Maxim’s 100th Issue

As the leading lads mag celebrates a milestone, a former contributor milks his millisecond of fame and says “thanks for the memories.”

By John D. Spalding

I wasn’t always the editor of a respectable magazine of religion and culture.

Once upon a time, when I was preoccupied with things like paying the bills and clothing myself, I was a regular contributor to Maxim, the magazine that calls itself “the best thing to happen to men since women.” Although Maxim is infamous for, among other things, its bikini-clad cover girls, I was grateful for the opportunity to write for them. I received several assignments a month and the pay was great. Plus, I knew that more than two million people would see my work, and it didn’t bother me too much that many of them were idiot manchildren between the ages of 18 and 34.

I led sort of a double life back then. During the day I wrote for publications such as Beliefnet and The Christian Century and did Publishers Weekly religion reviews for $50 a pop. At night, I put my literary/spiritual persona on the shelf and donned my Maxim uniform, interviewing porn stars, fashion experts and counter-terrorism experts, super-max prison wardens and New York City coroners. I even interviewed astronaut Gordon Cooper about what it’s like to reenter the earth’s atmosphere.

I wrote about a website that helps sports-crazed dads calculate when to impregnate their wives so as to minimize the risk of their children arriving during their favorite sporting events, and I busted a gut while reviewing MindQuest’s Penis Enhancement Program, a 12-week guided visualization tape series in which a soothing female voice says things like, “to increase the size of your penis, internalize the idea in your mind….” Some of the pieces I wrote actually had a shred of redeeming value; in 2000, for instance, I interviewed Pakistan-based Afghan relief workers about the appalling conditions of the Kabul zoo.

Well, that was long ago. I’m now married, settled, and the proud father of twin boys, whose future, I sincerely hope, will not include a subscription to Maxim. But even though I haven’t read the magazine in years, yesterday I bought their new “Mind-Altering Special Collector’s Edition,” which showcases highlights from the first 99 issues. There’s no hottie on the April cover, just a big, red “100,” under which it says, “The 100th Issue of America’s Magazine,” followed by, “And They Said We Couldn’t Count.” Naturally, I was curious whether any of my “work” was included.

As you might suspect, it wasn’t my “redeeming value” pieces that made it to their “’How to’ Hall of Fame,” but instead a few of my more outrageous observations, like “How to Make Your Girlfriend Think Her Cat’s Death Was an Accident” and “How to Conquer France.” And a feature story I co-wrote, “What It’s Like…,” is number 15 in “Maxim’s 100 Greatest Moments.”

This piece was indeed a stunning moment in Maxim history. As they proudly report:

“In February 2001, Maxim runs a feature titled ‘What It’s Like…’ featuring first-person accounts of man-size experiences (like being attacked by a shark). Four months later, popular ladies’ magazine Esquire debuts its carbon-copy ‘What It Feels Like…’ rip-off.”

Wow! Had Esquire really become so desperate that they would stoop to a transparent rip-off of Maxim that would have gotten them expelled if they’d done that as kids in school?

Maxim’s success had hurt Esquire. Within three years, Maxim’s newsstand sales were double those of Esquire, GQ, and Men’s Journal combined. Instead of making me feel jubilant, however, the whole thing bummed me out. When I started writing, I dreamed of getting published in Esquire, which I’d revered ever since I started reading it as a kid. This was the magazine that had published the greats: Hemingway and Fitzgerald; Terry Southern, Thomas Pynchon; Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and Gay Talese; Raymond Carver. In fact, when I did submit something to them, I received such a classy, thoughtful rejection letter that I treasured it almost as much as I would have an acceptance.

But then when Esquire ripped off that silly story I’d written for Maxim, I realized that writing for the once-mighty Hearst Corp. magazine would actually be a step down for me, not a step up. Such are the vicissitudes of the publishing biz.

After a couple of years, writing for Maxim got old, and I was getting old. My wife and I left New York City and bought a house in the Connecticut suburbs. But before I could even unpack, I had to get to work on a big research project for Maxim: testing homebrew beer kits. In the kitchen, amid all our unopened boxes from the move, I had spread across the counters and island the following: fermenter and priming buckets, siphoning hoses, hydrometers, spigots, and bags of malt, yeast, and hops, as well as enough bottles to store the 50-odd gallons of beer I eventually produced. I say eventually. If you’ve ever brewed before—and I never had—then you know beer takes like a month to make. My wife was not happy.

So I never even told her about the next assignment Maxim offered me—me, the writer who suddenly had all kinds of space to conduct crazy experiments in his quiet neighborhood. They wanted me to set up a beer-can shooting gallery in my backyard, and test fire the latest, top-of-the-line leaf blowers! I said I wasn’t sure. They said I’d get to keep the leaf blowers. I asked for the weekend to consider it. They said OK. For two days, I fasted. I went into the desert, and I prayed about it. On Monday, I told my editor I couldn’t do it; my wife and neighbors would flip out.

He probably wasn’t surprised by my response. A few months earlier he’d wanted me to interview a certain serial killer who was behind bars, but I had to refuse, on my wife’s orders. She was worried that if the serial killer ever got out of jail, said killer might come after me for, well, whatever reasons serial killers snap and go after people they’ve met. My wife warned me if I wanted to have kids someday soon—and I did—that I had to “stop thinking seriously about doing all this stupid shit.” So I did, and bid adieu to Maxim.

I could close with a word of “thanks for the memories” to Maxim, and a congrats on their 100th issue, but that’s lame. So instead I flipped through the magazine looking for an uplifting tidbit to end on, some bizarre insight or meaningless nugget of Maxim knowledge, and I settled on this quote by Jack Black, from page 87: “What happens when you’re doin’ a nativity that no one shows up to? Correct—it turns into a fartin’ contest.”

Thanks for the memories, Maxim. And congrats on your 100th issue.


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John D. Spalding is the editor of SoMAreview.com. His last piece was Pictures of Jesus.

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