As a college student, one of the friends who stuck with me through study burnout and hot secluded afternoons in the Venice ghetto was National Lampoon. This was the magazine which Mad readers graduated to - the same fearless iconoclasm and gleeful parodies of pop culture, now fortified with “fuck” and “shit” and other words not meant for kiddies (except in the schoolyard). I ignored the preponderance of naked tits (with no naked dicks as balance), and the vaguely depressing riffs on nuclear holocaust (illustrated with giant rats and crabs and children with octopus tentacles for limbs). But my favorite section was “True Facts”, newspaper articles and photos that were too strange, too out there, too WTF not to be true.
Years later, I gave away most of my NatLamps, but not the all-True Facts issues. Not then, and not ever. I will hold on to these until the day you have to pry them from my cold dead hands, and I will go back to them from time to time - not because I wish to be twenty years old again (my body maybe, but not my mind), but to show me an America where the tragic wand of corporate perfection has not touched.
In True Facts America, neon signs swing on rusty hinges in front of brick or stone establishments in towns where the only places you can go for enjoyment are the movie theater, the pizza parlor, the bar, and the church. Signs with moveable letters in plastic tracks lie out in plain sight, just ready for clever hands to pocket a few letters to announce, “SMURF ASSES ARE HERE.” Letters are more theft-worthy than diamonds in True Facts America, leaving Chinese restaurants that sell “GOO FOO” and gas stations where “vice is Our Business.”
In True Facts America, your local newspaper (with the rotogravure lifestyle section on Sunday the one highlight) will tell you the important news of the day, such as “Lebanon Will Try Bombing Suspects,” “Matches linked to fire”, and “Honeywell’s Profit From Operations Fell As Wang’s Rose.” Turn the page, and you’ll find that your local grocery is selling “Reg. or Sugar” Kotex tampons and tuna “chunk light in brothel.” Over on the social page, Fried marries Rice, White marries Nuckles, and Love marries Organ.
In True Facts America, entrepreneurs are slow to board the clue train, naming their businesses “Back Door Meat”, “AA Liquors”, and “Nazi’s Ice Cream.” Property owners have no problem putting a sign out, with big black letters, telling prospective renters they have reached “FAGG’S APARTMENTS.”
At the cemetery, you can see the final resting places of the Surprise, Boring, Wait, Hamburger, Croak and Schmuck clans. You may walk upon the grave of someone who hung himself with tube socks, or got hit with a bowling ball tossed from a car window, or fell into a vat of gravy, or got hacked to death by an son-in-law who thought she was a “large raccoon.”
It would be almost refreshing to live in a town where a “really good tape” in your car will inspire you to run down eleven traffic signs. Where middle school kids are still innocent enough to eat Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax because, after all, it’s “The Best For Your Stick.” Where zookeepers exhibit rubber coral snakes because real ones “tend to die.” Where Santa Claus may ask your child, “Do you want a big fucking dog?” Right down the big fucking chimney, of course!
It is a world I thought was on its last legs, smoothed away under the tan and beige of mini-malls and mega-shopping centers, scared away by the Vaderish silhouette of lawsuit panic, shooed away by kids who would rather update their MySpace pages than prowl the urban jungle, liberating letters from signs, transforming “THE CLOCK SHOP” into “THE C OCK SHOP”, “The FLAG POST” into “The F AG POST”, and “PENNI’S” into “PE NI’S”. We have no time anymore for True Facts -- we’re too busy trying to live life without trouble.
But one late summer afternoon, riding away from the parking lot of Las Vegas’s Texas Station, I saw this one little white sign, missing one important letter: “NO XIT.”
I smiled to myself. True Facts America is messy. It’s unexpected. It’s profane. It will creep from the cracks of perfect and bite us on the nose, just to let us know:
Life is more interesting than you think.