|'I'm just reading the articles, honey'|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
A 13-year-old boy has no problem "reading" the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. He sneaks out of seventh-period gym class this afternoon and ducks home to get the mail before mom (or more to the point, Dad) does, takes the mag into his room, shuts the door and pretends he's having one of those surly teenage do-not-disturb days. Bingo: four or five hours of uninterrupted gazing and gawking.
For grownups, it's a little more complicated. Read it in broad daylight and you're a salacious creep. Go behind closed doors and you've got the unmistakably embarrassing stink of arrested adolescence about you.
The key is to catch a gander on-the-fly, in the regular rhythms and patterns of your day, and to do it with a proper dose of discretion. Ah, but this is easier said than done. One false move and suddenly you're the red-faced, stammering miscreant getting a lecture from a blue-haired lady in front of the grocery store magazine rack.
So, if you're feeling shaky -- torn between a vague sense of guilt and a very definite sense of, shall we say, interest -- you might find this little user's guide helpful:
1. Put the magazine inside another magazine. Try Time or Newsweek -- something that says you're informed, concerned, and serious about matters of world politics (and not -- as is actually the case -- happily lost in a fantasy in which you pretend women this beautiful would talk to you and find you interesting). The key to this strategy is to have politicky phrases at the ready should anyone approach and ask what you're reading. You casually close the magazine, look them in the eye and say things like, "The inspection reports are still incomplete -- that's what worries me," or "There is a serious risk in ignoring the will of the people, don't you think?"
2. Leave it around for your pre-pubescent son, and when he's made the door-slam move, barge in and confiscate it. Better yet, ask him if he'd like to talk about it. Ask him if he has any questions. Flip through the pages slowly. Ask him what he's feeling. Tell him what he's feeling is perfectly natural. (This strategy is most effective, by the way, if you have almost no conscience whatsoever. And it's particularly useful if you're good at playing dumb and bad at keeping a secret.)
3. Accidentally kick the afternoon paper into a mud puddle and then offer to go down to the corner grocery to get a new one. They sell magazines down at the corner grocery, you get me? They sell wine, too -- be smart, pick up a bottle; she'll like that.
4. She says, "What do you see in those women?" You say, "It's an aesthetics thing. Like Kant talks about. It's the fundamental human affinity for curved lines and ideal forms. I look at these pictures as art historical texts, really, exemplars and echoes of what the great masters were after."
5. She says, "You're full of crap." You say, "Yeah, but you've got to admit, I'm kind of charming when I get all art-historical and erudite on you." (Now spring the wine.)
6. Later, you say to yourself, "Dude, you're pathetic. You've got so much repressed feeling, so much sex-based shame bouncing around in you. You disgust me." Then you say to yourself, "Shut up."
8. If you have the Catholic thing working for you, take the mag to confession. Get specific about your sins -- page numbers, camera angles, etc.
9. Saw a man do a thing with collage one year that was pretty impressive.
Six-foot long redwood burl table top covered in swimsuit issue clippings. What he was doing wasn't for everyone, though. He was a recovering meth addict and his sponsor told him the work with his hands (not the smell of the shellac, the work with his hands) was good for him. Plus, he said, it's not leering if it's art.
10. One word: barbershop.
11. Two words: public library.
12. Three words: on the john.
13. Fifteen words (special to Chicago and New York readers): over the shoulder of the guy standing next to you on a crowded subway train.
14. Busted? (You can only get away with this one once per major relationship, but it's a good one.) Say it with me now: "I'm just a caveman. Your world frightens and confuses me."
15. Place the new issue in a lock box, along with all the previous issues you've saved, and tell anyone who will listen that this is about respecting a tradition, that the women in this year's mag are the inheritors of a noble lineage. It is up to them to uphold the standards set in fashion, acting, singing and worldwide ambassadorial service set by the likes of Tiegs, Brinkley, Porizkova, Ireland and MacPherson. Say the names with reverence. Express awe and sobriety. Do not enjoy the issue, respect the issue.
16. Clean out the subscription cards. You need to do this with a couple other magazines first. Pull the annoying heavy-paper inserts out of the New Yorker, Discover and that issue of Time you've been carrying around. Do a stack of mags in sequence, like it's a chore (tip: couch the whole thing as part of a larger recycling, trash-taking project). Don't do the SI last -- too obvious -- do it next-to-last (put People or Us last), like it's just one of many items on your to-do list. Anybody comes by for a look -- you're just tidying up.
17. Look at a few pages, then get distracted and walk away. Rinse. Repeat.
18. Special to college students: Write a paper on it for your communication and culture class.
19. When you get caught scoping, smile and shrug, and blame it on the bossa nova, with its magic spell. Blame it on the bossa nova, that she did so well.
20. I knew a guy once who said he could commit the whole thing to memory with just one look. He was like Frederick in that children's book collecting colors, just salting images away for a cold, grey day. You'd sit across from him, shivering, cursing your cold, miserable fate, leafing through a copy of Field and Stream and he'd be over there, breathing easy, and this strange, wicked smile of contentment would come across his face and his chest would start to glow all E.T.-like, and you knew, you just knew, he was reading the flippin' magazine in his mind. I tried to master his technique -- spent several weekends concentrating on my "happy place," picturing the soft, white light, trying to bend spoons and intuit shapes and numbers on flash cards and such -- but couldn't do it. If you think you can pull it off, I highly recommend it, because this guy was one of the most peaceful, centered cats I've ever known.
21. Find a crowd that experiences no shame or ambivalence about appreciating the issue. Hang out with professional athletes.
22. Explain to friends and family that you're not really looking at it, you're just doing research in anticipation of the cancel-my-subscription "letters" issue that follows the swimsuit issue every year.
23. Better yet, cancel your subscription in protest of the exploitation and base consumerism of the issue. (Think smoke screen. Misdirection. A little thing Peter Falk and Alan Arkin like to call "serpentine" motion.)
24. Speaking of misdirection, try the not-so-bad-by-comparison approach: Begin by leaving a copy of Playboy on the dining room table
25. Just sit down wherever you are -- in the living room, on a bench in the town square, wherever -- just sit down and look at the damn thing. Cover to cover. Twice, if you want to. Ain't nobody stopping you. No law against it. You're a consenting adult, after all. (Warning: This is a very risky strategy. Without the on-the-sly element, some guys report the issue is actually kind of boring, that it's no different than last year's, that the women don't look real, and that this isn't as cool as it was when they were 13. Some have even been known to wonder what exactly the issue has to do with sports. )
26. Which brings up an important point (and the only real prohibition I have to offer here): Do not ever, under any circumstances, make the argument that the issue actually does have anything to do with sports. That way lies peril, and weeks, nay months, and years, of backpedaling, and the absolute, fundamental and irreversible surrender of even the slimmest hope of ever having the upper hand on any remotely significant relationship question from then on out.
27. Come out as a woman; say you're trolling for summer fashion ideas.
28. Don't read it at all. Buy your girl a sexy, slinky something. Take some Polaroids. Get carried away.
None of these strategies is fool-proof. What can I tell you? You want rewards, you have to take a few risks. Warren Buffett told me that. Or was it Warren Beatty? Anyway, you can handle it. After all, you're not a 13-year-old kid anymore.
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.