When the time comes for my life to flash in front of my eyes, I know that at least one of the images is going to be me, at age 11 or so, kneeling on the bunk at Camp Ockanickon staring with slack-jawed fascination at an amazing picture on the back of a cheap, glossy magazine.
I’ve forgotten what the magazine was (probably Playboy, or one of the other Mostly Harmless titles issued to YMCA summer-camp counselors to hide under their bunks) or even what was in it (though I seem to remember some ads for hypnosis books, ready to grant the purchaser terrible and fascinating skills), but I sure remember that back cover. The moment my eleven-year-old eyes saw it, my world lurched and shifted. That picture introduced me to what it would be like to be an adult.
(Just to cut away from the breathless tone for a moment: it was a Rumple Minze ad, showing a chick in a metal bra holding a sword while riding a polar bear. There was probably an eyepatch involved.)
Okay, back to the reverence: This image, with an audible “splash”, sank deep into my subconscious. The ripples still surface on a daily basis. It’s down there right now, down there with the “mexican horny toad” in a box from Spencer’s Gifts at the Exton Square mall, and the giant silver-colored “Ass, Gas, or Grass: Nobody Rides for Free” belt buckle from the Downingtown Farmer’s Market. That image opened, to me, the world of what being an adult was like — a world of high, craggy peaks, muscular, no-nonsense women, and the steely-eyed, mustachioed rebels whose pewter belt buckles caught their one-eyed gaze, and whose knowledge of sugary liqeurs won their fierce hearts, beating hot underneath their chilly, inadequate metal lingerie.
In other words, a load of crap, but it was too late: I had imprinted on that world, and now it’s irrevocably a part of me. Down to the mustachio.
Every now and then, I’ve tried to find that ad, but Google searches for “eyepatch chick polar bear tantalizing visions of adult life” have come up negative. Until finally I caught on to Mark Frauenfelder’s occasional references to the master of the genre: Frank Frazetta. Frank Frazetta, painter of a thousand sci-fi novel covers. Frank Frazetta, burnisher of a million pimply teenaged imaginations. Frank Frazetta, whose museum opens May 1st in East Stroudsburg, PA, allowing access to “…masterpiece works like Death Dealer, Silver Warrior, Conan the Barbarian and more.”
Holy cow, a hajj back to the adulthood I used to imagine. Kate and I have tentatively mapped out a plan where each of us takes a short enrichment trip once a quarter so we’ll have some new stuff happen to talk about. Sadly, what I’ll have to talk about is Frank Frazetta paintings, and the memories they stir up of the mysterious, saucy, and now-vanished Downingtown Farmers’ Market, purveyor of cheap butterfly knives, dragon-shaped nunchuckau, and “Save gas, fart in a jar” bumper stickers. Ahh, adulthood.
Next post: Frazetta as a broken signpost: why adult life is actually more awesome (though with fewer polar bears.)