(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on August 25, 2011, in “Walsh’s Wonderings”)
“It’s not fair!” whined the little boy as he tore from his mother’s grip. “Everybody else has an iPad or a Nook; why do I have to use a stupid Kindle? It’s not even in color!” He jammed an e-reader back onto the shelf, knocking the “Back to School” sign off in the process, before his mother managed to wrangle him out of the electronics department. She kept apologizing to him, asking him to realize how much it cost, even as she dragged him out of the store. A few of the other customers exchanged condescending glances, but I understood the moment all too well: it was Dynamite magazine all over again.
When I was that kid’s age, I was going into 6th grade at Timothy Dwight School. Among the many rites of September was the magical hour when the teacher would spread the Scholastic Arrow Book Club sheets on the tables before us, inviting us into the world of reading through a series of tiny checkboxes we’d fill out in pencil. We could order any book or magazine we’d like, provided we came in later that week with the cash or check from home. The teacher would give a short summary of each magazine and show us a few sample issues. Alas, like Wyle E. Coyote, I only had eyes for Dynamite.
Dynamite was a glossy magazine for children that fed us popular culture in elementary school bits: think People magazine on training wheels. It featured the biggest stars of the day on its covers without the girlish stigma of Tiger Beat or the amateurish camp of Bananas. Before the days of cable TV and the internet, magazines had cache. In short: if you were cool, you got your copy of Dynamite each month in the big brown box the teacher lugged from the staff room. If you weren’t cool, you waited to be handed your free copy of Junior Scholastic.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Junior Scholastic, mind you, just as there’s nothing wrong with a free VD shot or buying ramen noodles in bulk. It contained the news of the day in digest form, followed by a series of reading comprehension questions and quick quizzes or word searches. It was supposed to make current events fun, a form of Flintstones chewable vitamins meant to cover up the aftertaste of Walter Cronkite. The good folks at Scholastic carefully chewed up the news before regurgitating their monthly cocktail into our eager 6th grade hands, their cover stories bearing headlines like, “Understanding The Hostage Crisis” or “The SALT Treaty and You.” If Dynamite magazine was dinner and drinks with Alec Baldwin, Junior Scholastic was jumping bail with Daniel Baldwin.
In addition to Magic Wanda’s page of tricks, the Good Vibrations advice column, Count Morbida’s puzzles, the Bummers page (adolescent bits of satire that always began with, “Don’t you hate it when…”), or the occasional pull-out poster, Dynamite’s crack staff of journalists touched upon the truly important topics of our time. One need only review these actual headlines from my sixth grade year in 1979/1980 to appreciate the coverage. September: “Face to Face With Erik Estrada.” October: “Gary Coleman, TV’s Little Big Man.” November: “The Dukes of Hazzard.” December: “Steve Martin, A Wild and Crazy Guy!” January: “Mork and His New Pals!” February: “Buck Rogers, Then and Now!” March: “Live From New York: It’s Gilda Radner!” April: “BJ and The Bear, A Special Talk with Greg Evigan!” May: “Benji, Hollywood’s Top Dog!” June: “Meet John Schneider!” After December, all the headlines ended in exclamation points (!) and sent a clear signal to every child that something truly wild and crazy was going on between those covers.
My mom was immune to Dynamite’s charms, however, and no amount of pleading would convince her to part with the requisite subscription money. Much like the cold-hearted witch who’d refused her growing boy’s desperate petition for a decent e-reader (the one he has isn’t even color, for goodness sake), my mother was content to see me locked in a cell of cultural ignorance that haunts me to this day. The headlines I saw when I peeked over to my classmates’ desks offered a glimpse into a world I’d never know. “The Bee Gees vs. The Beatles! Who’s The Greatest?” (I was never told.) “Dynamite Spends A Happy Day With Scott Baio!” (I was never invited.) “Meet Rick Springfield!” (To this day, I have yet to do so.)
Lady, if you’re reading this, spring for the kid’s Nook. Don’t rob him of the intimate, backstage knowledge of the Jonas Brothers latest tour lest he grow up and regret his ignorance for the rest of his life. There are some holes you just don’t fill. Worse yet, he might become even more obnoxious and someday write a column about it.
On a side note, I’d like to apologize to my mom for most every back-to-school shopping trip we ever took.