How to Get Away with Buying a Playboy, circa 1970

It occurs to me this morning you might be wondering how someone would have gone about buying a Playboy in a small American town in the early 1970s — and get away with it.  Of course, that was back when buying a Playboy in a small backwards town could break your reputation, so getting away with it was key.

Now, I don’t recall how old I was when I bought my first Playboy.  Older than 16, at least.  So long ago some of the details that never mattered to me anyway now escape me.

I do, however, recall that I bought my first Playboy at Potter’s Drugstore, and that Old Man Potter himself rang up my purchase.  Old Man Potter owned and operated one of two drugstores in my pathetically small town of 2,500 people where it seemed everyone knew everyone else.  And here’s what I recall about buying that Playboy:

I recall I began sweating the moment I picked it out of the magazine rack, and I began blushing the moment I handed it to Old Man Potter at the check out counter.  The only two people in the whole store at the time were Old Man Potter and me — I had carefully seen to that — but I nevertheless felt like the eyes of the entire community were upon me.

For a moment, everything seemed to go smoothly.  I handed the Playboy to Old Man Potter; Old Man Potter took the Playboy; he looked at the price just like he would any other magazine: and then he entered the price into his cash register.   Smooth.  Normal.  I was almost about to breath again when suddenly he said, “I’ll be right back.  I have to make a phone call.” Then he dashed off to the back room with the Playboy still in his hands.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I didn’t stop blushing.  I didn’t stop sweating.  I just waited.  Nothing like this had ever happened to me.  No one had ever before interrupted a transaction, leaving me waiting forever at the counter. I began imaging things.

I imagined he’d gone to the restroom.  I imagined he’d had a heart attack.  Worse, I imagined my aunt was about to walk through the door to the shop at the very same moment Old Man Potter came back with my Playboy.  For some reason, I could vividly imagine that, and the mere thought of it sent new waves of blood to my face.  By the time Old Man Potter came back, I was so red, I must have looked like a fire truck in estrus.  Fortunately, my aunt did not appear.

The rest was uneventful.  Old Man Potter simply finished up ringing up my purchase, took my money, handed me the Playboy and wished me a good day.  I thought I detected a tone of disapproval in his voice, but that could have been pure imagination.

At any rate, I left the store with my Playboy and walked straight home.  I wanted to get home before mom came home from work so I wouldn’t need to hide my Playboy in the garage, instead of taking the risk of trying to slip it past her on my way into the house.

By the time I got home — thankfully, ahead of mom — I had been thinking about where to hide the Playboy in my room.  Mom was a great respecter of my privacy, and she was by no means a snoop, but I was taking no chances.  I wanted neither the embarrassment of her finding out that I looked at filthy pornography, nor the inevitable loss of my filthy pornography if she did find out, because I knew she’d make me throw it away with my own hands if she discovered it.  Finally, I decided to hide it in the bottom drawer of my dresser, beneath my Psychology Today magazines.  She never read my Psychology Today magazines, I thought.

Nowadays, it must be difficult for people who were not alive in the early 70s to realize just how scandalous Playboy was to so very many people back then.  I knew, for instance, that if word got around my school I was buying Playboys, nearly half the kids in my class would think I was either creepy, or a pervert, or both.  The only thing powerful enough to overcome my fears of the risk I was taking was, of course, testosterone.  All conquering testosterone.

Lucky for me, I got away with it.  I even went back to Potter’s Drugstore the next month and bought the next issue.  And the one after that.  And so on, until I left town for college.  It never got any easier:  I always blushed mightily and I always sweat profusely, but I also always waited until I would be the only one at the counter — and I always got away with it.

Or so I thought.  Several years later, I was back in the town visiting mom.  I don’t remember what we were talking about, but at some point she mentioned — as casually as if she were talking about the tomato harvest — that time Old Man Potter had called her at work to inform her I was attempting to buy a Playboy.  Then as my jaw dropped she went on to say how she had shocked Old Man Potter by telling him she thought I was of an age now when it was only natural I’d be interested in girls and that he had her permission to sell me all the Playboys he could.  As I sank lower and lower into my chair, she mentioned, with a wry smile, that some of her friends thought she was a bit radical once word got all over town I was buying Playboys with her blessing.  Last, she thanked me for not leaving my Playboys lying around the house.  It’d been her only real worry that I might.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is how you get away with buying a Playboy in a small American town in the early 1970s — you must first get yourself an understanding mother.  The rest is easy.

