Oct

22

 Having lived two blocks from where PENTHOUSE used to be domiciled, I am probably the only one on this Spec List who met and–mirabile dictu!–actually worked for the man.

It was a funny job, with the lingua franca the stuff of which most homes wash their children's mouths out with industrial-strength soap. I was re-writing and editing what can probably best be described as …literary schmutz. I enjoyed the work, though: Not only did it pay better than the other magazines I had written and edited for, but the office was less than 5 minutes' walk, and the people wafting through were often the meat and potatoes of the gossip tabloids and the supermarket fantasies of the male half of the population. When they moved elsewhere, I was less interested in moving with them.

The stylebook all editors work around, at every mass circular and mag, used words and phrases that would make most seminarians blush (and why did that word pop into mind, rather than the simpler teacher), but we had to be mindful of phrases that upset the Canadians, or Brits, making the magazine unsalable in Toronto or Manchester. Similarly, I had to watch terms that were too graphic, even for us. Words alone, but combined in fetishistic conjunction, became verboten. It was amusing to slide the judgment yea to this cornucopoeia of heat, nay to that. Or launder to suit: I was for a time the washerwoman of choice.

The office was a human zoo. Giraffe-like women with impossible figures and imaginary clothing that almost covered them. Famed bucks, writers and inventors and marmoset entrepreneurs passed the office as I looked up from my shvitzy drudgery in 4-letter coin. Small and expensive inner-office soirées to which I was hardly invited, and did not go, as I knew I less wanted in than did the male staffers who hankered (drooled comes to mind) for entrée.

Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini ["Bob"] Guccione—17 December 1930 to 20 October 2010– founder/publisher of the adult magazine Penthouse, which went a step or two beyond safer, more hygienic pioneer, Playboy.

Guccione struck me as perfect for the place, and perfect for the 'job' he did–spending lavishly and often to get noticed in the columns, earn printing ink and news stand sales. He was not exactly buttoned down, but he tried to present in as Ivy a mimicry as he could manage, considering that deep oiled tan, and that voice, and those eyes.

At the time, I was struck by how amazingly subdued the place was, aside from all the glory gadabouts drifting through the halls. I used to joke with the then-live-in beau, "The sexiest thing you hear around the office is 'Want to meet for coffee before we catch the 5:35?'" Because inside the Penthouse offices was pretty much 95% … business. Magazines are about getting the next issue out: catastrophes, personal crises and subterranean faults aside. Even the drip, drip of the hotbed content mattered less than the civilities of interacting with co-workers in maximal efficiency. Sigh.

The Letters were my particular forte. Though they supposedly came in from real men, somewhere in flyover-yearning country, in truth, they seemed to be scrawled by someone in a nearby hutch, someone with a nicely honed, hyperactive imagination. I would tweak them. Add a little pet nickname here or there, clean up the grammar if not the bloated claims, zestify the naughty bits to get to the 'point' quicker.

In my darkened hovel of heightened humors, I vastly enjoyed the chance to get paid for working on this [bottom-sludge] with so many highlights and -low.

Of course, occasionally, I would edit the fine interview, or the long and flamboyantly cerebral piece on deep space or the interior workings of engineering marvels. These were a delight and a great change of pace, lagniappe, and repaid my work on the 'liquid pieces' fivefold–both instructing and correcting my—um–skewed recent view of the world according to Guccione.

When I wrote an Asian cookbook, working for a serious publisher up in Cambridge, I used to run home and blam open the door with "Let's go eat! Chinese!" And he responded with amiable accord.

Now, working for Bob G, dealing all day with mostly salivary and licentious images, the tautened fervors scribbled by lads barely old enough to shave, to the aged who barely had to shave any longer, I ran home with something else in mind when after a long day’s labor I opened the door.


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