I would like to begin with what might seem like the overstatement of the millennium, but I believe in order to tell this story properly one needs the context of what it was to be an 8-year-old boy in 1979. So without further ado, here comes the aforementioned titanic statement. What did it take for an underage boy to see a naked woman in 1979, even if only in 2-D form?
Courage, cunning and a 40 time that would rival any professional athlete.
This was pre-cable, pre-Internet, pre-Howard Stern and pre-sexting. The ability to acquire anything salacious was relegated to the lingerie section of the Montgomery Wards catalog. The pages of which where full of confusing and meaningless phrases like, Full Coverage, High-Waisted and Underwire Support. Like so many of my generation, I needed something more.
My quest to see a naked woman began at breakfast with my best friend Tony. One morning at the breakfast table at Tony’s house, his mom (who had reportedly dated Elvis, was into yoga and was a smoking hot flight attendant) made us whole-wheat pancakes. She told us she was going to take a shower, and when we were done we were to clean up. Halfway through breakfast, and with the sound of water running from down the hallway, Tony’s (smoking hot, into yoga, flight attendant who I am convinced dated Elvis) mom appeared next to me with only a towel covering her front.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She simply said that Tony and I should ride bikes after breakfast. It was at this moment that she turned around to walk down the hallway, and my life changed forever. A moment that to this day is seared into my psyche. The shaggy brown carpet. The single hall light hanging out from the ceiling. The cracked door at the end of the hallway. The board game battleship still sitting on the floor from the night before. And Tony’s mom’s glorious naked butt walking away from me.
With each step she took, things that I had overheard by inappropriate older cousins and my dad’s slightly inebriated friends about the female anatomy suddenly began to make a lot more sense. It was the first time I ever saw a naked lady.
And from that moment forward the quest to see another began.
For the next few days I worked up the courage to approach the imposing, three-years-older-than-me albino, German-born Victor. With steely blue eyes, powder white hair and surrounded by towering pine trees, he stood like a Viking on the snowy playground at Al Tahoe Elementary School in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Adding to his James Bond villain charm Victor requested that all subordinates refer to him as “V.” Why would I take my life into my own hands by approaching V? Rumor on the yard was that he had access to a treasure trove of magazines. Not Boys Life, or People, or Time, but Playboys.
So in mid-January of 1979, during what seemed to me the worst snowstorm in the history of South Lake Tahoe, I set out and made my trek across the playground. I opted to take the eastern route from the boys bathroom past the frigid jungle bars, dodging the treacherous six-person swing-set to the west, and with a well-timed dash through an “in progress” dodgeball game I found myself at the base of what appeared to be a massive snow drift at least four to five feet tall. Or was it a pile of filthy snow plowed to one side that unsupervised children were allowed to climb all over?
Regardless I studied the face and planned my route. Maintaining three points of contact with the snow mound at all times, I was able to reach the summit relatively quickly. It was here that I was met by the enormous boy’s size 6 shoes of V. Now on bended knee I looked up at the terrifying sight of what appeared to be an Albino Viking Dragon. He was only breathing out of his nose, and with every exhale bursts of what appeared to me to be white smoke blurred his glowing blue eyes. He spoke with a Germanic accent and with one word he scared the holy living shit out of me. He said, “What?”
After what seemed an eternity I was able to spit out the masterful phrase, “cool jacket.” From atop the massive snow mountain he surveyed his land without response to my awesome compliment. After Victor inconspicuously picked his nose, I decided to make my move and asked him if the rumor was true regarding his cachet of nudity. Though he didn’t react, not even a twitch, I knew he had heard me. Silence. No response. Internally I did what every 8-year-old boy would do in this situation. I panicked.
It was in this moment that I realized I had to gain Victor’s trust. How foolish of me! It wasn’t like he was just going to tell me where the priceless jewels were kept. He had no idea who I was or how safe the secret would be with me. Hell, I might be one of those kids who with one stern look from a teacher or parent would crack and spill the beans thus ruining Victor’s life’s work of secretly hidden nude images of women.
