Mad was the perfect publication for boys

Published 9:42 am Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Column: Tales From Exit 22, by Al Batt

I was a mere urchin when my brother gave me a gift subscription to Mad Magazine.

My mother worried I’d become a knucklehead because I considered the films of “The Three Stooges” to be documentaries and I read Mad.

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I was familiar with the publication thanks to New Richland Drug. It was a Rexall drugstore. Rexall was a chain of North American drugstores, having as many as 12,000 drugstores across the United States from 1920 to 1977. Only one was in New Richland. The “Rex” in the name came from the common Rx abbreviation for drug prescriptions.

I visited the drugstore while waiting for my parents to transact business in town. Sometimes I’d have to wait five-ever. That’s even longer than forever.

The drugstore was an educational facility. It was where I heard one young mother say to another, “I welcome going to the dentist. It gives me a chance to put my feet up.”

I overheard a smiling man tell the druggist, “I needed something to make me feel better. Doc Olds prescribed a Cadillac.”

Another, upon seeing his bill, muttered, “Crime may not pay, but neither does farming.”

The drugstore had a library. The owner didn’t know that. He thought he sold magazines. During a time when all websites involved spiders and we didn’t know what was gluten free, I pretended to look for magazines in my price range. They didn’t exist. I read periodicals until asked by the legalized drug dealer, “Are you going to buy that magazine?”

I wasn’t going to buy it. I was as broke as a joke. All I had was the emergency dime that I carried in case I had to make an emergency phone call from a pay phone. In case I needed to drop a dime, so to speak.

If they didn’t want people to read in the drugstore, they shouldn’t have put in a library.

“Are you going to buy that?” he repeated, not for my benefit.

That was like yelling “Whoa!” in the middle of a horse race.

There was an awkward silence as if we were in an elevator. I understood that the druggist was tired and grumpy from trying to read the scribbles of doctors.

I put the magazine back in its proper place and fled the drugstore under the glare of the druggist and some innocent bystanders. The looks were like being hit by a clue-by-four. Crime did not pay.

It was cool to have my very own magazine delivered by the rural mail carrier. Mad gave me a break from being me. Mother wasn’t quite so excited about Mad. She thought it a subversive publication that would put weird thoughts in my head. I wanted to assure her that there were so many weird thoughts in my head already, there was no room for new ones. But I’d learned that there were things that mothers were better off not knowing.

Mad was filled with snarky parodies, amazing cartoons and featured iconic cover boy Alfred E. Neuman, who flashed a gap-toothed smile and had a “What, me worry?” motto. The self-described “The Usual Gang of Idiots” wrote it. I adored the writings of Bob & Ray, Ernie Kovacs, Wally Cox, Orson Bean, Henry Morgan, Dave Berg’s “Lighter Side Of …,” and “Spy vs. Spy,” a divine satire of the Cold War. Don Martin’s cartoons captivated me. He was Mad’s maddest artist. His onomatopoetic sound effects, such as “BREEDEET BREEDEET,” “FAGROON klubble klubble,” “PLORTCH,” and “SHTOINK” delighted me. Later, I had the pleasure of collaborating with Don. He was a treat to write for.

Mother wasn’t keen on the magazine. She suspected it was the end of civilization. She scrutinized each issue before handing it to me with the caveat, “Just read the good parts.”

I showed her Al Jaffee’s Fold-In, a drawing on the back cover that I folded vertically and inward to reveal a hidden picture and new caption. I hoped that spatial magic would convince her that Mad was teaching me the science of engineering. In the drugstore, I’d tried to fold it without creasing the back cover.

I had Mother nearly convinced that Mad was the intellectual superior to “Middlemarch” by George Eliot, when it came in the mail.

It was an issue of Mad that included a square, cardboard record. It was labeled “Real 33 1/3 RPM record.” Alfred E Neuman sang, “It’s a Gas.” It was an instrumental track punctuated with loud belching.

One of us found it amusing.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Sunday and Wednesday.