There was a time when the detective and crime mags were a big thing. They were popular enough, which is to say, mainstream enough, that they were sold outright on the magazine racks in the pharmacy of a sleepy, rural Indiana town instead of behind the prescription counter, sequestered like their wicked step-brothers – the porno mags.
When I was young all sorts of stuff took flack for their degenerate influence on kids. Well, before me it was horror comics but the same rationale mostly applied to heavy metal and slasher films and violent video games. But I don’t remember anybody going after the detective mags. I guess it was cause they were mostly consumed by perverted and misogynist adults who the community must have deemed beyond the ability to fix. Or that by whatever law didn’t deem them so explicit or illicit as they needed hiding….and since they were probably good sellers….they maintained their presence within the mainstream territory of 16 Magazine and Good Housekeeping and Life and People, though on a higher shelf and corralled over by the sports and gun periodicals.
Of course, I loved any sort of salacious shit as a kid but my main points of interests were the horror comics and horror films and horror film mags and super-hero comics and wrestling and rock & roll magazines, all of which sold on action and violence and low-brow salaciousness as well.
I was a corruptible youth and I think I wanted to be corrupted since there was nothing much else going on in the tired Indiana town of my childhood. But somehow, between Faces Rocks and Creepy and Fangoria, I missed out on the temptation of the detective mags.
Back then, they were popular enough to go by dozens of different titles, almost all having some variant of detective and/or crime in the title. There was True Detective and his sibling True Fact Detective. There were True Crime, Official and Police Detective magazines. There was Master Detective and Startling Detective as well as Detective Cases. There was Spicy Detective and Daring Detective and Headquarters Detective and Keyhole Detective and Front Page Detective and Headline Detective. And World Detective and Real Fact Detective and Amazing Detective and Star Detective and All Detective.
There’s no escaping the misogyny of the images and story titles, with favorites like Nympho’s See-Through Panties were Killer Bait. Well, who in the hell doesn’t know that? And how the hell couldn’t you see that stuff as what Betty Paige was to hardcore porn – that this stuff was just Rape Porn Lite? Or like those Private Screenings videos, though requiring you to be 18 to rent, still weren’t quite what they had to keep behind closed doors in the back room. So yeah, Detective Crime was to hardcore rape-porn what Private Screenings were to VCA Pictures.
And all this begs the question as well, whatever happened to all those amateur sleuths who bought that pulpy garbage? Or was it all just bait so that the local perverts were known by someone in the community? Like if there was a serial killer or serial rapist going around, the state police or FBI would just go to the local pharmacy or newsstand and find out who was buying all the sleazy “detective” literature.
As a kid I remember loving all that lowbrow stuff (the comics and wrestling and horror mags, not the softcore rape porn) that I’d see on the racks at my grandfather’s pharmacy. I was never close with those grandparents. I rarely saw them though they never lived more than a 5 minute drive for me. But I’m not complaining. I’ve learned a lot as an adult and what seems pretty pronounced is that those relationships we might lament not having would have rarely lived up to the romanticized version that I or others might have built into them. Hell’s bells, if I’d have known them better they might have reacted to my music and taste in films and magazines even worse than my father did. He just destroyed that stuff in a rage over what I was becoming. Maybe they’d have even added the extra insult of calling me a perverted piece of shit. My father at least kept that description bottled up, letting his anger and violence speak it instead. But I doubt that they would have gone that far. They were a bit more refined, having a respectable and prospering business and rumored to host parties with the locally famous owner of a big RV dealership. We, on the other hand, lived in a mobile home. Perhaps they’d have been well-mannered enough to have dealt with the expressions of my teenage frustrations passive-aggressively rather than violently.
As little as I knew my grandfather from the few hours the family was together on Christmas Eve, I knew him just as much from going to the theater across the street from his store. I always had this plan that before the theater opened, I’d go over to his store and linger around the comic book carousel or the magazine rack, hoping that if he was there that first: he might even recognize who I was and, second: if he did, he might buy me a comic book or two. Usually he did, to both. But again, I don’t wanna smear him. In all honesty, at that time, I was far more interested in those comic books and magazines than I was him, just as he seemed more interested in other things too. Plus, my mother was adopted so he and I weren’t even bonded by blood. So, in a way, it worked out okay. I don’t hold it against those grandparents, necessarily, cause I understand how life for adults goes. And as I got older, they were probably aware that, like most of the other adults in that town, I had little or no interest in them, so we remained strangers.
