Ten Years Ago in ‘Spy’
Reliving one’s formative years of logrolling, short-fingered vulgarians and Separations at Birth

We hereby cast our eye back on SPY, “The New York Monthly” – that exemplar of “irony,” memorably belligerent, bilious adjective chains, and thrillingly recherché typography, from which our entire writing style (and ironic, memorable, belligerent, bilious, and recherché personality) derived.

Where possible, we do actually attempt to stick to a precise ten-year retrospective, but we reserve the right to mix and match.


November 1989

We find another typographical error, but gems à go-go, very much including the gem with the highest karat rating in the entire SPY œuvre: “Name That Tune, Mr. Spock!”

“We Bushes,” the president told that same [TV] interviewer, “cry easily.” After just 10 or 15 years of New Manliness, it’s come to this? It wouldn’t have happened before (You know, we Nixons, we – well, we cry fairly easily, I’m told), although it does sound like a wisecracking JFKism: Jesus, Pierre, he might have said after a large press conference, tell them to take it easy – don’t they know we Kennedys cry easily?

One is reminded of The Simpsons’ relentless skewering of Richard Nixon, extending lo unto Futurama. One envisions a weeping Nixon trodding along a beach in black nylon sox.

But on the very next page, SPY brings us back down memory lane with two advertisements – one for Animal Logic, the eponymous album by the one-hit wonder (“There’s a spy. He’s in every room. He has no name, only a nom-de-plume”) featuring epitome of coolness Stewart Copeland. Across the gutter, one espies an ad for pUs (“The Entertainment Magazine”), typeset in an unusual cut of Goudy that screams Photo-Lettering, Inc.! Who is featured on the inset pUs magazine cover? Former hot number Ken Wahl.

I occasionally wonder why Wiseguy does not appear on rerun channels. The show did, after all, feature Ken Wahl (almost never shirtless), a double amputee who ran the secret spycop control centre, and a serious and credible multi-episode “arc” starring Jerry Lewis as a fading rag-trade executive (unfairly pegged as a jump-the-shark moment).

Speaking of Photo-Lettering Inc., a 1/3-page ad (p. 20) for La Vie “french hard candies” [sic], rotated 45° counterclockwise, makes use of ITC Bookman Swash for display type and the hideous Leawood for body copy. I simply adore swash characters and ravenously anticipate InDesign 2’s automatic substitution thereof, except that it will only work with OpenType fonts, which will remain as rare as open-captioned films in cinemas.

(I remain unable, however, to understand the advertisement for Monte Téca Liqueur, which insists on handwriting in the acute accent, making it look rather like a grain of burned brown rice. And quotation marks sit too high up. A similar acute accent on the word Adiós in a Bacardi ad, using the distasteful ITC Garamond Condensed, showed no defects.)

Indeed, the ads keep on coming. Krups (a name I love as much as swash display type) “guarantees authentic espresso in 20 seconds. Authentic compliments in 25.” Rather in keeping with the Polaroid model of overpriced proprietary feeder packs, to use this masterpiece one must shell out to the Krups pusher for “pre-packed and pre-measured pods of pressurized, seasoned Italian espresso from the world’s foremost authority and roaster of espresso coffee. Illycaffè of Trieste” (alliteration and periods sic). Kwick kwestion for Kwups: How does one “season” ground espresso? With Krups kosher salt?

Much later, a daring pair of full-page ads (on consecutive right-hand leaves) sets the same text in Helvetica Condensed capitals – twice. Once in Russian, once in English. It’s a toss-up which is harder to read – monotonous Cyrillic uppercase (monotonous in all non-script fonts under all conditions) or monotonous Helvetica Latin uppercase. Justified setting was actually unjustified, requiring ten hyphenated lines (out of 25) in the Cyrillic, including a three-line river, and one hyphenated line out of 16 in the English. What was the product? Paketa (not PAKETA or Raketa, but indeed Paketa) wristwatches.

These days, by the way, the practice, in the “Usual Supects” column of “Naked City,” of running tightly-cropped face shots captioned with the initial and surname of the star in question (A. Vigoda, H. Glinden, R. Glass – they had a funny one I may run across again, like B. Bird or O. Grouch, I forget), is sticking in my mind. I have this idée fixe of O. bin Laden.

Let’s not do the Time Warp again

An amusingly doctrinaire and bitchy yet probably accurate letter to the editor, from one John A. Ruszkowski of King, North Carolina, disabuses us of yet another myth of time travel.

Where you go is more important than when.... It would be far more difficult to arrive at the correct place, because everything is in motion. The Earth rotates, orbits the sun, the sun orbits through the Milky Way, etc., all motions that are superimposed on top of the general expansion of the universe.

If you go back to 1939 to kill Hitler, Earth won’t be where you left it. This calls for precise calculation. Imagine your embarrassment if you show up embedded in Adolf’s coffee table or, worse yet, in the body of Hermann Göring.

(I was under the impression that, even back in the day, Goering was Goering’s preferred orthography.)

Excessive hyphenates

We now locate one more typographical error. The admittedly unusual phrase step-grandmother-in-law is rendered correctly twice and incorrectly once more, as stepgrand-mother-in-law. A case could be made that such a person is a step(grandmotherinlaw) and not a (stepgrandmother)inlaw, permitting an en-dash orthography: step–grandmother-in-law.

Adieu, jaundiced vehicular pathway!

