It is the Summer of 1994 and my family is taking its routine summer vacation at the Jersey Shore after a long year of assorted concerns. Our matriarchal grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, passed away about a year ago. My Mom had finished up her first year of college as a non-traditional student. My father saw another full range of patients; curing them of all sorts of ailments. And my brother and I endured our usual travails in our respective schools; mine, a Jewish Day School in the suburbs, his, public elementary school. My parents did not believe in censorship and we could read or watch anything we wanted to. Vampires, mummies, PC World, Sweet Valley Kids, The Simpsons, MAD Magazine all had a place in our young minds.
Our shore house in Bradley Beach was our refuge from all sorts of social concerns. There was a sense of freedom that Jonathan and I recognized that we could pretty much read anything without ridicule or judgment. And no peer pressure from the adults nor our classmates would haunt us. I don’t think that we even had a working cable TV and this was long before the days of computers and the internet. We had to become creative in the ways that we entertained ourselves. My classmates were definitely products of their own environment and could not recognize good art unless it was hanging on their parents’ living room walls. Imagine what it was like for me to grow up being able to see and read whatever I wanted! And our classmates would never know what we were really like on our summer vacation and what we read.
When we arrived on a Monday at lunch time, my brother would run over to the bookcase and see what the MAD Magazine godmother had left for him, grab a stack of them and read them, laughing like a loon. The godmother was actually my Mom’s brother, who had subscription to MAD Magazine since the 1970s. That’s how long our uncle’s fascination with MAD Magazine had become, among other magazines that we had no fondness for. After reading a few of the Mads with my brother, it was time for lunch.
I watched as this ritual would take place each month that we were at the shore and listen to Jonathan roar with laughter particularly about the parodies of recent movies such “Jurassic Park,” “Batman and Robin,” “Fairest Schlump” (Forrest Gump), The Ikrappa Catalogue (The Ikea Catalogue) and even coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial proceedings. The advertisement for Milk was also amusing to see as Mom had to translate the phrase “Schmuck.” Mad certainly had a way of keeping up with the times.
And it didn’t matter if Jonathan had to reread a volume – it still packed a comic whiz and he read it as if it was the first time. But it was Mom, who reminded Jonathan cleverly that she already heard that joke before about Star Wars and the fold on the back cover, and were there any magazines that he had not read yet? We read past the sexism, bottom-basement humor, some of the historical events and controversies and just enjoyed the literal meanings of the drawings and the jokes.
As I read these magazines, I started to notice distinctive styles of artists and one that stuck out for me was Art Spiegelman, of Maus fame and Garbage Pail Kids cards from my earlier childhood days. In that same bookcase, I came across an article in Life that featured him reading MAD Magazine with his Mom in 1960. I was impressed that he could connect with his parent just as readily as Jonathan and I could with our parents. Of course, I didn’t really know about the real story behind Art Spiegelman and his family at the time, but for the time being I was ready to go the beach. What, Me Worry?