In Search of MAD (1998)
There should be a shower stall at the end of the magazine aisle at Coulson's convenience store, or at the very least a hose for rinsing off. Coulson's has the best magazine selection around; luckily, The Writer, my favorite -- and the only one I buy faithfully every month -- is near the ice cream cooler, right as you enter the magazine area. It's funny, not in the ha-ha way, but in the strange way, that this obscure little magazine is there among the popular and trendy section. Its neighbors are George, The Advocate, The New Yorker and Redbook.
In a way, Coulson's reminds me of "Skin's," which was the general store I visited daily as a kid in my hometown. The store's real name was "Davis' Store," but everyone referred to it by the nick-name of its owner, Lester (Skin) Davis. Skin ran that place for years; my mother recalled sitting there, on the front porch eating candy, just like I did in the ‘70s, and just like the kids did after I went off to college. When I was a teenager, a new sign was installed at Skin's, and "Edna's and Skin's Store" was painted on it rather than "Davis' Store," to acknowledge, I suppose, that Skin's wife was always working in there, too. You'd suppose an early feminist like me would have taken pleasure in that enlightened sign, but instead it seemed inaccurate, because we continued to call the store simply "Skin's," as always.
Skin sold newspapers, but not magazines. Coulson's, on the other hand, stocks every magazine in the world. A strange mixture of homeless people and well-dressed men from nearby banks and state offices frequent Coulson's for lottery tickets, quarts of beer, cigarettes and Hostess Twinkies. While there they crowd the magazine aisle; I'm not sure if any copies are purchased, but Coulson's rivals the library for how many times each periodical is read. As you travel down the aisle, past the popular section, to craft, home decor and computer magazines, then to automotive magazines, on top of the rack at the end there is pornography, seductively calling out "pick me up! look at me!" to the businessmen and bums, who are more than happy to oblige.
Today I am gathering copies of likely markets for my essays. Hudson Valley, House Beautiful, McCall's, first section, no problem. Wow, they even have Village Voice. One publication is left on my list. Long ago I dreamed of writing for MAD, and that particular magazine remains. "Coulson's has everything; of course they have MAD!", I think. I struggle past the assorted men, trying to avoid brushing their suits and ties, or alternately tee shirts and jeans, with my dress, venturing further down the aisle than I usually dare. Ugh, I am up to the car section. "Damn!," I whisper to myself. Comics are in the last section, across from porno. "Excuse me," I say out loud to a man who is squatting at the end of the row, as I lean down to retrieve the magazine. I try not to see what he is skimming. "Sure," he says, hopping aside a bit, but not removing his eyes from the page.
I purchase my copies and leave Coulson's in a hurry. I haven't seen a copy of MAD in twenty-five years, so I eagerly flip through it as I wait at the light for a break in traffic. It is exactly as I remember; Alfred E. Newman, Spy v. Spy, gags about the media. Suddenly I realize there is a very good reason for the familiarity; it is a reprint of one of MAD's earlier issues. Tomorrow I must return to Coulson's to get the current issue. Now where is my pepper spray?
2011 note: In about 2000, The Writer was sold to Kalmbach publishing, and its offices moved from Boston to Wisconsin. Gradually, all of the magazine's attributes were stripped away, and the change justified as modern improvement. The once-delightfully humble magazine became a pale imitation of Writer's Digest, and I stopped reading it.