John Tinseth remembers buying his first issue of Playboy at the age of twelve, and how he learned he’d make a terrible spy.
You can never forget your first Playboy. This was mine. Purchased in Montreal when I was 12. We were visiting friends of my parents. Eight people crammed into a tiny townhouse if I remember correctly. I was sent on a errand to get milk or something at a Canadian 7/11. Instead of Playboy being under the counter—this issue was proudly displayed on the magazine rack.
With more courage than I knew I had, I stepped up to the register with the milk or whatever and plunked the magazine down like I had done it a million times. The clerk picks up the Playboy, looks at me and says something in French with “Pla-boyye” ending his sentence. “Yeah, it’s a Playboy,” I say. “Oh, you’re American. Where are you from?” I know this is all about confidence. “Virgina, we’re visiting some friends.” He’s ringing it up and says, “Va-geeenia. Thaz a looong way.” “Uh-huh.” I give him a twenty and I’m out the door with Miss July. That’s when I first learned there’s a huge pay off in taking risk.
A block or two from the townhouse, I crammed the magazine into the back of my pants and un-tucked my shirt over it. Once inside, I deliver the milk or whatever to an adult and make a bee-line for the bathroom. There, I conceal Miss July under a big pile of towels stacked under the sink. “So far so good,” I thought as I wondered if everyone would go through all the towels before I came back for my prize. I also discovered, about this time, that when I concentrated–really focused–I could do anything. Even wake myself up in the middle of the night.
Like James Bond I snap awake at 0200 hours. In a Bruce Lee-like tip toe, I dart into the bathroom and quietly collect the magazine. With hardly a thought and acting on pure instinct, I head for the garage, open our station wagon door and proceed to stuff the magazine under the front seat. The intense rush at sneaking around like this cannot be described. I don’t think jumping out of a plane ever came close.
On the way home I sat next to my father while my two sisters and mother sat in the back seat. I was always told I was the navigator but my old man never listened to my directions—which were always wrong—and still are. No, I was up front so he could reach me. I don’t remember how long we had been on the road when I first saw trouble. I do know my ballooning confidence at pulling off this amazing caper disappeared when I saw the US / Canadian Border. Police were everywhere motioning cars to pull over…other cars being searched…clothes hauled out of trunks. This was not good.
I looked at my father, a man who wore a crew cut and frowned throughout my childhood. He was two years out of Vietnam. Now a major with a real career in front of him… Unless his son put the whole family in a Canadian jail for the transportation of pornography. What would you do? I fessed up fast. “We gotta pull over now.” He looks at me confused, “What?” I breathe deep. “I have something in the car. We have to pull over before we get up there.” From the back seat I hear my mother, “What? What did he say?” My father is slowing down at this point and he looks at me like he’s gonna throw up. He’s more scared than I am. You have to remember…there were a lot of drugs back in 1971. I never went near them. Not with a Green Beret for a Dad. But he didn’t know that.
My mother is leaning forward in her seat, “What’s he saying?” My father tells her to sit back and he shoots me a look, “What’s in the car?” We’re too close now. If we pull over the cops are gonna know. “I have a Playboy magazine stuffed under my seat. If they search the car we’re gonna be in big trouble.” I looked at him expecting full furry and I remember seeing the relief. And then he laughed. “I think we’re gonna be okay,” he said. I’m sitting in a pool of sweat on cheap Plymouth vinyl and I can only look down at my hands clenched tight. I rub them on my tie dyed bell bottoms and look at him. He’s smiling as he steers into an inspection lane.
After we pull away—without being searched—he asks me quietly, “Where did you get it?” I tell him about the clerk at the Canadian 7/11. He nods. A few more miles down the road my mother is talking to my sister and my father looks at me like he never looked at me before and says, “If you ever want one… you let me know.” When we got home I was convinced I’d make a great spy (sans the confession back there at the border) and asked my father how I might go about it. “The only country you’d be good at spying on is this one,” he snorted and went back to reading Evergreen or the LA Free Press. For a career Army officer, my father was a bit out of the box. Brilliant, but out of the box.
Playboy was everything to me. Back then, I could spot one in a pile of magazines at a neighbor’s house from 50 paces save for ‘Southern Living’ magazine that would occasionally throw me with its similar binding. I look back and realize Playboy is a lot like watching an episode of Rat Patrol. Much of it hokey and cheesy. But sometimes you just wanna watch ’em ride around the desert in jeeps.
I thought the woman in the doorway was waiting for the two in the foreground to leave so she could smell some of those colognes. Actually, it’s still confusing. I’m not sure if I’d ever take a cologne break…Maybe he just needs the bottle.