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Index, America's Funniest, Back of Atlantic Monthly

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page C04

Alley, Kirstie, circumference of, 109

Bennett, Tony, digestive integrity of, 162

Chop, Lamb, puppet, as compared to Wesley Clark, 50

Kim, Jong-Il, as vaguely reminiscent of Paul Anka, 133; maternal instincts of, 136; as ruthless dictator, 133-134; as object of pity, 138; as Joy Brigadier, 142

Reagan, Ronald, inspiring rhetoric of, 88; colon of, 42

Connoisseurs of the witty, the wacky and the weird will recognize those lines as products of the strange mind of Benjamin Healy of the Atlantic Monthly. Healy is a humorist, biographer and acerbic social critic -- all within the context of his job as America's best (and probably only) ironic magazine indexer.

Healy, 25, is a "staff editor" at the Atlantic and his main job is fact-checking. But he also writes the magazine's index, which debuted in the June 2004 issue and is consistently one of the smartest and funniest features in the Atlantic -- or any other magazine, for that matter.

The current issue's index contains these delightful gems:

Anthony, Susan B., as tooth fairy, 118

Einstein, Albert, slacker mom of, 118

Stalin, Joseph, yellow eyes of, 88; as seminarian, 84; as darner of socks, 92

Clearly, Healy, Benjamin produces the zaniest magazine index in America -- but, of course, that isn't saying much. Few magazines have indexes and they tend to be magazines suffering from delusions of permanence -- Consumer Reports and the National Journal, for example. Their indexes are just-the-facts-ma'am guides to their contents. But the Atlantic aims for something less comprehensive and more fun. All names in the index appear in that issue but not all names in the issue appear in the index.

"We're trying to be suggestive, not exhaustive," Healy explains. "We pare down to what's interesting and amusing. It's a sort of arch-commentary on what's in the magazine."

Healy hopes that browsers skimming through the index will be enticed to read the articles. And they undoubtedly are. Who could possibly read " Kerry, John, blazing shirttails of, 38" in the March issue and not turn to Page 38 to find out what it means?

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