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Periodical insanity
On falling victim to the ubiquitous magazine-subscription card

I HAD ONE moment of weakness. Just one. But it has cost me dearly. I sent in a magazine-subscription card. I know, I know ó Iím a sucker. What can I say? They got me with the discount.

Magazine-subscription cards are the bane of the magazine-reading experience. Whenever Iím trying to enjoy a good magazine ó be it at the bookstore, the dentistís office, my neighborís mailbox ó they spill out like little literary droppings. They are crass and needy and desperate. "Take me home and have your way with me ó Iím cheap!" they scream. And normally I ignore them, perhaps giving them a little shove underneath the neighborís doormat.

But for some reason, one of them pulled me in. It was a few years ago, and it was for the New Yorker. It offered 75 percent off the cover price. Seventy-five percent! I mean, come on, New Yorker, have a little self-respect. And maybe thatís what got me, seeing one of the most admired names in publishing cheapen itself like a dime-store hooker. I felt like Iíd just caught an ex-girlfriend selling herself for crack. "Jenny! What the hell are you doing? Youíre better than that. Come here, let me take you to Dennyís and buy you some eggs."

Whatever my flawed ó and inexplicably hooker-themed ó reasoning, the end result was that I subscribed to the New Yorker.

This was a bad idea.

As it turns out, the New Yorker is one of the worldís most overwhelming magazines. It comes relentlessly, week after week, overflowing with 6000-plus-word musings on everything from Iraq to the dying art of the spitball. There is no way to have a full-time job and keep up with the New Yorker. The movie reviews alone take more time to read than watching the frigginí movie. And the worst part is, with its sprawling range of subject matter, I find it impossible not to find some part of each issue I want to read. So as the New Yorker continued its weekly assault on my mailbox, I couldnít bring myself to throw the old ones away.

And on the rare occasion that I found nothing of personal interest in an issue, I still wouldnít throw it away, because I would inevitably find something that someone I knew would find interesting. Never mind the fact that Iíve never given a magazine article to anyone, ever. I donít know whom I was trying to kid. I donít travel in the kind of circles where people exchange interesting articles they read in the New Yorker. I travel in the kind of circles where people e-mail each other Photoshopped porn pictures with the modelís face replaced with that of a friend, and captions like, "Why Doug couldnít come out last weekend." Iím pretty sure these are mutually exclusive circles.

So the New Yorker piled up, mostly unread. At first, I tried keeping them all splayed out on the coffee table. Partly to remind me to read them ó partly to display them, like intellectual tchotchkes: "What? These old things? Oh, just some light reading." Because Iím just one of those people. I like to keep my books on bookshelves. I like owning CDs. Iím like a collector ... or a squirrel ... or the crazy guy who needs the city to threaten to tear down his house before he finally cleans up all the used tires and scrap metal piling up in his front yard.

But displaying magazines neatly on my coffee table was a doomed exercise. Because it became clear I was now on a list. The "liberal with disposable income" list. A list I imagine is consulted frequently by both the FBI and Publisherís Clearing House. In fact, Iím starting to think the FBI might be nothing more than a data-collection arm of Publisherís Clearing House. Within weeks after my first New Yorker arrived, other subscription offers started pouring into my mailbox. Eighty percent off. Ninety percent off. One free year. So much knowledge for so little money. How could I pass up the opportunity? I was going to be drunk on knowledge. As drunk on knowledge as I was on wine the night I subscribed to no fewer than five magazines.

To this day, I pay the price for my greed and hubris.

Newsweek, National Geographic, Wired, Mother Jones, the Progressive. Every trip to the mailbox is now a surprise. And I save every issue. I save even the ones I manage to read, just in case I want to reference them during some imagined argument I might have with some imagined Republican friend. Or what if I need them at a dinner party to resolve some lively debate?

Yes, my new magazine collection has not only provided me with knowledge, but with an active fantasy life involving spirited intellectual discourse over foie gras. Itís also provided me with a sizable interior-decorating problem.

Since I refuse to throw magazines away, I needed a place to put them. I briefly toyed with the idea of a bathroom magazine rack. But having a magazine rack in your bathroom sends a very distinct message to guests. It says, "Sure, come on in, make yourself comfortable, sit down and go to town. Just absolutely have at it. Spend an hour in here; Lord knows I do."

Iím not sure thatís a message I want to send.

Of course, instead of pondering the pros and cons of keeping magazines in the holy of holies, I should really be asking myself how I got to this point. How I ended up so overrun with periodicals that I have to consider using my bathroom as a library. Is it really the pursuit of knowledge? A way to control, save, and store at least some of the information Iím bombarded with every day? Maybe, but in some ways the magazines just make me feel less informed. Seeing covers every day promoting articles Iíll never have time to read reminds me of all the things I donít know. Or am I compelled by intellectual vanity? Obsessive collecting? I donít know.

Suffice it to say, Iíve got issues.

Luckily, my girlfriend just got a free subscription to People, so I can sit back, relax, and read that while I figure all this out.

Alan Olifson, who has six magazine subscriptions and yet has never won anything from Publisherís Clearing House, can be found at www.olifson.com

Issue Date: April 22 - 28, 2005
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