Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ladies' Home Urinal

Gross name, eh? Also a completely suitable one for a certain magazine of a similar name, published by Meredith Corp. I made the colossal error of buying a copy at the grocery store last night. Thus how famous smiles and cheerful pastels make fools of us all.

I was enticed, I'll admit, by the cover shot of Candice Bergen, one of my very favorite actresses. Of course, my devotion does not extend to watching "Boston Legal," a flashy lump of TV dreck also featuring William Shatner. When Shatner isn't playing a leering, smarmy lawyer, he's found on UPN, pushing legal advice for accident victims.

Obviously, I should have resisted temptation. But follow me, my little Dantes, to Ladies' Home Urinal's Mother's Day Issue, where you will hear desperate cries and see tormented shades. It's for your own good, really.

We roll through the dumb editor's letter and nice pictures of women relaxing in hammocks and babies holding kittens. But the party's over on page 23 (page 8 of actual editorial content). "CONFESSIONS OF A WORRYWART" blares the headline, followed by 2,000 words of insomniac angst, from elementary school fears of nuclear war to 9-11. "America suddenly grew frightened and I found myself for one brief period not alone."

I'm not a big proponent of mind-altering medication, but this writer should consider it.

We then enter six pages of complexion hell (pimply skin, dull skin, burned skin, red skin, pores you could drive a truck through) and emerge in kicky shorts heaven. Yes, it's spring, and you can wear shorts everywhere, even to the office. "Pair them with a matching jacket ... Just add smart accessories and you're ready to close the deal."

But lest we're having too much fun with our culottes and salicylic acid, it's time for the feature "My Life as a Mom." We plow through a four-page (single-spaced) personal essay by a mother who's daughter has a speech disability. Then we get three pages of mother-daughter vignettes about cooking and a piece about a heroic rescue by a labrador retriever, followed by a dog food ad featuring a baby lab.

We need the break, because then it's time to meet a couple where the wife nitpicks incessently and the man punches a wall and calls her a moron. Then we read a multipage personal essay by a mother who lost her little blonde daughter in a tragic accident.

And how does this last essay begin? With the mother driving the girl in the car, and the daughter trying on sunglasses and giggling because the world looks pink. She calls to her mother and what does Mom do? She's too cranky to look and insists on focusing on her driving.

How that scene pulls at the mother's heartsrings now, how she wishes she had shared her daughter's joy. And every mother reading it should be felled to the core, guiltily remembering a similar moment. (Hell, I did it yesterday.)

Is this what women want? Is this what women need? Do we need to buy publications that attack every facet of our lives? Do the cheery little features sprinkled on this bleak landscape make up for the anxiety, insecurity and near-neurosis that permeate this magazine?

I never made it to the Candice Bergen article, or the talk with Blythe Danner, another favorite of mine. According to the table of contents, Bergen just talked about her hair anyway. I also missed how to manage stress before it kills me and my hidden heart attack risk that even my doctor might not know about. I also missed the six fabulous dinner recipes, which is fine because I hate artichoke hearts.

I can't believe a magazine like this is so successful, that women fall for this alarmist crap served with hearty doses of pablum. I stare at the Candice cover with the cheery teases in blue ("A Mother's Day Tribute") and the ominous teases in red ("Dangerous Drinking: Have You Crossed the Liine?").

And I think again of Dante's sinners: "Those who rejoice while they are burning." To the publishers of the Ladies' Home Journal, those poor souls are mothers.