I was walking to the soda fountain when I saw Elle MacPherson looking at me over the aisle. Her eyes followed me across the store. I swallowed hard and felt sweat break out on my forehead. Did she just wink at me?
If you’ve never been a 14 year old boy, you might not understand, but for me, seeing Elle on the cover of Playboy magazine was the moment that the switch actually flipped. I had no idea who she was. I’m not sure if I’d ever seen her before that day. What I do know is that before that day in the Texaco on Idaho Street, I knew that I liked girls, but I wasn’t consumed yet. I could still think of other things if I wanted to, and I usually did want to.
That night as a I lay in bed, I saw her looking at me. She was just over the hill, 13 miles away, all alone in the cold dark of a convenience store. How was I going to set her free? They’d never sell the magazine to me, I thought. I was only 14, a mere stick figure of a person.
I had to have it. I had to. But I couldn’t steal it…could I?
I had never needed anything this way before. I didn’t even know what I wanted the magazine for, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. And at the same time, I was embarrassed by how I felt. And at the time, I had no idea that most boys my age were going through a million variations of the very same feelings.
The next week passed slowly
Seven…agonizing…days…There was no longer any concept of time.
I couldn’t concentrate on homework. I was defensive when anyone asked me a question. I felt like I had the Scarlet Fever. The nights were too long.
And so I took action.
While the cashier wasn’t looking, I grabbed the plastic-wrapped magazine and slowly walked up to the counter. Elle looked up at me from the cover. You can do it. I looked around the corners of the walls for security cameras. None that I could see. I rolled the magazine up and held it by my leg.
The cashier looked up as I approached. She was probably 50 years old. In my head, I heard her saying, Now what would a nice young man want with such a nasty little magazine? Run along, little pervert. Run along.
She smiled at me. I nearly puke.
Go my love! said Elle.
I pulled my other hand out of my pocket as I started running towards the counter. I opened my fist and slammed the exact amount of change–the cost of one Playboy magazine–down before the startled cashier. I lowered my head and ran out the doors. I didn’t stop running until I was three blocks away in the parking lot at Wendy’s.
I unrolled the magazine and looked down at Elle. I had it. Now what?
Many years later, I would eat at a Greek restaurant with a nephew. Out on the floor, an older woman in a really skimpy outfit was teaching belly dancing while wearing those big Alladin pants. We went out onto the floor and learned some belly dancing. Suddenly, my nephew clapped his hands over his face and said, “I have a guilty feeling in my eyes!”
That was me as I sat down on the curb at Wendy’s and looked through the magazine once. The thrill of the illicit purchase was gone. I was embarrassed by what I saw, and the titillation of Elle looking at me over the magazine rack withered and died as I thumbed through the pages. The “reality” of the magazine could never live up to the vague dreams and wants I was seeing and feeling.
I couldn’t take it home. I knew my mom would find it, and I no longer wanted it. I was confused. In the space of two minutes, from the time I grabbed the magazine until the time I opened it, I had experienced a high of arousal and the low of clammy shame.
And I was still scared that I had missed a security camera. That the nice cashier woman was telling the cops, “It was the darnedest thing. He paid for it. But I’d still like him to have a nice horse whipping.”
But I never got caught. And only a few people ever heard the story until now. It makes me smile for a lot of reasons, but I learned a lesson as I sat on that curb, although I couldn’t have expressed it in these words back then:
Within each person sleeps endless potential and achievement. There are few limits in life that we do not place on ourselves, or invite into our consciousness. There is nothing sadder than seeing something as limitless as a human being reduced to an appetite. Not in the long term.
The best things in life all have the potential to become tawdry, tarnished, and incarcerating.
Elle, I’m glad I couldn’t figure out what to do with you. I’m glad we ended it when we did.
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