Way, way down, deep in the bowels of a long, strange story in Harper's magazine, I stumbled upon the sentence -- actually the half-sentence -- that sort of, kind of, almost made sense of all the bizarre stuff printed in American magazines in 2006.
The story was called "The Blind Man and the Elephant." It was about the Super Bowl, but there were lengthy digressions about the Rolling Stones and Pizza Hut and Wonder Bread and Stevie Wonder and the history of the Moog synthesizer. And on the ninth page of the piece, just as I was beginning to wonder why I was still reading, the author, David Samuels, wrote a sentence that started out about Stevie Wonder's oeuvre but ended up with this:
" ... the free-floating weirdness of American life will always escape any attempts to make us seem like a normal country rather than a furious human-wave assault on the farthest shores of reality."
Wow! Dude nailed it, didn't he?
Contemporary American life, God love it, really does seem like a "furious human-wave assault on the farthest shores of reality." So let's keep that in mind as we chronicle the "free-floating weirdness" that washed up in American magazines in 2006.
In 2006, Bicycling magazine published a story called "The Secret Life of Asphalt." Philadelphia magazine ran a story called "Soccer Moms Who Shoot Up." Marie Claire published an article titled "I Surfed Naked for a Pair of Manolos." And More, a magazine for women older than 40, ran a story called "Moms in Menopause, Daughters in Puberty, Dads in Hell."
In 2006, Details published a photo gallery of hip luggage tags. Rolling Stone published a cover photo of rapper Kanye West with a bloody face and a crown of thorns. And Esquire announced that "hipbones are the new cleavage."
"Fake Is the New Real!" Blender, the pop music magazine, proclaimed on its April cover, which featured a fake photo of comedian Dave Chappelle setting fire to a check for $50 million.
In April, New York magazine's cover seemed to show Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with a baby. The cover line read: "Exclusive: Baby Brangelina! First Photos" and then in teeny-tiny type: "Requisite disclaimer: This is a fake picture. Brad is an impostor; Angelina is a computer clone. The baby has not yet been born ... "
About a month later, after the baby was born, People magazine published pictures that it bought for a reputed $4 million. The kid in the fake pictures was actually cuter.
In 2006, Runner's World magazine surveyed its readers, asking them whether they'd rather go for a run or have sex. In the United States, sex beat running 59% to 41%. But in Australia and New Zealand, running beat sex 54% to 46%. Which raises the question: Is the running better in Australia, or is the sex better in America?
In 2006, B.B. King, the 80-year-old blues guitarist, told Esquire: "I have an excellent medical team. There's Dr. Viagra, Dr. Cialis and nurse Levitra." Actress Rosario Dawson told Esquire, "My brother and I got my mom her chest pierced for Mother's Day." And actor Tony Curtis told Esquire about his 1949 affair with Marilyn Monroe: "I never felt her figure was so proper; I thought it was a little lumpy in places." Curtis also recited a poem he'd composed:
You cannot ask a fish not to swim
It's the only thing that makes him him.
Stuff, a spinoff of Maxim for people who find that magazine too challenging, published an interview with murdered rapper Tupac Shakur, as conducted by "world-renowned medium Victoria Bullis." Bullis revealed that Tupac is in heaven now, hanging out with Abraham Lincoln. It turns out that in a previous life, Tupac was a general in the Civil War, although he won't reveal which side he fought on. "That's for me to know and you to find out later," he says.
In 2006, American magazines published 7,486,294 celebrity interviews, give or take a million. Many of them were bad. Some were so bad they were good. And one was so horrendously awful that it was fabulous. I'm referring, of course, to Us Weekly's cover story on actress Tara Reid: "My Plastic Surgery Nightmare."
In this classic of the genre, Reid revealed the true story of how her botched breast implants left her with scarred nipples and oversize breasts. "I asked for big Bs, and he did not give me big Bs," she lamented. "He gave me Cs, and I didn't want them."
And then she was walking down the red carpet at a party for Sean "Diddy" Combs, and the strap of her gown accidentally fell down, exposing her left breast, and the paparazzi snapped pictures, revealing her scarred nipple to, like, the entire world! A therapist helped her regain self-confidence and move on with her life, which she did by getting new plastic surgery to correct the old plastic surgery, and by helping humanity by telling her sad story to Us Weekly.
"Maybe this was meant to be," she said, "so I could tell the rest of the world what not to do."
In 2006, Newsweek published a cover story called "Freud Is Not Dead," which contained this delightfully impish sentence: "Back in the 1950s, analysis was a status symbol and a mark of sophistication, a role filled in society today by cosmetic surgery."
Hallmark, the company that puts out those wholesome greeting cards, produced a new magazine, which is called Hallmark. In the very first issue, Pam Houston wrote about a kayaking trip she took in Mexico. "We had guessed that there wouldn't be showers, but the No Toilet Paper rule came as a surprise," she wrote. "Kelley, our guide, showed us how to wipe ourselves with rocks."
New York Dog magazine ran a photo spread of the latest fashions in dog diapers and underwear, including one diaper that comes with a leopard-skin bow tie.
In its "Sex and Romance" issue, the vegetarian magazine Veg News revealed the "Top 10 Veg pickup lines." No. 1 was this: "If I said you had the body of an all-natural, organic-living, animal-loving, environment-nurturing, whale-saving sex machine, would you hold it against me?"
In its 100th issue, Maxim, the popular guy mag, published "Maxim's 100 Greatest Moments!" Moment No. 86: "Maxim tests chain saws on $2,000 worth of beef. A week later, the test site becomes infested with rats." Moment No. 71: "During an interview over dinner, Mike Tyson stabs a staffer in the head with a fork."
Time magazine announced that its Person of the Year was: "You." The cover featured a Mylar mirror so you could look at you.
GQ published "The Elephant in the Bedroom" by a woman identified only as "Anonymous," who revealed that "Republican men (except the closet cases) are infinitely better to have sex with" than Democrats. Why? Because, among other reasons, they have "no conscience" and "no tears." Also because "Republicans will never send you group e-mails that consist of the entire text of Al Gore's last speech (that was 'woefully underreported' but 'I knew you'd want to read it in its entirety.')."
National Review published a list of "The 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs." Among the winners: "Taxman," the Beatles anti-tax anthem. And "Sweet Home Alabama," Lynyrd Skynyrd's spirited defense of George Wallace and the Watergate break-in. And "Wouldn't It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys: "Pro-abstinence and pro-marriage."
In 2006, American magazines provided their readers with millions of words of advice about finances, home improvement, self-improvement and, of course, sex. New York magazine published a cover story called "12 Ways to Remake Your Boring Old Self." Way No. 1: "Become a Nun." Way No. 10: "Go to an Indian Spiritual Retreat to Have Sex All the Time." Not to be outdone, U.S. News & World Report responded with a "special report" titled "50 Ways to Improve Your Life." Way No. 1: "Get Happy." Way No. 50: "Install Crown Molding."