Say what you will about Hugh Hefner — and people are saying lots of things today, not all of them printable — but I grew up reading Playboy. And I loved it.
Back in the ’60s, my father subscribed to the girlie mag, much to my mother’s chagrin. It never joined the Looks and Lifes that graced our coffee table, but I always knew where to find the latest issue: in my dad’s nightstand drawer.
By age 12 or so, I’d sneak a look at the latest Playboy whenever I could, replacing it at precisely the angle I found it in to keep my secret safe. Baby-sitting for my little brother provided the perfect opportunity to catch up on what I was missing.
Back then, I was starved for information — any information — about sex. My mother, who was happy to discuss just about anything else, clammed up on the subject. Ironically, she was a sixth-grade teacher whose syllabus demanded that she address, at least briefly, sex ed. This she managed to shift it into “health and hygiene.”
Our in-home discussion basically began and ended with her bringing me a box of Tampax and shakily unfolding the instructions. “Let me know if you have any questions!” she cried, fleeing the room.
But Playboy! Those women! I wouldn’t have minded looking like Brandi, Mandi, Candy or Tiffany one day, minus the staple in their navels. I’d seen the nudes my artist uncle painted, but the Bunnies were fairy-tale women: perfectly coiffed and uniformly tan. I enjoyed looking at their pictures as I did any work of art.
Better than the photos were the words: stories by Shel Silverstein, Bruce Jay Friedman and my idol, Ray Bradbury. Apparently, some people really did buy Playboy for the fiction, although my dad probably wasn’t one of them. But he loved the jokes, which I overheard him tell at parties. I started memorizing some myself, the ones whose punchlines I understood, making me one of the sixth grade’s better raconteurs.
And then there was the Playboy Club, which even my mother enjoyed. It was on East 59th Street, and you needed to have a little key to prove your membership. Decades before “Mad Men,” my parents were living Hef’s (admittedly sexist) dream: Over steak and shrimp cocktail, served by women in ridiculously sexy attire, they were no longer a sixth-grade teacher and camera salesman, but two sophisticates out on the town.
Perhaps the biggest boost Playboy gave my family was an upper hand in the real-estate market. My parents, who’d just closed on their…