What’s the most desperate thing you’ve read because it was the only available reading material? If it was longer than a cereal box or an advertisement, did it turn out to be worth your while?
I picked up a Highlights magazine in the doctor’s office once–when I was about twenty-six. I think that the magazine is best known for the Goofus and Gallant cartoons, the ones that were supposed to teach children the proper way to behave. They took the form of two parallel illustrations with captions. Goofus–you knew he was Goofus because he had messy hair–would do the wrong thing, and Gallant would invariably do the right thing.
For example, the captions would go something like, “Goofus comes home from school and turns on the television, putting his homework off until later.” Meanwhile, “Gallant comes home from school and immediately starts his homwork (and sets the table for dinner and washes the dog and cleans the toilets and pressure washes the driveway).” Or, “Goofus cuts in line.” Whereas, “Gallant patiently waits his turn (and uses the time to contemplate his place in the universe).”
Now, as a child, I went for it hook, line, and sinker, but as an adult, I think you can tell from my parenthetical comments that my opinion has changed a little. While I was reading, it occurred to me that Gallant is a major suck-up. I’m sure that as a grown-up, he’s the guy who complains to the homeowners’ association because your house number isn’t in the regulation typeface, or the coworker who rats you out to your boss for surfing on the Internet during work hours, or the mid-level bureaucrat who won’t approve your permit because you used the wrong color ink. By the way, I think I’ve just answered the second question above.