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Jewish World Review Dec. 8, 1999 /29 Kislev, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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From teen idol to ink-stained wretch: Can you Dig it? -- WELL, SOMETHING finally happened to make me smile this year. I was going through the day's e-mail, opening up all the messages from code-named strangers, when I encountered an electronic letter that began like this:

"Dear Bobby -- I figure you must be 52 by now. I found an old copy of Dig magazine, and I thought I'd write to you. . . ."

This is perfect. Forty years later, and the Dig letters are still coming in.

When I was 12 -- a quiet, innocent 12 -- I did something somewhat surprising for a quiet, innocent boy: I sent my picture in to Dig magazine.

This was in the late 1950s; Dig was a rock-and-roll-oriented teen magazine with a somewhat cocky, sardonic point of view; it was a national monthly, and featured stories and pictures of rock, movie and TV idols.

In each issue, there was a two-page spread featuring pictures of Dig readers, a short note from each of them, and the person's name and address. The point was for Dig fans to get in touch with each other.

You had guys on those pages who looked like reform-school escapees, you had girls who looked like they could leave you dazed in a back alley, you had soldiers. And -- without telling my parents -- I sent my grade school picture in.

I went off to summer camp -- Camp Arrowhead, in Jackson, Ohio. I . . . I don't know what I did that summer -- played baseball, shot arrows, collected bugs. Twelve-year-old things.

At the end of the summer my father -- in a dark mood -- arrived at Camp Arrowhead to drive me home. In the back seat of his car were boxes filled with letters. More than 400 of them.

They were from girls.

Dig had printed my photo. Among the future felons and current Army privates, there I was. A smiling 12-year-old.

Except that Dig -- apparently to make me seem older -- had increased my age by a year. Next to my photo were these words:

"Bobby Green. 2722 Bryden Road. Columbus, 9, Ohio. I'm just barely thirteen but I dig DIG! My favorite stars are Edd Byrnes and Elvis. I hope everyone'll get busy and write me!"

The editors of Dig had managed, in that short span of words, to misspell my name, to get my age wrong, and to misquote me. Which just goes to show you that journalism has not changed all that much in 40 years.

On my way home from camp that summer of 1959, I began to read the letters (I had nothing else to do; my father, who had watched the letters pile out of our family mailbox all summer, was barely speaking to me). The letters were fairly shocking; the girls sent their pictures, and invitations to write or visit them; one letter I specifically remember said: "My father drives a dumptruck and my measurements are 33-23-33."

I didn't do much about the letters, other than stare at them; what was I going to do, hop in my car and go to these girls' towns? I was 12. My mother told me that I had an obligation to answer every letter, but I gave up after the first few. They kept arriving at our house, every single day for months; by the time they slowed down, more than 1,000 girls had written. I was in a trance over this, but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

And it continued for years. A letter with a postmark from some other town would show up, and begin: "I found an old copy of Dig magazine; you must be 16 by now. . . ."

Nothing else that I have ever done in my life has measured up to the incredible, confusing charge of being in Dig. And now -- out of the ether, over the Internet -- here was this Dig letter, from someone I have never met. "Dear Bobby -- I figure you must be 52 by now. . . ."

The power of Dig: The magazine is long dead, the Internet had not even been conceived of in 1959, yet here's the e-mail in 1999. Some shy 6th-grader puts an envelope in the mail 40 years ago and sends it to a magazine. . . .

This has done wonders for my mood. The new millennium is a month away. I hadn't been sure how I felt about that, but all of a sudden I'm sort of digging it.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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