25 thoughts on “How to Get Away with Buying a Playboy, circa 1970

  1. Oh wow. We had old bookstores in Mumbai that had an array of old American playboy magazines – very fascinating. In 1996 (I was 15) I bought my first one and it led to big storm in my house when my dad found out. He suddenly started treating me as a grown up 😛

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  2. That’s a GREAT story! I had a similar experience in my marijuana days when I went to buy a piece. I never really bought porn though. I grew up in a different generation. One with the Internet. 🙂

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  3. What a great story! Love him or hate him, Hugh Hefner is a commercial genius. I even collect Playboy memorabilia myself! Funny how things are so different nowadays. My girlfriends don’t even bat an eye when I talk about collecting PB merchandise … and my guy-friends … well, they love it, of course!

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  4. Paul, this is one superbly told story! I wasn’t born in the ’70s, so I can’t really relate to this, and furthermore, I am an Indian, and so I cannot afford to lose or endanger my 5000 year-old culture by reading such diabolical rags as Playboy.
    I will also appreciate if you stop trying to corrupt the blogosphere by publishing such provocative and incendiary material.
    BTW, can you post me some of these old issues?
    It ain’t available in India.

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  5. That is an awesome tale sir! My own mother wasn’t so understanding in 1974 when Mr. Eschelman from Eschelman’s Pharmacy phoned her about my pending purchase. In the Mom sweepstakes you sure pulled a winner.

    Thanks for bringing back that embarrassing moment for me. lol

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  6. Hi Fitch! Things have sure changed in 30 or 40 years. What kind of memorabilia is there to collect — besides magazines? By the way, welcome to the blog! 🙂

    Hi Doc! I’m ashamed to say I’m proud of my contributions to the decline of the blogosphere. Also — depending on how things go with the election here — I might be suddenly inclined to move to India. Do you think customs will allow in my extensive porn library if I tell them it’s all about my childhood memories to me?

    Hi Ro! Thank you so much for your kind words. Welcome to the blog! 🙂

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  7. Hi Jehingr! Thank you for your kind words! I might be biased, but I very much agree with you I’ve been lucky in the mom sweepstakes. Thanks for sharing that bit about your own experiences. And welcome to the blog! 🙂

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  8. What kind of memorabilia is there to collect? Oooo … all kinds! I get a Playboy catalog in the mail every 8 weeks or so. Besides the magazines there are books, jazz CDs (Hef’s apparently a big jazz fan) DVDs, pillows, blankets, shot glasses, billiard balls, shower curtains … and the list goes on and on. Currently, I’ve got my eye on a limited edition Andy Warhol reproduction of his iconic bunny images. Very cool stuff!

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  9. Hi Fitch! I had no idea how much was available!!! By the way, someone once pointed out to me that Hefner has slept with as many as 2000 women in his life — but not even one has come forward to complain he treated her as other than a gentleman. That’s a remarkable accomplishment, methinks.

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  10. I bought mine in a not so small town in 1978. 8th grade. Brought it into school. I didn’t seem to have a problem with it as long as the school monkeys didn’t find out. My parents were fine with it as long as I didn’t get the real porn, like hustler. I can remember in the first one there was this picture of a 50 year old chick. Yes, a chick. The caption below her was “Believe she is 50? She is! bla bla bla” Perfect! Of course she would be what – 80+ by now…

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  11. In 19 Paul Says:
    September 9, 2008 at 4:09 PM

    … someone once pointed out to me that Hefner has slept with as many as 2000 women in his life — but not even one has come forward to complain he treated her as other than a gentleman …

    Well, someone certainly gave you some incorrect information. You might start by looking at Carrie Leigh, the “lady of the mansion” in the mid-80’s. After Carrie started talking following her breakup, Playboy had a lengthy article that can best be described as a hatchet-job.

    There are a slew of angry women but the one he hurt the most is his first wife. Did you ever wonder why it was that his daughter became active at Playboy and no other member of his original family? His son was still so angry over Hefner’s treatment of his mother that he still wasn’t speaking to him after 25 years. His principles and/or resentment overrode the millions he could have had.

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  12. Pingback: Potpourri on a Sunday Evening | ***Dave Does the Blog

  13. Wow, you guys were already older than me when you bought your first PBS. I grew up in the internet age which I can see makes things a 100 times easier (no’one to see me buying it, no perv phoning my mother). I bought my first mag when I was barely 13 but to be fare it wasn’t for porno (well kinda) but more for a vintage collection I had going . I shelled out about 1000 for a mint condition Playboy #1 (framed) and I hid the magazine in my comic box where I knew nobody would ever check. In fact I now have collection containing every mainstream mag from DEC 1953-1970. All I can say is my parents would have been seriously pissed if they found my collection no matter how old so THANK GOD FOR THE INTERNET AND ITS MIGHTY WAYS OF ACCESSING PORN UNDERAGE

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