A few weeks ago I briefly took part in a discussion on Facebook that got me thinking about how I started down the road of prose I’ve been following for a really long time now. I don’t remember exactly what the post was about, or even who originated it, but I do remember that it sparked a memory of an early love of parody and farce that I think I can trace back to Mad Magazine. I remember my introduction to Mad came from my father, unlikely as that sounds. My dad used to travel a lot for business, and he’d often pick up some light reading for the flight that usually ended up in the hands of his kids. Often it was a Johnny Hart pocket paperback of comics like “The Wizard of Id” or “B.C.”, but on this occasion it happened to be the Mad Magazine “Jaws II” issue from January 1979. I was just 11 years old, and I remember my mom’s concern and asking my dad if it was really ok for me to read it. He said he thought it was, which upon reflection makes me wonder if it was really my dad, or possibly some time-traveling hero hoping to bend my path away from evil. It just doesn’t feel like something of which he would approve, but that one incidence has had a profound effect on the way I perceive and deal with my world.
Reading was always important in my family. My dad often read stories to us. “The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins” by Dr. Suess, is one I remember hearing frequently. We had the usual children’s books, a whole bookcase full of them in our room, and I remember my mom frequently carting us off to the library to get an arm full of loaners. I went through the usual kid path of reading. It seems like someone in my elementary school would discover race cars, then all the boys would check out all the race car books in the tiny elementary school library. Then it would be skyscrapers or some other little-boy fad subject.
I remember running out of dinosaur books and turning around and hitting the small science fiction section. That was the first big turning point to me. I’d seen Flash Gordon serials and other sci-fi shows, but I hadn’t really ever given much thought to fiction. I think “Elevator to the Moon” was the first one I read, and in short order I’d plowed through the two shelves of science fiction in the library, including Wells’ “War of the Worlds” (possibly dumbed down for kids).
Then came that Mad Magazine. Not only was it dealing in a large part with popular fiction, but also parodying works I often hadn’t even experienced first hand. Mad Magazine was way over my head, but somehow I filed away those parts I didn’t understand to come back in a flash of understanding years later when the context presented itself. I think that it introduced me to thinking above the threshold of my understanding and caused me to stretch out and really consider the meanings of what I was reading. Maybe it’s presumptuous to attribute so much to a juvenile rag like Mad, but I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. Remind me to tell you about The Rainbow of Texts someday if I haven’t already.