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What, me worry? Tampa doctor is mad for 'Mad' magazine

TAMPA — He pulls into the circular drive at his bank, leaves his 1981 gold Mercedes near the front door, moves past the wall tapestries in the marble entryway to the vault.

"This bank is not waterproof," Dr. David Lubin says. "What happens if a hurricane comes up Tampa Bay? I'd have to make a decision about whether I wanted to come get them."

He hands over his key to the clerk and she strains to give him the heavy metal box. He carries it to a small room, pulls out a simple canvas bag.

Inside: Mad magazines.

He lifts the top one off the stack, marvels at it through the crinkly polyethylene bag, points out the perfect condition of the binding.

It's Mad's first issue from 1952.

Beneath it, he's got the second issue and the third and the fourth and fifth, and every one through 1955, when the face of the impish Alfred E. Neuman first appeared on the cover.

In those days, the magazine represented an irreverent antidote to the establishment. It lampooned and satirized all the touchstones of American culture: from the Cold War, to the sexual revolution, to Vietnam. Before cable, it nudged kids to question authority, even their own parents.

The 500th issue (Dead Celebrity Apprentice, Man Boobs Exposed) arrived in Lubin's mailbox this past week. It promises "Look for our 1,000th issue in July, 2134." But realistically, the era of the magazine is already over. Mad is scaling back from 12 issues a year to four. Its circulation has dropped from a high of 2 million in the 1970s to about 200,000 today.

The kids the magazine inspired are grown now. What once was inventive is now commonplace.

As Lubin leafs through the issues, you see time passing. Ten cents for Humor in a Jugular Vein. Then 25 cents for more Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad. Now it's $5.99 to bring back the Usual Gang of Idiots.

He is asked if he has read them all. He ponders this question, thinking back.

He began reading Mad when he was 10 or 11. He'd always been a pack rat and he kept all those Mads from his childhood. At some point, maybe when he was in med school, he realized he had a lot of them and so he began looking for the ones he didn't have. And after that it seemed like he was always hunting them down at comic book stores and comic book conventions and later on eBay. But no, the answer is that he hasn't likely read all of them. Some of them are more than half a century old; they're too fragile.

The No. 1 Mad, his most prized, he got at a comic book convention in Orlando in 1976, the year he began practicing medicine. It cost $100. Today it's worth anywhere from $7,500 to $10,000.

He refuses to remove it from its polyethylene bag. We can only wonder what they poked fun at in 1952, and what to make of the cover, with its terrified cartoon family cringing at a shadow.

Lubin, 61, is twice divorced and has two adult children. A well-known local photographer, each year he puts together the Tampa Bay Events calendar with his own photos. He admits he probably got into medicine because his mother nagged him. "What, you don't want to be a doctor?" he says, mimicking her voice. "Why don't you want to be a doctor?"

He followed her advice, but he also held onto a subversive streak, no doubt nurtured by the pages of those early issues.

He tells you about the time he had to give a guy a rectal exam and pulled out a screwdriver from the drawer. The delivery is deadpan.

He's a frequent letter writer, one of these types who will go to the top of a company chain if there's a customer service issue. He's written to Welch's about the inefficiency of its grape jelly squeeze bottle, complained to International Delight about the creamer spout.

He has collected other items: baseball cards, coins, cloves from Mick Jagger's estate in Jamaica.

But Mad is his biggest obsession.

"He's spent thousands of dollars on original Mad art that he hangs that's not that attractive," says his daughter Leah, 30, an acupuncture physician. "But he thinks it's funny, so up it goes."

Lubin's office is filled with Mad bobbleheads and posters. He keeps recent issues of Mad in his exam rooms, signs some of his correspondence MADly and has lobbied the post office twice for a stamp of Alfred E. Neuman, the fictional boy mascot with the tousled red hair and gap-toothed grin.

One of Lubin's letters appears in the 500th issue.

"I will always remember how much Mad has meant to me," he wrote. "My only question is how to convince my daughters once I'm gone to keep my treasured collection, rather than putting it on eBay."

Lubin's daughter, Leah, is blunt about the fate of the collection.

"Oh, we're going to milk it for all we can," she says.

But before posting that eBay ad, she says, they'll take every issue out of the plastic and read through all the pages.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Times reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8640.

What, me worry? Tampa doctor is mad for 'Mad' magazine 05/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 1, 2009 4:24pm]
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