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How To Almost Steal A Playboy Magazine With An Almost Clear Conscience

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.

The start of my life of semi-crime

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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  • Heather February 1, 2010, 6:00 am

    Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. . . . . Elle MacPherson doesn’t think you’re a perv and neither do I. Dude! This is an awesome post! Simply MUST share with someone! “I have a guilty feeling in my eyes!” Your poor nephew! Those Aladdin pants’ll do it every time, man! Thanks for sharing something so intimate and normal.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 10:21 am

      I laugh about “guilty feeling in my eyes” about once a week.

  • Greg February 1, 2010, 6:09 am

    Nicely written!

    Sometimes, I think the trials and tribulations of young boys approaching manhood are often marginalized. You story captures the pain and remorse that so many boys go through, as they try to understand how their bodies and minds are changing.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 10:22 am

      Thanks Greg. Someday I hope to grow out of that awkward stage.

  • Boris Bachmann February 1, 2010, 6:59 am

    “There is nothing sadder than seeing something as limitless as a human being reduced to an appetite. Not in the long term.”


  • Boris Bachmann February 1, 2010, 7:00 am

    Elle M is great too btw.

  • Milo February 1, 2010, 8:00 am

    What you mean you’re supposed to PAY for playboy magazine?

    Great story Josh, I think people go through moments like this a lot more than they’d admit. Nice cover too 😉

  • wendy February 1, 2010, 8:41 am

    Great story – filing it away to share with my 13 year old.

    Also, this is me (at times) with food. It’s never as good as the craving imagines it will be and the guilt, remorse and sick feelings just aren’t worth it.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 10:23 am

      Wendy, I’d still rather have Elle than a bunch of funions, but I know where you’re coming from:)

  • Srinivas Rao February 1, 2010, 9:21 am

    Haha. What a perfect way to start the day. That has to be one of the funniest and best told stories about anybody’s initial exposure to Playboy. Definitely in my top 5 WSL posts.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 10:23 am

      Well, since you are my gold standard measuring stick, I’ll take that as a massive compliment. Thanks!

  • Megan Horton February 1, 2010, 9:43 am

    I’ve never heard this story! What a thief you are! Has mom heard this before?

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 10:24 am

      I have no idea if she’s heard it. Probably not. I’m not a thief, I paid for that magazine. But I do steal hearts. Zing!

      • Megan Horton February 2, 2010, 9:11 am

        That’s right, you paid…you are a stealer of hearts. That’s for sure. I love the comment about his eyes feeling guilty. I think you’ve told me that on before. I’d forgot. That’s so funny.

  • ami February 1, 2010, 9:46 am

    Honesty, pain, laughter. A powerful combination to produce a powerful blog post. Thanks.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 10:24 am

      Lots of memories here. Some good, some bad. Thanks for swinging by, Ami.

  • Michelle McGee February 1, 2010, 10:25 am

    I’m wondering now when Jacob will have his “Elle” moment as he approaches 12 years old in a couple of weeks. God willing I have a couple of years left, but I’m thinking probably not since the “Elles” of the world are now in every storefront window display (think Vickie’s secret which I’m guessing ain’t no secret anymore!). But I know that it’s all a part of this thing called boy so I’ll just deal with what I need to deal with when I need to deal with it – or just pass it all along to Warner!:)

    Great post!!!!

  • Mark Wilson February 1, 2010, 10:43 am

    This is great Josh. This brought back many of my adolescent memories. I believe that every heterosexual male will find a piece of him in the article.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 1:32 pm

      Mark, I think it brought back every single one of my adolescent memories from then on!

  • Cat February 1, 2010, 11:15 am

    What a beautiful, tragic moment in your boyhood. And I’m sure most boys have some similar moment. I was watching a performance of “The Mending Project” (www.TheMENding.org recently where one of the men talked about his sexual hangups and suggested that if we had a rite of passage for boys where men could sit down and tell stories and explain that they had these awkward moments, we might one day overcome the guilt and shame. Your story should be regular reading for a boys-only junior high class. Thanks for putting it out there! c. 😉

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 1:33 pm

      Thanks Cat. When in doubt, bloggers should always make scandalous confessions.

  • Todd February 1, 2010, 11:28 am

    LMAO!!! Well, at least YOU paid for it. I can’t say the same.

  • Randy February 1, 2010, 11:45 am

    That was a big lesson in buyer’s remorse. Marketers and advertisers backed by sell-out cynical clinical psychologists work very hard to convince us that we are buying authentic experiences when we are actually buying representations/symbols for those experiences.
    However, Camille Paglia has a point. Porn (or girly pics in the case of Playboy) and representational art heighten, focus, crop, frame and re-present an experience in similar, artificial ways. A painting isn’t the thing it represents and the photo of Elle isn’t Elle, but both can be appreciated. Or not.
    I just perused Playboy for the articles, btw.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 1:33 pm

      I should have given the articles a try before I tossed it. True.

  • john dalton February 1, 2010, 11:55 am

    very nice josh ! i had a just about the same thing but i was brave,(or dumb) as my grandmother said as she told me that i wasnt allowed to stash my girlfriends in the woodpile or anywhere else around her house, good times!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 1:34 pm

      John, that’s a lot of exclamation points.

  • We Fly Spitfires February 1, 2010, 3:31 pm

    My brother bought a Playboy when he was 14 and felt so guilty about it he confessed to our mum. Silly bugger.

    True story.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 4:29 pm

      I believe you, Gordon, even if nobody else does:)

  • Robby G February 1, 2010, 4:24 pm

    And then there was the internet… 😉 lol

  • Casey February 1, 2010, 4:33 pm


    I laughed like a bastard reading that one, thanks for the story.

  • Lynn Kilpatrick February 1, 2010, 8:23 pm

    I saw Elle in London this May.
    I know that’s not what the story is about, but I had to mention it.
    I love the nephew story too. I think we have had a guilty feeling with our eyes.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 8:30 pm

      Did she mention me?

      • Lynn Kilpatrick February 2, 2010, 11:45 pm

        I didn’t get a chance to speak with her, but from behind her big model sunglasses she gave me the look that said, “tell him not to feel guilty with his eyes.” Meanwhile, a dude with a huge camera was taking her pictures. But I’m sure we understood one another.

  • Kim February 1, 2010, 9:55 pm

    You don’t kow this but we went to school together. I am happy I stumbled across this. I know the Texaco your talking about I think. Across from the park. What a great post! I plan on reading through your past ones. Thanks!

  • Stephen Scott February 8, 2010, 1:19 am

    Hi Josh

    I enjoyed reading this post, I was grinning all the way through.

    I don’t have a 14 year old Playboy story (they were banned in South Africa at the time) but I still know the feeling…

    Every week a bunch of us get together to do figure study (painting from a nude model) and every week when she disrobes I am flooded with an array of conflicting feelings and I’ll procrastinate for ages before looking up at the model.

    Despite the mixed feelings, I feel nothing but privilege for the opportunity to do what I do, and I hope those ‘guilty eye’ feelings never go away – it keeps me young!

    • Josh Hanagarne February 8, 2010, 11:02 am

      Stephen, that made my day. Here’s to guilty feelings forever!