Our five kids were little all at once.
With twins the third- and fourth-born, only about six years separated the oldest from the youngest. So, taking them into public places demanded discipline.
I sometimes felt like a drill sergeant, barking to them to keep moving, pay attention, stay put … OK, at ease.
But, I had little choice, especially when my wife wasn’t along with us, especially in a busy place with lots of distractions and lots of people.
The mall was one of those places.
I have to admit disdain for the American rite of mall walking. Give me a playground, the woods, even a quasi-dangerous creek or waterfall and I could keep all five kids and the dog happy — and usually safe. But the mall befuddled me. First of all, we usually were not there to buy something the kids wanted. So, we were behind the eight ball right off the bat.
We usually went to make some emergency purchase such as a new microwave; to meet mom; to buy something for mom without her knowing; or to scout out some new gadget or toy that one of the kids with a birthday on the horizon really, really — really — wanted. Of course, as you might expect, that was quite thrilling for the other four.
To do the mall promenade for the sake of looking seemed unwise: a waste of time and such a tease. We were a family of seven making do on a newspaper reporter’s salary. Why parade these kids around in front of ads and toys designed to instill greed? Why invite frustration?
All this is part of the reason I sought and found a place of reprieve in every mall we ever frequented, in every town we lived. It was lucky but there turned out to be a store where I knew I could take the kids that had something they didn’t beg to buy but still cool enough to distract — even delight.
You know this kind of store. Here’s the modern-day ad for the one we visited way back then (Spencer’s Gifts):
“From fart machines to lava lamps, blacklights, beer pong and bachelorette party stuff, Spencer’s has funny stuff, cool stuff and a whole lot more.”
Of course, there is also far more risque “stuff,” too, especially nowadays.
Back when, stores like this had a bit more restraint; the “adult” stuff was not advertised as blatantly and kept — at least for the most part — on shelves in the back, or near the back.
Problem was, the Isemans needed to go to the “adult” section for this little mall diversion to be effective. That’s where they kept Aunt Maureen.
Yes, Aunt Maureen. My baby sister.
There she lounged, prostrate, wine glass in hand. There she lie, in the back aisle of every gag-gift store in America, on the cover of “The Loving Game.”
“Is that her?” the kids would ask. “Who’s that guy with her?”
“Why is it called ‘The Loving Game?’ ” asked an older kid with reading skills.
“What’s Penthouse mean?” was often the followup question.
I didn’t say this diversion was without challenges.
As the drill sergeant, I had to move slowly enough to give each kid a chance to actually look closely and realize (or remember from last visit) that, yes, this was indeed Aunt Maureen’s face. I also had to move them quickly enough to avoid the row of stuff for sale that, even back then, took every conceivable play on words involving slang for male and female genitalia and made all those puns into gifts — often with cartoon drawings that could easily catch a kid’s eye.
“The Loving Game” actually had a relatively tame cover. Just a couple hanging out in front of a roaring fire, with glasses of wine and the board of the actual Loving Game splayed on the carpet alongside my baby sister, in her negligee.
She stares into the eyes of her slim, handsome partner who looms above her, shirtless.
“Is that her pajamas?” one of the kids would invariably ask. And from another: “What are they doing?”
What they were pretending to be doing could not be easily explained to little kids. So I usually answered by talking about the job of modeling. Once they realized it was play acting, and that Aunt Maureen got paid to let companies use her photos to sell stuff, they usually stopped asking questions.
Like I said, we didn’t have a lot of money, so the kids understood needing it.
We drew some odd stares from clerks. After visiting the same Spencer’s too many times, the kids would parade back in unison to the adult aisle pleading to find “Aunt Maureen. Aunt Maureen.” But, hey, that was part of the reason I liked this little oasis in the mall.
Maureen didn’t actually earn much during the mid-80’s shoot, she told me recently. Only about $200 for four hours work.
“I remember it was in Bear Mountain, N.Y. at a ski lodge,” she said. She had answered a “models call” designed to produce work for a couple possible uses but she did not recall any language about a sex game, or a mention of “Penthouse.”
“I did not know what they would be used for – or if I did I know they never used the word ‘Penthouse.’ We also did some standard ‘ski lodge’ shots in sweaters and etcetera.” She was anxious for work in a very competitive field, she said, adding, “I’m sure I signed a release saying they could do whatever with it, a standard agency release.”
She also didn’t really know where her photos might end up. She discovered about a year after the shoot that she was on the cover of the game.
How’d she find out? Walking through a Spencer’s Gifts in Pittsburgh, Pa.
