I used to be like a village washerwoman about the arrival of magazines in the mail -- waving them around, yelling to everyone about what was in them. Back when I could scarcely afford rent or college loans, I managed to find enough cash every year to renew my Vanity Fair subscription. I considered it a kind of fabulous American duty: Come home, liberate the magazine from the cellophane wrapper, drink in the perfumey superciliousness and temporarily occupy the topsy-turvy world of the rich, beautiful and literate.

Although I will probably always subscribe to Vanity Fair, I long ago became hip to the complaints everyone has about it: The celeb stories come only after maddening, lengthy negotiations with publicists about who the writer will be, what questions will be allowed, who the photographer will be, which designers will provide clothes, who will make final photo edits and whether the piece will get cover play. Questions about juicy personal stuff usually get scripted answers. Something about all that manipulation of truth started to chip away at my naivete, when I once believed that being on the cover of Vanity Fair could happen to anyone, sooner or later.

A few weeks ago, I felt a nostalgic twitter when VF showed up with Jennifer Aniston (aka, the Scorned One) on the cov, nakedish, photographed by Mario Testino with the headline: "Jen Finally Talks! And talks and talks. And cries. And talks . . ." How often does a super-celebrity like Jen summon an interview and then gush like that? It's like discovering a hidden reserve of oil in a well you thought was long dried up. She doesn't really have anything to promote at the moment, other than her feelings about her breakup with Brad Pitt. (She feels betrayed -- uh-doy -- thinks he lacks a sensitivity chip and can't stand his peroxide 'do.)

Vanity Fair sent writer Leslie Bennetts, who had done time with Brad and Jen when they were a happy couple and had written a story that portrayed them in a state of buttery, syrupy (better than waffles) state of marital bliss. There's something still terribly intoxicating about this level of access, however pointless the resulting journalism may be. It makes one realize how scrappy our weekly diet of paparazzi items really is, how we subsist on so little hard data from a primary source. For it to be possible to ring the doorbell of Jennifer Aniston, and have her answer, and sit in an overstuffed sofa and speak -- not of co-stars and directors and the craft but of divorce, of cheating, of personal woes -- well, it's worth drawing a bubble bath for.

E-mail: celebrity@washpost.com.