them; at once. Crazy.
One of the newspaper towers was shorter and less yellow than the others. We began dismantling it and the entire column fell over like a lodge pole pine. The folded newspapers fell apart on the concrete floor and spilled their guts.
A Playboy magazine had been neatly tucked inside one of the newspapers. It would have remained hidden had we not been careless and caused the whole stack to tumble, but there it was, just laying on the floor. A woman on the cover wearing a bunny-shaped swimsuit stared up at us.
We looked out the window to the backyard. Mrs. Emerson wasn’t paying any attention to us; she was hanging laundry on the clothesline. Greg picked up the holy grail of adolescent reading material.
“Entertainment for men. August 1968. Holy shit. It’s brand new,” he whispered.
We crowded around Greg. He instinctively flipped to the center of the magazine and unfolded the centerfold like a seasoned pro. (He had older brothers.) Standing in a swimming pool was a naked woman. We could see her butt and the side of her boob. It was the most amazing sight I had ever seen in my life up to that point.
“She’s bare naked,” someone said.
“Yeah,” I said.
Our sudden silence must have aroused Mrs. Emerson’s suspicions, because within seconds she was standing at the garage door. Greg stuffed the Playboy back inside a newspaper and loaded it on the wagon.
“Pretty quiet in here. What’s going on?” she said.
I froze. Greg covered our tracks.
“A whole bunch of papers fell down, Mrs. Emerson, but we’ll pick them up,” Greg said.
She saw the mess on the floor and returned to her wet laundry. We spent the next hour carting newspapers across the street to Greg’s garage. Once all of the newspapers were in our possession, we searched for more hidden treasure, but there was none to be found. That one magazine was it, and it was in pristine mint condition.
Our new found past time created a new problem; where to hide our magazine? It had to be a convenient, safe and private area away from prying sibling and parental eyes. We considered many options including fruit cellars, bed mattresses, cedar chests and the car trunk of Richie’s father’s broken Chevy. In the end, we stashed the magazine in the rafters of Greg’s garage. The younger kids couldn’t climb the treacherous series of improvised steps leading to the garage attic, plus Greg’s mother was quite oblivious to our activities. With eight brothers and sisters, she was constantly cooking and cleaning.
We named our reading area “The Playboy Club.” We found out later that Hugh Hefner had already coined this term, but I’d like to point out that we came up with this name independently. There were no windows in the garage attic and the garage lights were actually under us. This meant we had to take flashlights to the Playboy Club. At first we tried to climb up to the rafters while grasping our flashlights, but we quickly learned that it was much safer to toss our flashlights up after the first club member had climbed up.
The August sun baked the black roof shingles of the garage and by noon our club was a scorcher. We didn’t care. We were looking at bare-naked women and they apparently came in all shapes and sizes. It was quite an education. I fell head-over-heels for Miss August, Gale Olson, a twenty-year-old who obviously liked to go skinny dipping. I thought she was neat.
After we had memorized every curve of every pair of bosoms, we started to branch out. We actually read the stories, jokes and advertisements. One of the self-promo pages asked, “What sort of man reads Playboy?” The question was answered with text that described all of us. He was a man of style. ‘Hey, we read Playboy. Therefore, we were boys of style.’ Hell yes we were. How cool.
Then an unspeakable crime happened. A page disappeared. And it was a page with pictures. We knew each and every page of that magazine by heart and now one of those pages was gone; stolen, actually. Even worse, the thief was one of us. Each one of us declared our innocence, but one of us was clearly lying. We accused one another with a vicious intensity usually reserved for our little brothers. The accusations turned into a fight in Greg’s backyard — and Greg’s mom broke it up.
She reminded us that our stacks of newspapers were still in her garage just waiting to be transported to Goldman’s for recycling. Once we had discovered Mr. Emerson’s Playboy magazine, we had lost all interest in turning in the papers for cold hard cash, but she had a point. She instructed us—demanded, actually—to load the papers into her station wagon.
Our stacks of newspapers required three trips to the recycling area at Goldman’s Scrap. Each car load weighed a little over 300 pounds for a grand total of 1,000 pounds. We did the math and estimated our total haul to be over $3.50 or 87¢ each. Not what we were expecting, but still a sweet deal. You have to remember that candy bars were only a dime back in 1968.
Then reality set in. The actual payout was 35¢ per ton. TON! And we had only turned in half that much. Our total haul was 17¢ or 4¢ each. Four lousy cents! Two bottles!
Greg’s mom saw the disappointment on our faces and drove us to the A & W for root beer. Gears change quickly in the life of a child. By the time we got back home, we were brothers again. We never figured out who stole the page, but it didn’t matter. Our time spent in the garage attic had been noticed by the big kids. We realized they would go up there sooner or later, so we ditched the Playboy rather than get caught with it. We turned in our Playboy Club Key Cards and returned to the simple life of just being kids again.