With the thoughts of Laurence Olivier whispering the words “Is it safe?” in the back of my mind I used my cunning to pry the information from Victor. I knew his weakness: fireworks. As I stared out at a particularly lifeless game of tetherball I casually mentioned the box of fireworks my uncle had brought up from Mexico. With a slow, melodic head turn Victor’s eyes met mine, and I knew I was in.
After a brief exchange at my house of cherry bombs, M-80s and spinning flowers, V gave me the information I needed to head out into the woods and take my prize. I lived across the street from a sheer cliff that dropped 30 feet into a raging river and surrounded by a barbwire fence. Years later, after visiting the same location as an adult, I would come to realize it was actually a brief slope that led down to a beautiful meadow with a handful of babbling creeks. It was nothing to fear. But at the time, at 8 years old, in 1979, it was nothing short of a treacherous, unforgiving terrain littered with danger. According to Victor, this harsh landscape was the keeper of my cherished prize.
After school I had to concoct a story so that my parents would allow me to go outside during the worst snowstorm in the history of South Lake Tahoe. I walked in slow motion down the hallway and out into the living room past the rust-colored sofa to the rotary phone where I dialed random numbers and pretended to speak to my buddy Tony. I had to do this quickly before the heinously loud recording of the women from the phone company would begin barking endlessly, “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again.” This recording was so booming through the receiver that my mother would surely hear it and my cover for action would be blown.
Talking just loud enough so that my mother could hear, the faux conversation involved an apparently missing workbook that I would need to retrieve immediately from Tony’s house so that I could do my homework and turn it in on time. With what I’m sure was an inconspicuous look to my left, I caught my mother eavesdropping. It was done.
Within minutes I was out the front door.
A SOLID 40 TIME
It felt as though it was snowing knives onto my face as I darted across the street, jumped onto my back and slid down the massive 30 foot face to the meadow, careening perilously toward the razor-sharp barbed wire at the bottom. Using my hands to guide me, I was able to tumble and roll, stopping just short of what would have been certain death by the fence.
I popped to my feet and looked for a good place to make my climb over. I remember Victor saying “cross at der loug, an yump over.” So I scanned the area for the fallen log and like a beacon I found it, climbed atop, consciously stepped over the barbed wire fence where I could see the remnants of the hems of the other men who didn’t lift their foot high enough to get over. It was a stark reminder of the treachery of this journey.
On the other side I was faced with my final obstacle: a frenzy torrent of water whose width would have made Dr. J even question his own jumping abilities. I quickly deduced that thanks to my new tennis shoes I would be able to get up enough speed and jump across with no problem. And sure enough, I did.
Off to one side of the meadow there was a weathered, abandoned feed shed, or as I like to refer to it, “The Ark.” I trekked across the frozen tundra and entered the darkened smelly room, which was lit only by shafts of light from the busted out beams in the ceiling. V may have been a pyromaniac, but he was also a man of his word. Under some weathered, rotting, disgusting boards was a stack of four Playboys.
In what I’m sure was some sort of North American speed record I consumed all of the nude images in a matter of minutes, had the waterlogged magazines hidden again and was running across the snowy meadow back to my parents’ house.
I made my final move to sell the deception by pulling the hidden workbook that I had supposedly retrieved from Tony’s house out from under my puffy jacket and then coolly entered the place of residence.
To the casual observer I must have looked like the happiest kid in the world as I sat at the dinning room table with my suppressed shit-eating grin doing homework.
Like so many vital, formative moments in childhood that go unnoticed to the outside world and are truly the events that shape us as human beings, I too had quietly made one of the great rites of passage in a young man’s life - seeing a naked lady in 2-D form.
Michael Lander is a screenwriter and director currently living in Los Angeles. Twitter: @landerfilm
Artist Pablo Solomon’s work can be found here.
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