John Boston | ABC Magazine & Back When I Was Wretchedly Unfunny

John Boston
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This fall marks the 55th anniversary of the college and alleged humor/satire magazine my best pal Phil “The Lousy Phil” Lanier and I started as freshmen. Phil earned the nickname from my mother, the sanity-challenged dear woman who had visions that Lanier was perforating her green flowered sofa with a switchblade knife. This was an unfair, Democratic Party-like accusation with no basis in reality in that Phil didn’t own a switchblade knife. 

Besides. All visitors to my insane asylum/home were not allowed to walk on our floors and were ordered to stand rigid on a square-foot rug by the front door, yards from any unprotected furniture, floral-patterned or otherwise. Short of levitation, visitors had problems breaking the time/space continuum.  

Phil and I effortlessly made the transition from Mighty Hart High Indians — and no matter what the imbecilic William S. Hart Union High School District trustees vote, they will ALWAYS BE the Mighty Indians — to fighting Matadors at what was then San Fernando Valley State College a stone’s throw away. 

That summer of 1968, Phil and I made plans to conquer first the state college system, then, the world. 

You’d think with all that experience in graft, theft, inappropriate use of public funds and the unforgiveable sin of writing poorly, Philly and I would have ended up in politics, law practice or civil service. Phil became a two-two-two-mints-in-one advertising mucky muck. I’m a rural satirist read by the copy desk. 

I’m the one who came up with the title of Amalgamated Buffalo Chips. It was for a high school yearbook ad for which a half-century later we still owe the hallowed Tomahawk. Phil later came up with the idea to start a campus satire magazine with the same name. 

Except for furniture, we didn’t actually steal anything. We merely moved said furniture from Building A to Building B. And, we did talk a gullible Valley State College (CSUN, today) into granting us an actual cash budget and enough office space to house the Saudi royal family. Of course, it was an empty giant campus office. After depositing a rather hefty check for a few thousand bucks, a fortune in 1969, Lanier and I climbed into some borrowed maintenance faded blue jumpsuits with our college logo on the back. With industrial dolly, clipboards and bogus equipment requisition forms, we confidently moved from office to office, our spiel being that some useless Dean Of Downtrodden Victim Admissions was scheduled for a new, posh designer sofa, wet bar or antique desk belonging to the socialist Woodrow Wilson, of course, we had to move out their old furnishings first, sign here, and here and initial there, please.  

I don’t think we ever returned the ping pong table. Or fish tank. 

Phil and I had an expense account. We sold ads. We used the money to buy used cars and sell them at a loss. We requisitioned drapes, an antique California flag, a Jimi Hendrix poster and three fancy, hepcat daddy electric typewriters. We bought countless boxes of Budd’s Factory Smokers, the cheapest and most foul cigars ever rolled, box of 50 — $1.49. Not making that up. Ordered art supplies and gum from the student store. Held meetings. 

Months went by and Phil and I, as Chief Editor and Editor-And-(Not In)-Chief, decided that before the college sent accounting death squads looking for us, we probably should actually write, produce and print the inaugural issue of Amalgamated Buffalo Chips. 

Oh it was embarrassing. The failure should have been a divine sign to work for Edison or become cops. Or, pony-tailed Deans of Victim Admissions. In a rare stroll down Memory Lane, I’ll dig out a copy of that magazine and wince. It was sub-sophomoric. Night after night, Phil and I would lounge in our office, drinking beer at 18 and laughing ourselves into crying jags over our prose. “Woke” was in its infancy and I penned a bee-bop beatnik poem entitled “Poor Mistreated & Misunderstood Child of the Ghetto.” Actually, despite my Caucasiannesscess, I WAS a poor mistreated & misunderstood child of the ghetto. Wrote the piece in like three minutes. 

The dean of the English department later summoned me, a lowly freshman, and confessed he had teared up reading my poetry. He begged that I speak to his Defcon Level 5 Senior Useless English Honors Class about my made-up deep symbolism. I winged it with a straight face to people who probably today are getting 27 pensions for lives unlived. 

Published a Win A Date With The Editors Contest. One entry. Signed, “The Snort Sisters.” That night is worth six columns. We only put out two issues, one for each year. That first cover story carried a faux interview with Joe Pine, America’s first radio shock jock. Driving to the print shop to pick up the first issue, we’re listening to the radio in Phil’s VW bug with the American flag on the hood. News bulletin. Joe Pine had died that morning.  

This was 1969, and, despite hippies and Vietnam, the country was still decent. Phil and I were mortified. We had made fun of a recently dead person in 2,500 still-wet copies of a magazine with a shocking Pepto-Bismol pink slick cover. Decent college freshmen still living at home didn’t do things like that. 

Phil and I laughed until we hurt, creating and re-reading ABC Magazine. We were the only ones. For the two issues we produced, I doubt we sold 100 copies. Too dumb to learn from our mistakes, it motivated us to take Buffalo Chips national. Spent weeks figuring out financing and a war plan. One day, we’re marching through the campus bookstore in matched cadence. We hit the brakes simultaneously, leaving smoldering tennis shoe skid marks. Eye-level shelf of the magazine section boldly rested the first issue of — “The National Lampoon.” 

Those damn boys from Harvard, 3,000 miles away, beat us to the punch. 

Best laid plans of mice and chip-producing bison… 

John Boston is Earth’s most prolific humorist and satirist. Visit johnbostonbooks.com, buy something, pretend to see the symbolism and leave kind reviews on Amazon…

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