To set the scene – this is the waiting room in our local hospital’s imaging center, the place where women undergo Sonography, 3D Digital Mammography, Computer Aided Detection, and Stereotactic Breast Biopsies. It is a clean, well lighted place; the chairs are reasonably comfortable, and the decor is unremarkable. Women of an age come and go, checking in, sitting for a few moments, rising quickly when called. Most are alone. My wife was scheduled for a host of tests, some of which could indicate a need for more invasive testing, so I wanted to be on hand, just in case. The very good news is that at the end of the morning, my wife emerged with a great report card, off the watch list for another year, and ready to celebrate with a pancake breakfast. Good news, much relief, and an entirely successful four hours very well spent.
The only glitch was that I had forgotten to bring my computer or my Kindle, so for those few moderately anxious hours I worked my way through the center’s magazines, moving from stack to stack as seats emptied and the next pile became available.
About an hour into the magazine maelstrom, it occurred to me that someone deep in the bowels of the administrative wing of the huge medical center of which this office is but a tiny adjunct must had invested a fair amount of time in selecting these subscriptions. These were freshly published magazines, not cast-offs. not rumpled, coffee stained shards of magazines from which recipes has been torn; these were current, obviously curated and kept up-to-date. And there were a lot of them.
Sure, some were the celebrity stalking, quasi fashion magazines I regularly see in the check-out line. I have learned to be grateful for the chance to scan covers, moving from the hard-to-reach at the top of the racks (People, Oprah) to the in-my-face middle ranks (US, In Style, and my favorite, OK). Thanks to OK I know that “Meghan’s Baby Is On The Way … Already!”, and I find out that Leah escaped from Scientology. I have to admit that I’m not on a first name basis with celebrities, but I’m happy for Leah. Thanks to People, I can join mainstream conversations about the Bachelor Betrayal – “I made huge mistake … I had to take a risk”. The lines are long, the wait interminable, nothing’s moving, and I can take the time to check in on cultural trends about which I would know nothing. It could be so much worse as the nation’s most widely circulated magazines do not show up next to the impulse buying candy rack and would not so generously broaden my cultural horizons. The top three, AARP The Magazine, AARP Bulletin, and Costco Connection may one day perch above the Paydays and Peanut Butter Cups, but even an aging America may not be ready yet.
It’s not surprising to find some of these in a medical waiting room: People, Good Housekeeping, Home and Garden, US, Family Circle, Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated. Not surprising, but perhaps foolhardy as doctors’ offices lose something like sixty million dollars in stolen (ok, “borrowed”) magazines a year, particularly those that are gossip, fashion, or sports related. Apparently Forbes, the Economist, and Smithsonian live to see another week or month on the table.
The office in which I wait, however, has certainly anticipated light-fingered chicanery in the waiting room. Here are the magazines I had before me after looking at an old Sports Illustrated, the two most recent copies of US and InStyle, Golf Digest, a National Geographic, and WebMD:
TV Guide, Sunset, Vanity Fair, Birds and Blooms, This Old House, Food and Wine, Architectural Digest, Private Islands, Breathe Magazine, Scootering – A Way of Life Since 1985, Yoga Magazine, Yachting, Men’s Journal, Motor Home Magazine, Classic Car, and Ranger Rick.
Ranger Rick is a racoon and a heck of a park ranger as any loyal reader knows from following “Ranger Rick’s Adventures”, an ongoing account of Rick’s attempts to teach a clueless world to face contemporary environmental issues. Since one of my kids dressed as Ranger Rick on his sixth Halloween, Rick is an old friend, and it was good to catch up with him. It did not take me long, however, to cover most of the ground in recycling Christmas trees, so on to the next available journal, in my case, TV Guide. There are articles in TV Guide (“Does Jason Bateman listen to Sandy Duncan? Of course not!”), but the bulk of the publication is the daily schedule of television shows available that week, information more useful in almost any other setting. Reading a dated TV Guide is like reading last year’s calendar. Moving on.
I glumly leafed through the magazines obviously meant for the one percent not idly waiting anywhere for four hours at a stretch, Vanity Fair, Private Islands, Architectural Digest, and Yachting, fairly certain that I was not in the market for an island or a yacht, although it was clear that the Okean 50 truly was a Brazilian beauty and nine stunning islands are still for sale in Canada – Go Figure. Vanity Fair used to fascinate me, in a face pressed up against a window outside the Knickerbocker Club in New York kind of way, but the current iteration is a high fashion version of the celebrity fan mag crossed with some biting cultural controversy. The cover of December’s edition featured J-Lo and A-Rod in evening wear (their secret is their willingness to share vulnerability), but articles by Michael Lewis on the U.S.D.A and an interview with a mourning Joe Biden convinced me to take a look at past issues when I had a chance. Architectural Digest trotted out a Mid-Century inspired design, a country cottage, and a house in the Hamptons as usual, any one of which installed faucets that cost more than I made in my best year.
By the time my wife emerged, I was overwhelmed by the range and scope of the magazines in this space, a generous array, but a tiny segment of a publishing industry that I had assumed devastated by social media, smart phones, and digital gossip. There are more than seven thousand magazines published each year in the US, most of which I had never seen much less read. Have I raced out to pick up the latest copy of Soft Dolls and Animals? I have not. On the other hand, I have now checked out Supermarket News to see just how much I don’t know about how magazines play a part in the complex world of supermarket management. Overwhelming!
Next time I’m bringing my Kindle.