Ah, fun in the sun! The typical European holiday, right? One guy, two girls, and an endless beach.
I bet these folks were on school holidays, just like me, right?
That's when I picked up this mag up for the first time. It only cost me a buck and five cents
Was there some mistake? I didn't wait around to find out.
In 1970's Australia, you got two weeks of school holidays in May, two weeks in September, and six weeks around Christmas.
What you chose to do with that time was up to you and your parents -- it was MOSTLY up to your parents, actually, and you had very little say, but you wouldn't admit that. When you're eleven years of age, you have zero freedom and little credibility as a reliable human.
Which was why getting your mother to agree to let you take a train to the city took big balls (even if you're female) and big lies.
On the first Monday of my May holiday, I convinced my mother to let me travel to the city, which was thirteen train stations away, so I could look at "school books" and visit an art gallery. I did neither.
Instead, I visited a place of absolute wonder called The Space Age Bookshop. This all-genre palace of literary delights sat at the top of Swanton Street, Melbourne, between Lonsdale and Li'l Lonsdale Streets. It had a narrow front, but the interior had TARDIS-like proportions. It seemed to go on and on forever, even up some wooden stairs where outrageously priced issues of Castle of Frankenstein, Spacemen, Sci Fi Monthly, and Famous Monsters were displayed like museum exhibits.
I also became aware that there was an after hours Science Fiction Club that met at the store; I was never invited to join it, and I was firmly rebuffed when I asked about its existence. I guess it was a members-only deal. I was only a member of one club at the time -- The Bata Scout Club; you got to become a member of that when your mother bought you a pair of Bata Scout school shoes. The shoes had something that most shoes didn't -- a compass in the heal. The trouble was, the compass was on the inside of the shoe, so you had to take the shoe off if you wanted to find your home home.
Visiting Space Age was the best thing a kid could do, especially an ugly kid with an eye patch and horrendously oversized glasses.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by images of my kind, and up against rows of BEMS (Buy-Eyed Monsters), Michael Whelan aliens and bestiaries, Basil Gogos magazine covers, and books of frame-captured images from classics such as Frankenstein, Freaks, and Fred March's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I was The Great Gatsby. Thankfully, they had no books about him.
But being in Space Age was liberating because it was everything I loved and everything my parents despised.
There were even customers my parents' age in there, and that's the part that seemed weird to me. How could that be? Were there adults out there who thought differently to my parents? I guess so. Forry Ackerman was one, although he was more like a grandfather. I'm sure HE never told anybody that they'd seen enough monsters. I bet HE didn't put the brakes on kids staying up late to watch The Slime People on Deadly Earnest. Like me, monsters were his life; they weren't something HE was going to "grow out of".
"grow out of..."
I'd be overhearing that phrase a bit lately. Whenever my parents discussed my "hobby" with relatives, the phrase "grow out of" would get tossed around. What did my love of monsters have to do with growing out of anything? My love just was. It wasn't like one of my one-kiss girlfriends who came and went with the regularity of the North wind. This was was a love like no other; a love that would never leave me.
My jaunts to Space Age were self-financed. I've always been big on entrepreneurial activities, and my childhood was where the bug began. The motivator was the hefty price tags on monster magazines and books. To a guy who earned fifty cents a week in pocket money, $5.00 for a back issue of an old Famous Monsters was the equivalent of two-and-a-half months' salary to Donald Trump.
I mowed lawns, clipped hedges and removed garbage for fat old ladies, but my biggest earner was collecting empty beer bottles with my brother. We'd ask neighbors for their empties and fill our wheelbarrow with them. We'd stack them along the side of the house until we could stack no more.
With school holidays imminent, we'd spend Saturdays and Sundays collecting. It wasn't apparent to us then, but in retrospect, those neighborhoods were filled with serious alcoholics. By jove (which was an old expression of my grandfather's), we had some regulars who kindly provided dozens of bottles to us every week. Yes, EVERY WEEK. Occasionally, we'd hit alcoholic paydirt -- a customer with so many bottles, we'd have to make a dozen trips to collect the all.
When we had close to two hundred dozens bottles, we'd call Carlton and United Breweries, the makers of Fosters, and book a time for them to pick up our bottles.
I think we got about eighteen cents per dozen, which, based on two hundred dozen, put $36 in our pockets. Split that, and we had $18 each.
That gave me $18 to spend at Space Age.
If you weren't buying too many mint condition issues of classic monster mags, that money went a long way.
$1.05 for a mag called Continental (previously Continental Films) was legal thievery.
Shit, this thing had pictures of nude women, and people having sex on cars (before David Cronenberg even thought of it!)
And how about this Agent 69 Jansen lady? Compared to her, the girls in my class were so boring. She wasn't even wearing any underwear, yet still she could hold a gun and spy.
I now had my own picture of her and I still had change!
Continental was a curious mag. I think it had an identity crisis.
You had naked folks romping on the front cover and a plethora of great photographic essays on (now obscure) sex films on the inside, but Olivia Newton John and Travolta were on the contents page, and Force 10 From Navarone was on the back cover. What was that about?
I rode the train home with several new Dr. Who paperbacks...
... an edition of the brilliant The Monster Times, a great horror newspaper...
...and my mint condition issue of Continental.
I felt quite continental myself reading the mag in front of adults who gave me disapproving glances.
I stood by the door, front cover visible, leafing slowly through the pages, my public protest against adult conservatism the first of many.
When I arrived home after a one hour train journey and a one mile walk, I quickly rushed my purchases to a safe place in my bedroom and appeared magically in the kitchen two minutes later. My mother, who immediately handed me a bowl of peas to shell, asked me how my trip to the city went.
"Alright," was my usual answer.
This was then proceeded by her (usual) follow-up: "You didn't spend any money, did you?"
To which I supplied: "No, nothing to buy."
After dinner, I disappeared to my bedroom, which I shared with my brother, to read the things that I didn't buy.
One particular film title had my head spinning:
When my mother came into the bedroom a couple of hours later to issue her "Lights out!" order, I looked up and said: "Mum, what are wife swappers?"
I remember her looking totally uncomfortable.
"What are wife swappers?"
"Who wants to know that?"
"A kid at school wants to know."
My mother looked at me suspiciously.
"Just a kid."
She wasn't buying it.
"It's not you who wants to know, is it?"
"Can I know, too?"
There was a long, awkward pause.
"It's just people being stupid," she explained. "Bad people."
"But why are they swapping wives?"
"Because they shouldn't have gotten married in the first place!"
At that she stormed off and the lights went out.
Emanuelle and the Wife Swappers is a '73,
non-Laura Gemser film originally titled Liebesmarkt.
non-Laura Gemser film originally titled Liebesmarkt.