I nearly expired with delight and relief to finally locate absolutely the most memorable SPY featurette: “Name That Tune, Mr. Spock!” Leonard Nimoy strums his lyre as we read the following (in its entirety, with no explanation whatsoever, as per original, but numbering added):

  1. This celebratory gathering occurs at my behest and I shall be lachrymose if it so befits me.
  2. She chooses to purchase a terraced incline directed toward a postlife paradisiacal region.
  3. I request that you prevent a large, glowing orb consisting of incandescent gas from committing fellatio upon my person.
  4. The leather coverings now encasing my pedal extremities have been manufactured for the specific purpose of ambulatory forward motion.
  5. Allow me the honour of portraying for you a miniaturized representation of a member of the family Ursidæ of the order Carnivora.
  6. Adieu, jaundiced vehicular pathway consisting of blocks of baked clay.
  7. You provide illumination for the period of time delimited by my nativity and the complete cessation of my metabolic functions.
  8. And we will engage in much jubilant activity until such time as the male parent chooses to repossess her vehicle of motorized transport.
  9. The deity had little or nothing to do with the manufacture of minuscule viridescent seed-bearing fruits.
  10. Expresses deep affection toward yours truly in the manner of a hardened igneous object.
  11. Please remove yourself from the immediate vicinity of my visible collection of minute water particles, Dr. McCoy.

Byline? David Yazbek and Howard Korder. Where are they now? Yazbek, an XTC apologist, wrote “music and lyrics” for the play The Full Monty; Korder wrote “1988 male heterosexual coming-of-age playBoys’ Life; the two collaborate frequently.

Let’s get (a) physical

I feel vaguely unclean for having been reminded, 12 years after first reading the news, that Debbie Reynolds produced a fitness video: Do It Debbie’s Way.

Exercise-Induced Delusion: “I used to do this at Palladium”

The image of Debbie Reynolds at Palladium rivals the actual Ethel Merman disco record as dyspepsia-inducing, quasi-horrific age-inappropriate artistic endeavour of the previous century.

Elsewhere, Marie Osmond: Exercises for Mothers-to-Be advises us that “[t]he warmth from your hands in the darkness can... ease sinus congestion.” Crackpot remedies of that sort didn’t seem to help with her postpartum depression.


“The SPY Map of Suburbanized Manhattan” lists allegedly “suburban” amenities favoured by city-sophisticate manqués – “twenty- and thirtysomethings who happen to live in the city but whose hearts and sensibilities are distinctly suburban... [who] want to live where you can get ethnic food but whose idea of ethnic food is a Domino’s pizza.”

Such amenities? Tennis courts, skateboard shops (two of whose sites are probably now under a foot of Trade Center dust), “Super-Mega-Metro-Ciné-Octoplexes,” car dealerships, lumber yards, “Ultraconvenient All-in-One Food Courts” (“Roy Rogers, Dunkin Donuts, Del Taco, Houlihan’s”), and my personal überfave, “Penny-savers and Other Perky Weeklies.”

Frankly, none of these seems out of place in a gigantic metropolitan area.

I really should care

Feature articles this month are weighty and inventive but entirely uninteresting a dozen years later. An exposé of a country lodge frequented by captains of state and war criminals (which, in the body of Henry Kissinger, are one and the same), all of whom adopt the moniker Bohemians while in situ, was fascinating upon first publication but holds no attraction whatsoever now.

The literary deconstruction of David Mamet (“Speed-the-Play”), in which Mamet’s entire œuvre is reduced to 50-, 57-, 53-, and 75-second distillations, should be more gripping than it actually is. The card-stock cutouts of Mamet Players like Joe Mategna, Jim Belushi, and M.L. Ciccone seem a bit gimmicky now, particularly in the shadow of SPY’s cutout masterpiece, a complete board game.

The only thrill I got came from the three-inch-tall Commercial Script drop cap T in an overlong story on contemporary recluses. I should really take more of an interest in the specific example pursued, and relentlessly photographed, in the article: Patty Duke, mistress of disguise.

Well, all right, in fairness the excerpted memos to servants are priceless.

  • Effective immediately there will be no payment for overtime and there will be no compensating time off for overtime (there will be no accumulated overtime).
  • There is no reason why any able-bodied man cannot mow their own lawns around the houses they are living in.
  • You are to make hay at the Halpern Farm now.

“Even the recluse – no master of communication skills – knows that effective commands are pithy and threatening.”

An immense insertion, printed on calendared paper, purporting to be SPY’s “Premiere issue!” (November 1964, 25¢), claims Tom Wolfe, Diane Arbus, Terry Gilliam, Joan Didion, Gloria Steinem and even Ed Koch on its masthead. “Separated at birth?” becomes “Ever seen them in the same room together?” Old National Lampoon retrospective self-parodies worked a tad better.


Barely Audible Women

Sleeker curves. A chassis that won’t say no. A wider road-gripping stance. That’s the exciting, all-new fastback look of the Ford Ventorina for 1965.

But man, is she silent. That’s thanks to her Wet-Flo transmission, her Purr-Matic V-8 engine, her Hush-a-Bye suspension.

Take her for a spin and we think you’ll agree she’s the quietest ride yet. So quiet, in fact, you might even wonder: Why can’t every woman be a Ford Ventorina?

“(A parody not authorized by Ford.)”


A Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation in this issue declares the total actual number of copies of single issue nearest to filing date as 218,000. Not too shabby, really – and a useful high estimate of the possible readership of this site. Imagine having 217,999 superspecial friends! I could be almost as popular as Ivana Trump.

You are here: fawny.org → Ten Years Ago in SPY

Updated: 2001.11.11


See also: Interview with Alex Isley, former SPY art director