One day when I was about eight my father handed me a black, white and grey tube, printed on cheap paper one small step up from the crudest newsprint. This was at the dinner table, and he handed it across to me with a little smile. “I thought you might like this,” he said.
I unfurled the pages that had been curled into a tube, which turned out to be a decidedly non-glossy magazine, opened to a random page and began inspecting it. I was intrigued. “What is this?” I asked him, and he explained.
“I had to take it from a moron in one of my classes,” he said, “I told him to put it away, and, of course, being a moron, he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, and so, here you go.” He imitated the moron, who apparently could only communicate in a series of grunts and frowns. “It’s called MAD Magazine.”
Being at a still literal age I remember that I imagined the moron as an actual moron. I wondered how he could read the magazine, maybe it was the pictures that had drawn him to it, made it irresistible in a Social Studies class he had no prayer of understanding. There was no doubt the pictures were great, cartoons in various styles, all laid out like a delicious smorsgasbord for an eight year-old.
The moron had peeled the glossy cover off the MAD, probably in sheer joy over his new issue, so my first issue was just the naked contents of the MAD itself. I have nothing but fond memories of that first MAD magazine, of the magazine in general, of my father’s obvious respect for the “usual gang of idiots” who produced it every month. I soon became a huge fan of the irreverent humor mag.
There was one piece in the moron’s tubular issue that particularly blew my mind. It was called something like “if children designed their own Xmas toys” and it had a series of perfectly crude children’s drawings, with impossibly skewed perspective and naive, nature-defying angles. They had created exact replicas out of these drawings, which were photographed in beautifully lit 3-D, and presented next to the kids’ designs. It was mind-blowingly ingenious.
When my father saw how much I loved the magazine he offered to get me a year’s subscription as a Chanukah present. That sounded great to me, but it never happened. Boy’s Life, the scout magazine, arrived in the mail with my name on it for a while. I remember reading an article by Cardinal’s third-baseman Ken Boyer, I think, called “How to Handle the Hot Corner”. There was a great article by Bill Cosby called “High School Was A Load of Laughs” about how he learned to game the system by playing on the school’s varsity team and somehow qualifying for remedial gym. It involved wearing black knee socks and acting like a spastic, to get into a gym class where he could goof off and not do anything strenuous. This was presumably before he discovered an even bigger laugh: drug your young classmates before feeling them up and nobody is the wiser.
I never got a copy of MAD magazine in the mail. There was no subscription for me. Instead, every time MAD came on the newsstand my father bought a copy, which I’m fairly sure he read on the train home from work. He had a very subversive sense of humor and MAD played to that big time. My father would hand over a pristine copy of the latest MAD every month (he read it gently as could be, from the looks of it untouched by human hands). I’d say thanks, and read it cover to cover, folding the inside back cover to see each clever Mad Fold-in. This went on for maybe ten years.
I eventually sent a box of the years of MAD to a friend for his son. Hopefully, somewhere in these stacks here, is that original copy of the coverless magazine that the moron could not stop waving around in social studies class. I’d love to see that feature on kids designing their own toys again.
AH, the internets!
By the great Al Jaffee, it turns out. I also learn (not that we believe everything we read on the internets) this was supposedly in their January 1963 issue, making me, impossibly, six and a half years old at the time. No wonder I was so literal about the moron!