Confusion briefly reigned in the publishing world last week when reports surfaced that Penthouse magazine, a purveyor of sex and nudity for more than 50 years, would cease its print edition.
Or would it?
Penthouse officials quickly backtracked, saying accounts of its print demise had been exaggerated due to a poorly worded press release touting the magazine's expanding digital format. This being Penthouse, I assume the press release must have been concocted by one of the magazine's leading contributors over the years: A freshman at a large Midwestern university.
This unknown "freshman" was the source of so much envy during my high school and college years, when I leafed through monthly issues of Penthouse, gazing first at images of naked women but eventually retreating to Forum, one of the magazine's most popular features and one that required actual reading as opposed to gawking. Forum, which still exists, contains brief stories of highly charged sexual escapades, supposedly submitted by actual readers. During my youth, at least one story always seemed to begin with the following sentence: "Dear Penthouse Forum: I am a freshman at a large Midwestern university."
What followed varied from issue to issue. A late night dalliance with a vixen chemistry professor; a fling with a sorority president AND her roommate; a midday hookup in the campus library, where the freshman proudly admitted to acting out notes from his biology lectures.
Who was this kid, my friends and I wondered, and what was his secret? Were multiple freshmen at multiple universities bordering the Great Lakes getting this kind of action or was it a single stud with a penchant for creative writing? My curiosity piqued beginning the fall of 1980 when I actually BECAME a freshman at a large Midwestern university, Northwestern to be precise. Yes, I attended for its highly-rated journalism program but hey, a boy could dream, right? Maybe this virile dude was seated alongside me in a lecture hall. Maybe I'd meet him, learn his secrets and eventually assume his title. He had to graduate at some point, correct?
By mid-sophomore year, I had achieved absolutely nothing, sexually speaking, that would qualify me for a spot in Forum. Nobody was going to read, "Chance dorm encounter leads to polite exchange of phone numbers." Conversations with my equally sex-starved fraternity brothers yielded the following conclusions:
- We had enrolled at the wrong Midwestern university.
- We were incredibly unattractive to the female species.
- The Forum stories were fake.
To preserve our dignity, we opted for choice three. And, in an act of retaliation against Penthouse and its fantasy freshman scribe, we decided to concoct our own Forum letter and submit it to the magazine. My expanding journalism skills qualified me to be chief note-taker while others, addled by alcohol, tossed out potential scenarios.
"What's the location?"
"The computer lab?"
"Nah. Not believable."
"The campus radio station. During a Pink Floyd marathon."
"That's got potential."
"What if it occurs during Parent's Weekend?"
"That's disgusting. Even by your standards."
Eventually we completed our fictitious work, painstakingly typed, double spaced and triple checked for spelling errors by yours truly. I can't remember the story's exact details. Only that, true to Forum standards, it contained numerous, and often hilarious synonyms for anatomical parts. I mailed it to Forum editors and then the fraternity began the inevitable process of scanning Penthouse issues, waiting for our story to appear.
It never did.
Perhaps the editors saw through our ruse. Or maybe they were inundated with stories from freshmen and didn't want to appear repetitive. At least we gave it the old college try, so to speak.
Penthouse may soon go the way of its competitor, Playboy, and opt to focus on journalism rather than nudity. Or it may disappear from newsstands altogether. No matter, as I no longer read Forum. But I still wonder if one of those freshmen stories was true and what its author is doing now.
Hopefully not writing a piece that begins, "I am a balding, middle-aged dad in a large Midwestern city ..."