The common man, living in his not-so-common city, needs his news fix.
Newsstands in the San Fernando Valley lavishly support his habit with everything from the Times of London and Maariv newspapers to Crochet Fantasy and Raunchy Redheads magazines.
Perhaps more interesting than the magazines that line newsstand shelves are the people who line the aisles and the workers who palm the quarters in a city's daily exchange of news.
"I'm a compulsive reader," said Alec Wisner, his hands clutching a stack of 12 magazines at the All American News newsstand on Ventura Boulevard in Encino. Wisner, 39, estimates that he spends $400 a month on such items as crossword puzzle and boxing magazines, Racing Forms, the New York Times and TV Guide.
The only reason Wisner buys the New York Times is for the crossword puzzle. "Frankly," he said, dropping his eyes, "it's the only puzzle worth doing."
3 Visits a Week
Wisner also receives 20 magazine subscriptions at his Northridge home. He visits newsstands about three times a week. "Every third stop, I really look over the stand carefully to see what I've missed," he said. "When I go on a trip, I bring a suitcase full of magazines to read on the airplane--to catch up."
Zeno Tharp, an employee at the Encino stand, accepted a $20 bill that Wisner slid him over a wood-grain Formica counter. "I love to watch people," Tharp, 77, said, slipping a Viceroy into his mouth. "They're an interesting subject."
In a corner of the shop, a man dressed in a red-checked shirt thumbed through some male erotica, then reached far behind the stack to pull out a copy of Thrust.
Long aisles of magazines, each probed by a video camera, surrounded Tharp. Thousands of glossy magazines lined the shelves, waiting to be fingered by customers: so much sticky flypaper. Rows of fluorescent lights spread a peculiar glare over the scene as Tharp looked up into a single camera, which studied him.
"I don't particularly care for that," Tharp said, pushing up his glasses as he jabbed a finger at the camera. "I imagine they go home and watch me to see what the hell I'm doing."
Most owners of Valley newsstands said theft is not a major problem, adding that cameras and convex mirrors help convey an image of tight security. "I think we have more theft by the wind than anything," said Bernie Skoboloff, who owns the Woodland Hills Newsstand on Ventura Boulevard and the Northridge News on Nordhoff Street.
Skoboloff's Woodland Hills store carries a full range of 300 automotive magazines, 100 computer magazines and 50 home decorating periodicals such as Country Sampler, Victorian Sampler, Unique Homes and Colonial Homes. All newsstand owners receive full credit from publishers for magazines that remain unsold at the end of the month.
"You want winners?" Marissa Pollock asked as she zipped out 40 Lotto tickets for a man taking a stab at the week's $44.5-million jackpot. Pollock, an employee at Skoboloff's Northridge store, watched as another man traveled around the store's interior, picking and choosing from 5,000 titles.
Browsers Go Topic-to-Topic
"You get people in here with a huge variety of interests," she said as the browser, who appeared to be an executive on his lunch hour, first picked up Swimwear Illustrated, then wandered over to Easy-to-do Wood Projects before thumbing through Psychology Today.
Next he visited "the sophisticates," as the erotica is called, where Billy's English Governess and Hanging Breasts occupied his time before he went on to Budget Flying, Diet Success, the 1989 Macintosh Product Directory--then back to Supersluts, Sex for Three and a glance through Mustang Monthly (an automotive magazine) before finishing his excursion in the swimwear department again with Swimsuit International.
Some newsstand regulars consider their haunts the key to an extended family.
"The owners know when I bought my house, when my wife got pregnant, when my first daughter was born, when I've gotten my raises and when my promotions went through," said Daniel Flynn, 30, who has shopped at Northridge News since it opened four years ago. "It's always nice to see a smiling face."
Barbara Israel, who has shopped at the Northridge stand for two years, visits it Mondays and Fridays. "I come in on Fridays to buy People and Mondays for the trash magazines," said Israel, 30. Israel's reading diet includes the National Enquirer, Star, Soap Opera Digest, TV Guide and the Atlantic Monthly.
Tim Knappen, 39, a cashier at Victory Newsstand on Victory Boulevard in Van Nuys, is considered by customers to be the Mr. Goodwrench of newsstand employees. Victory Newsstand has been a 24-hour-a-day mainstay in the Valley for 45 years.
"There ya go, Bill," Knappen said, pushing a Racing Form into a '67 Cadillac that had just pulled to the curb. "If I get out there fast enough, sometimes I get a 50-cent tip. It's not like working a bar, but what the heck."