I was in my mid or late thirties, I think, when he died. My mother musta known it was coming or could happen at any time. One afternoon in summer she got us all together and we were sitting on her back porch. She must have thought of it as bringing us all together as an opportunity for reconciliation or understanding or something. But I didn’t notice that he seemed ill. Of course, how would I know unless it was blatantly obvious?
The thing I remember him saying that day – and maybe this is a testament to my narcissism cause it’s about me – is how in the middle of whatever sorta chit-chat he says unrelated to the subject at hand, “maybe I wasn’t such a good grandparent.” Well, what do you say to that? I’m no kind of politician and to reply honestly….it would be something I’d have to think about. So I said nothing. But later I got to wondering why that came up the way it did. As we were sitting there talking, did it occur to him that I’d turned out to be something other than the druggie-alcoholic/loser/criminal some of my juvenile activities might have led him to assume I’d become? And in sitting there eye to eye and man to man, he discovered that wasn’t the case? That I was a person capable of thought and analysis – an analysis that by then surely included him?
In Spring I buy some cheap, fake flowers from the dollar store and put them at the grave of my friend’s grandmother. When I was a teen, I spent tons of time there watching wrestling and horror movies with her grandson who she mostly raised. Her name was Francis. Francis treated me real well. Just like one of her own. She didn’t have much money and neither did I but lots of times she’d buy us all pizza to go along with Saturday night’s 6:05 wrestling. She never made me feel unwelcome or that it was time for me to leave. As we got a little older, sometimes I’d stay up with her grandson and we’d both get really drunk watching horror movies all night and I’d just sleep there on the couch. Most of that’s why I put flowers on her grave and even though my other grandparents’ headstone isn’t more than a few steps away in the Catholic cemetery, I don’t give them flowers. Not out of spite, just cause it doesn’t seem right.
I had a woman a while ago how was really hung up on the sanctity of family. I never told her about the flowers but if I had, she’d have said it was sacrilegious and petty and a testament to me being a real douche (though, coming from another culture, her mastery of English wasn’t so great so she’d have used something other than douche).
But to me it’s fidelity to truth. Fealty to truth over romanticism. I want to see those relationships for what they really were, not clouded by what they were supposed to be.
If I could go back to that day, sitting on the porch, what I’d want to ask but probably wouldn’t cause it would seem too creepy – but what I’d want to know is what he thought about the people he sold all the porno and booze and rubbers and all those creepy goddamned detective magazines to. You see, he was an educated man and a respected businessman. What did he think about the men who purchased those magazines that so salaciously exploited rape? Or did he think anything of it? Was there a shallowness to his cares and thoughts that made it uninteresting? Or, conversely, maybe he was wise enough to just leave it alone – not to care.
I think if he was here today, that’s what I’d want to explore. Not his reasons – justifiable or not – for not knowing me. Fuck all that. No need to explore where some supposed emotional tie between us came unknotted. And maybe that’s why it never could have worked anyway. I’d have only been interested in him as something to explore, not as someone to know or care about. I’d have wanted to know what he thought about the guys who bought those detective mags. Did he think they were degenerates? Did he ever wonder if the guy in his neighborhood who bought that shit got a hard-on reading about fantasized rape and mutilation? Did that guy let his wife know he read it? Did he buy it at the pharmacy even though it was more expensive than a mailed subscription – that way the wife would never find the rape-porn mixed in with the electric bill and Sears catalog? The other way – buying it from my grandfather – he could keep it hidden under the car seat. And what about the guys he’d have known by name and family and church who bought Hustler instead of Playboy? Did he wonder why the dentist or the guy who owned the auto body shop got off on seeing the pussy gynecologically rather than at a distance? Those magazines resided behind the prescription counter with my grandfather. In that way, he was the go-between their meds and their porn, a seemingly strange position to be in for a upper-middle class businessman and Catholic.
Or maybe my grandfather would have woke me to the fact that it was mostly the housewives, not the closet creeps, that were buying the detective mags. Or better yet, the nuns, who kept them locked away like the priest did his copy of Playgirl and the husbands of the housewives did their copies of Cheri. After all, they say women harbor fantasies of rape so maybe they were really the ones buying Official Police Detective and hiding it under the laundry hamper. That’s the stuff I’d want to know and ask about but my grandfather liked to host parties with prominent businessmen on his houseboat so it’s probably best we never got to that. But who knows, maybe he realized some of those fellas liked Hustler and Startling Detective too.