There was a time in the late 1980s when my brother and I ordered a subscription to Playboy magazine through Ed McMahon's Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes. Each day after school we would race to beat our mother to the mailbox, hoping that Ed had made good on his promise of airbrushed breasts and only vaguely suggested nether regions. Playboy No. 1 arrived covered in a black plastic bag which felt an awful lot like latex. We scrambled up the back staircase of the house of our rearing and laid the Playboy on my brother's bed before tearing open the plastic and witnessing all manner of mammaries for the very first time. Sometimes, at confession, I would tell the priest about the many wonders of the Playboyswhere I hid them, how I loved them. The priests were never too alarmed, and rightly so. It was innocent. But the soul decays slowly, and my own has bled from a Promethean wound since that first glimpse of Miss November, 1987.
And now, it's that I can't stop reading Star magazine.
The shiny cover's brilliant luster calls out to me like a siren's song each evening as I make my way home. I call to my men to blindfold me, gag me, and tie me to the mast but, truth be told, I have no men. And so far as boats go, only a Boston Whaler presently dry-docked in Connecticut. So you see, I am helpless.
But I won't go down without a fight. The very highest angels of my nature plead with me as I pass among the periodicals.
"Read The Economist!" sings the ghost of my long-dead grandmother, who wanted only for me to marry a nice Catholic girl and attend Georgetown. "You will learn interesting things about developing nations. Later, you can regurgitate these things at cocktail parties and impress people."
Grandmother, forgive me! Not only for dating a WASP and going to Duke, but for ignoring you every time. I never read The Economist. You see, George Bush's second term may result in a full-on Middle Eastern war, but just recently Nick Lachey had an indiscretion with a stripper named Jessica James, and let me tell you, Chicken Little: the sky is falling! The Star headline says it all: "Jessica Simpson's Wild Night With 2 Naked Men! Is Her Marriage To Nick A Sham Now?"
Good god, I hope so.
I might even find out, but Star has laid such waste to my attention span that I probably won't. On the very first page, I lose myself in the brilliant, noisy, down-home decline of Britney Spears. With each Sonic shake, her features become more and more Appalachian. With each assaulted paparazzo, she seems more and more gawky. To think that I once had feelings for her! Now it seems that she has settled happily into married life with Kevin Federline.
Ah, Federline! What lurks beneath that cocky sneer? Does he have a plan? Is he going to steal her money? His surname seems in every way destined to become the preeminent verb of nuptial usury. I haven't the attention span to find out: three pages later, there is a high resolution picture of Natalie Portman in a dangerously thin Missoni bikini. Santa Maria!
By the time I am halfway through the magazine there is very little left of my frontal lobe. McMurphy at the end of Cuckoo's Nest is Louis Rukeyser compared to me. So it naturally follows that a large picture of Sarah Jessica Parker sweeping leaves inspires more fascination than anything in the Met. The editors of Star don't even bother to write an interesting caption because they simply don't need to.
"Sarah Jessica Sweeps Leaves!"
What a woman! What leaves! Deep down in the media-fallout bunker of my mind, a few surviving scraps of intelligence survive on condensed milk and canned beans. There is tapping on the bunker wall. Someone is sending me a message:
Leaves die, people die, all a great cycle. Who will remember Sarah Jessica Parker in a thousand years? Does anyone remember the names of the great tragic actors of ancient Greece? Even Ozymandias could use a good publicist these days. One million years will pass like a flash and the cockroaches will develop into sentient beings. Cockroach archaeologists will dig us up, clutching this magazine, and wonder how were so sedate as the world fell apart. They will speak in a clicking tongue...
But the thought is soon gone. Bonnie Fuller knew she might lose me at this point and has played her highest carda picture of Tara Reid's breast falling from her evening gown.
Tara Reid's Nipplegate!
There are strange scars about her areola. Star first suggests that the job was botched, butgod love themthey have consulted a plastic surgeon who advises that Ms. Reid has had a nipple lift in addition to her implants, and just needs a good year of rest and relaxation to heal. I hope that falling off of tables while dancing at Marquee qualifies.
But I love Tara Reid, who is, in her way, a national moral whipping-girl. We are all Hapsburgs compared to her.
I scope out the Reidbreast for a few moments before hurrying through the rest of Star. The subway is nearing Spring Street and time is short. Tony Danza has seemingly borrowed money from Angela Bauer to place an ad for his new show towards the end of the issue. He may have worked for years as an au pair, but he's smart enough to know full well that anyone who makes it this far inside of Star magazine will fall neatly his target audience. The subway breaks begin to grind. Not much time left.
All at once, I take in the remaning twenty pages. "Knifestyles of the Rich and Famous"! More schadenfreude about botched plastic surgery! The feature story about Jessica Simpson! I had forgotten all about it. Paris Hilton's ass tattoo! Wow.
The subway stops. I am spent. I fold Star magazine beneath my arm and walk up the stairs from Spring Street station like Persephone from the underworld on the first day of spring itself. It is all over now. The air is fresh. I am back among the living.
And what is this beneath my arm? Star magazine? Who reads this sort of thing? I like to think of myself as someone who reads The Economist, and has even been known to memorize little facts from it and to use these facts to impress other people who also memorize and repeat those facts. Someone must have planted this on me! It cannot be mine!
Disgusted, I toss Star magazine into the nearest trash can. Somewhere in the distance Bonnie Fuller laughs.
She knows that I'll come back. I always do.
Dana Vachon writes the weblog D-Nasty.