The Magazine Reader

On the Rack At the Gym

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Your major magazine honchos never mention it, but a sizable portion of American magazines are read by people who are panting, gasping and sweating all over the pages.

I am one of those people. I read magazines while chugging away on the StairMaster machine at a gym on Rockville Pike. I glance up from my sweaty magazine, I see my fellow exercisers sweating all over their magazines. There's a reason for this: Reading magazines can almost sort of distract you from the realization that this form of exercise is completely ridiculous.

Magazines left on these machines end up on the gym's magazine racks, which now contain what might be the world's greatest collection of sweat-stained periodicals. Most of these mags are cheesy celebrity rags, which are the perfect brain candy for people who are too busy panting and sweating to read, say, the New York Review of Books. But the racks also hold other, odder magazines, including Chiropractic Economics and the ABA Journal and American Family Physician and something called NARFE.

Which makes me wonder: Do I belong to some kind of weird gym? Or is this a Washington-wide phenomenon, another example of our famous nerdy workaholism? Somehow I doubt that people in Omaha or Tucson read the American Journal of Public Health while huffing and puffing on the StairMaster.

When I saw a guy riding a stationary bike while highlighting passages in a journal with a yellow marker, I figured I'd better check this out. I borrowed (well, stole) a dozen of the odder magazines and read (well, skimmed) them. It was a wild roller-coaster ride through the netherworlds of America's subcultures.

Let's take them one by one:

American Family Physician: The cover story was called "Oral Lesions" and if the four full-color photos of these lesions don't scare you away from a career as a family physician, then you're probably tough enough to enjoy the photo on Page 524 that depicts what its caption describes as "papular atopic dermatitis of the buttocks."

NARFE: The official publication of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association contains not one but two ads for special safety bathtubs. The article titled "Is There a Dockter in the House?" begins like this: "Actually, if it's a NARFE meeting in Wyoming, the proper question is: 'Are there Dockters in the house?' The answer for the past 15 years or so, is 'yes.' Leroy and Karen Dockter of Laramie Chapter 833 have become mainstays of their chapter." Perfect reading while bathing in a safety tub.

Chiropractic Economics: The cover story features an Ohio chiropractic clinic whose staffers were willing to pose standing next to a skeleton that was dressed in a feather boa and an Ohio State baseball cap. And the ads were even better. One touted the Human Touch Robotic Massage Chair. Another had a headline that read: "You are what you eat. And it's hard to align a cheeseburger." But my favorite was an ad for MediTropin, a dietary supplement that claims to "promote the natural production of hormones that help keep us young at heart." The headline reads: "Why MediTropin? Because we're walking, talking bowls of hormone soup, that's why." Tucked away at the bottom of the page in tiny type is a disclaimer: "This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

Training Secrets for Rottweilers: A special issue of Dog Fancy magazine about this much-feared breed of pooch, it contains articles titled "Living With a Strong-Willed Dog" and "Does Your Rottie Need Professional Help?" There's advice on the best way to introduce your Rottweiler to cats: "It's best to choose a confident cat -- not a scaredy-cat. A cat that doesn't panic and run is less likely to be viewed as prey by the dog." And there's some very good advice for Rottweiler owners with small children: "Regardless of how sweet and careful your Rottweiler is, don't expect it to baby-sit."

ABA Journal: The latest issue of the official publication of the American Bar Association contains an article titled "Manhattan Work at Mumbai Prices." It reveals that American law firms are outsourcing legal work to lawyers in India who make $7,000 a year. Maybe I'm a bad person, but this news put a smile on my face. Can we outsource the jobs of members of Congress and hedge fund managers while we're at it?

Medical Economics: This magazine for doctors contains an essay by a Missouri physician who loses a malpractice lawsuit. Is she bitter about that? Well, here's the last paragraph of her essay: "My situation reminds me of a science fiction story I read years ago. The Big Brother computer had taken over the world and was destroying people for amusement. The story was told by the last person on earth. The computer didn't kill him because then it would have no more playthings. It had tortured and mutilated him until he no longer had features or limbs. The story closes with the line, 'I have no mouth. And I must scream.' "

Geico Direct: Believe it or not, this magazine for Geico policyholders contains a page of letters to the Geico gecko: "My husband has a 96-year-old sister who is a great admirer of yours and turns up her TV extra loud when you come on." This raises the question: Should people who write fan letters to fictitious reptiles really be permitted to operate motor vehicles?

American Journal of Public Health: This very serious academic journal contains an article titled "Husbands' Involvement in Housework and Women's Psychosocial Health: Findings From a Population-Based Study in Lebanon." Researchers interviewed 1,652 married couples in Lebanon and found that wives were more happy if their husbands shared the housework. Amazing: I learned that 40 years ago by watching "The Honeymooners."

Associations Now: The official magazine of the American Society of Association Executives and the Center for Association Leadership, it reports on the doings of those wonderful folks who run the kind of associations that put out this kind of magazine. For instance, there's this nugget: "The American Industrial Hygiene Association appointed Gina Veazey as director of communications. Veazey previously worked as editor in chief at the National Association of Convenience Stores, where she launched NACS Magazine."

A magazine for convenience store employees? Sounds interesting. If I ever see it at the gym, I'll be sure to sweat on it.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company