The uneasy combination of naivete and nudity pretty much sums up The Probe. The zine, which comes out roughly once a year, is just a part of Muentz's life. But much of the rest of that life is spent working to support the mag. Muentz grew up a metal kid in Pleasanton; he flunked out of high school but eventually worked his way through junior college and graduated from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo with a degree in history. He came back north after school and started The Probe five years ago as a bored pizza-restaurant employee with a burgeoning interest in the punk underground. Along the way he started substitute teaching (though this has been on hold since his move to S.F.) and trucking; these days he spends a lot of time moving tomatoes up and down Highway 5.
The nude women first appeared, he recalls, as "an accident"; some former college friends contributed photos of themselves for the first issue; in the second, he and several male buddies reciprocated. Now, with a circulation of 5,000, The Probe boasts a thick, 132-page heft, bettering production values, and a recurring cast of local scenesters from punk bands like Hickey, Your Mother, and All You Can Eat -- not to mention a spiraling debt and a reputation that often baffles its creator.
"It's a quintessential personal zine," says Ramsey Kanaan, whose AK Press distributes The Probe. Muentz himself puts it another way: "All I do is write about myself." The most recent issue, Probe No. 6, came out last spring; copies can sometimes still be found at local zine purveyors like Leather Tongue and Naked Eye. Besides featuring the usual passel of reviews and photos, Probe No. 6 chronicles in excruciating detail what Muentz describes as the worst year of his life, from the trials of having to abandon longtime "Probe house" to his credit-card debt to his baroque love life. What often amounts to little more than navel-gazing in other personal zines becomes, by virtue of Muentz's liquor-fueled prose and natural ability to deliver a punch line, a singularly entertaining fusion of bravado and pathos. (From the intro: "I sometimes wonder why I bother publishing this thing at all. I hate to write. On any given night I'd much rather just watch a Clint Eastwood movie or something. [...] Why not ditch this zine and just get an easy, well paying job? Become happy and stable, join society, find a nice girl to settle down with.... Of course, when I get drunk I see things more clearly and my life makes perfect sense.")
The Probe's renown has been soaring since issue No. 5, when the usual naked photos were joined by the "girl reviews," a marathon record of Muentz's every sexual or near-sexual experience since grade school. "I thought of it about two issues before they appeared," Muentz explains. "At the time I was thinking it would be more interesting than record reviews, and I had this idea of doing a little half-page on each one." The epic tale that ultimately sprawled across Probes 5 and 6 (subtitled "The Metal Years" and "The Punk Years," respectively) is rife with rejection, miscommunication, and queasy, meticulous accounts of what the author himself aptly calls "disastersex." The way-more-than-half-page reviews sometimes dwell on actual sex, but more often reveal the tortuous emotional entanglements that accompany it, with results both hilarious and painful. In one, Muentz travels to Arcata for what he thinks is guaranteed action with a sometime girlfriend. He spends hundreds of words detailing his negotiations for the trip:
I told her, "I want to sleep with you. If you're not sure about that tell me now, because I don't want to drive all the way up there if we're not going to sleep together. I want to do other stuff too, but that's the main reason I want to see you." She said that was okay with her. I said, "So are we going to sleep together? I just want to make sure I'm being clear about my intentions. I'm not trying to be an asshole, but if I come up to see you and we don't sleep together I'll be totally disappointed."
With new sex toys and no less than "three different types of lubrication I wanted to try out" packed for the occasion, Muentz makes the long drive in the fog, but we the readers already know what will happen, or rather what won't.
Muentz's refusal to cast himself in the mold of a stud is only part of a larger willingness to bare all in the zine. "There's nothing I'm really afraid of anyone finding out about me," he shrugs. "It's not like I gotta work through the honesty. It just comes out whenever." This candor occasionally sours his relationships and, as in the Arcata story above, his accounts are not infrequently accompanied by a sense of impending doom. Perhaps not surprisingly, several of the tales end on a somewhat psycho note. Another girl review finds Muentz frazzled after a new girlfriend has begun avoiding him. After days of anguish, he goes over to her house late at night. No one answers the door, so Muentz matter-of-factly kicks it in. The woman's not there, but her roommates are. He apologizes to them, and hits the sack. "I was asleep," he writes, "when the cops came."