There have been many scenarios post the fall of the second temple for a young Jewish boy to try and get out of studying for his Bar Mitzvah, but in his debut book, my friend Lou Cove tells a story that seems almost as big of a fiction as the bible itself. The book is called Man of the Year, and it's a memoir about 12-year-old Louis’ swapping Hebrew study to spend time on a campaign to help his father’s friend become Playgirl’s playmate of the year in 1979, all while living in provincial Salem, Mass. And what is more, the candidate, Howie Gordon, not only wins but goes on to become one of the great male adult film stars during the golden age of pornography.
Lou went on to raise millions of dollars for non-profit organizations, using this experience as a formative guidepost.
For those of you unfamiliar with Playgirl, think about Playboy magazine, but for women and filled with photos of guys showing their junk. When Howie Gordon posed for the magazine, he was the first to break the erection-barrier…posing fully-masted in his Mr. November 1978 pictorial. By the time he and his wife came to Salem, he already had bigger (harder?) ambitions of winning the competition for Playgirl Man of the Year. All he needed was a campaign manager.
And while Howie’s story is so very compelling, Man Of The Year is definitely Lou’s story. He shares his experience of moving with his family from exciting New York to a seemingly more-boring Salem, how his father’s friend Howie and new bride Carly moved in with them and shared with the family (at the Thanksgiving table) Howie’s Playmate ambitions, Lou’s excitement of having Howie take on the role as XXX Mary Poppins (with his more modern take on spoonfuls of sugar), hand watching his parent’s marriage collapse as he hit the campaign trail to help Howie.
Man of the Year is a story of tensions. It tackles a very racy subject matter while refusing to be an exploitation piece. Lou’s parents wrestle with a their more open dialogue around personal freedoms and the lifestyle of a dear friend that pushes their comfort zone. And while Howie brings this new, taboo ideology of free love and expression to Lou’s family, his openness is in direct tension to Lou’s parents’ attempt at hiding the Truth of their falling out of love and out of their pact at keeping their nuclear family together.
Lou lives right in the middle of these narratives. He is a young person dealing with very adult issues, while still being so very juvenile. Lou decides not to study for his Bar Mitzvah, an act that is discussed during the course of the book, and yet this idea of living in both the world of the adult and of the child is so quintessentially the Bar Mitzvah experience. He idolizes Howie. He feeds off of Howie's zest for life and his charisma. Howie, who takes him on the campaign trail and flies him out to visit after he moves back to Berkeley, accepts him. But when confronted with his parents’ divorce and the reality that Howie is not the savior who will ultimately be the replacement for a broken family, he is left in tears, afraid, alone.
Man of the Year is an excellent document of a family existing during a groovy time in America’s history, during the post-hippie-pre-AIDS era, when the Vietnam war over and the country was finding itself. It lightly handles big ideas all from the eyes of a twelve year old, and Lou does it very convincingly. This is SO not the story of the everyman, which makes it so strange that the reader can identify so much with the main character’s experiences….except maybe when that main character is a pre-teen trying to convince a liquor store owner to hang a flier in his store about making a naked man famous.
Man of the Year by Lou Cove (Amazon)