I teased her for years about the photo shoot. I hung the box top for “The Loving Game” in our various garages over the years. The kids, as they got older, would point out Aunt Maureen to their friends and tell elaborate fibs about her line of work, sometimes pretending it was the “oldest profession.” We’d show the neighbors the game cover for shock value. And, when Maureen, nicknamed “Mo,” would visit for a party or celebration, I would wait for a prime opportunity and point across the room and shout:
“Yes, that’s Aunt Mo everyone. She’s the one on the sex game in the garage.”
My teasing was actually very overblown. The ‘Penthouse’ on the game’s cover misleads, that is if you know anything about the men’s magazine by that name. The game’s cover also has the more accurate slogan “A romantic experience for two.” The game is much more lovey-dovey than X-rated. Here’s how it is described in a current ad on Amazon:
“This is not an erotic or dirty game per say but is instead designed to promote communication by making the couple answer intimate questions about each other and themselves or promote caressing, kissing or otherwise non-sexual intimate contact.”
Still, the phrase “sex game” is fair game in teasing a little sister, eh?
It helped that about the time she ended up on the game’s cover, she also modeled underwear. Yup. Underwear.
She described that work as dressing up in newly designed lingerie for shows in various cities a few weeks a year, to show off the new lines to buyers.
It was called “showroom modeling” back then, she says, calling it “pretty much the lowest level of modeling. Sometimes, cigar-munching, panty salesmen lurked licentiously nearby.
Some of Maureen’s other recollections:
“We wore ittle satin robes over our lingerie (also pantyhose tucked under the panties, etcetera, and little beige high heels (pumps). When we did a showing we would walk into the office with our robes and then open them and pretty much just stand there and turn around and smile for the buyers ( who were mostly women).
“The salesmen were all men though ( and most of the bra designers too – go figure!) Sometimes the salesman would ask our opinion of the new bras. … I remember one particularly short and obnoxious salesman who always said ‘Mo – you put the D in Decollate’ when I wore a push-up bra.”
As you might imagine, the lingerie gig offered some fodder for me to do some gentle, well, ribbing, as in a gentle poking in Mo’s ribs — made all the more easy when those ribs are exposed.
Of course, to be fair, Maureen deserves the last laugh. She got paid lots more per hour than me during her artistic career, which has also enabled her to earn cash for what she loves, dancing. That career took her to ballet stages, operas, dance halls and a giant cruise ship. She has performed on film, for TV, in revues and in cabaret.
She still teaches ballet and belly dancing and takes great pride in what her kids learn and perform.
All that said, I have tried over the years to claim the last laugh.
Not too long ago at work — I do not recall how this coversation started — I was trying to prove to some coworkers that my sister actually appears on a sex game. So, I googled “The Loving Game.”
But, wha? Huh? Lo and lament! A different woman appeared on my phone. And a different man!
The cover had been reshot, with the couple in a much more, well, intimate, pose. Fewer clothes, too.
I immediately thought — and plotted the best way to rub this in with Maureen — that her cover had grown too old! She was out of date! She was too tame! She wasn’t sexy enough for a sex game anymore!
She had been voted off that very intimate island known as The Loving Game!
The tease didn’t work very well. She just shrugged it off. I think she changed the subject by asking me about one of my several ailments and surgeries of the last decade. She might have asked, nicely but effectively, “Can you still walk?”
One thing in my favor is that I still have that old game cover. I bet with some help from someone who knows how to alter photographs, I can do something clever.
Maybe replace the negligee with a mustard-splattered old lady smock. Ditch the wine and put an Ensure protein drink in her hand. The dude will have to go. Maybe replace him with a mean-looking orderly from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I will need a clever title, though. Maybe “The Aging Game?”
No. Wait. I got a better idea.
I’ll just add some wrinkles to her face, put her and the guy in a couple Depends adult diapers and bring my baby sister back to the the board game biz and lingerie-selling biz in one fell swoop.
Strip-poker with a twist for the senior crowd. You win the round and tell players whether they need to add clothes or Depends products — careful with those Velcro tabs! — or take ’em off.
I’ve already got the fake TV ad campaign conjured.
I’ll get my oldest daughter to let us add some wrinkles and makeup, hold the altered game cover up for the camera, stare at it lovingly and speak in the a sultry voice mimicking Aunt Maureen:
You remember me? You remember fun? Bored with yoga and pilates? Got friends who can still frolic?
This is for you. The Late-life Loving Game.
It’s specifically designed for older, active people to offer maximum fun — with maximum protection and guaranteed, 100 percent maximum absorbency.
C’mon. You’re not dead yet. Buy the game. What’s life without a couple risks?
Don’t worry. We got you covered. Just keep in mind our sponsor’s slogan:
Ready for whatever comes next?