Pssst -- hey, you out there! Are you behind in your Christmas shopping? Do you have too many relatives and too few gift ideas? Have you been driving around the mall since the day after Thanksgiving, looking for a parking space?

Never fear. Your old pal, the Magazine Reader, has the solution to all your Christmas shopping problems: Just give everybody a magazine subscription. It's the gift that keeps on giving, like Kodak cameras or genital herpes.

Here's what you do: Go to a good newsstand. You can find them in stores like Borders, Barnes & Noble and, best of all, Tower Records. Pick a magazine for each person on your list. Buy a copy of the magazines. Send off for the subscriptions. Now, roll each magazine into a long, narrow cylinder, wrap it in festive paper, tie it with a bow and attach a card that explains that you've bought the recipient a subscription.

Voila{grv}! Your Christmas shopping is over!

Of course, you do have to choose the appropriate magazine for each person. Fortunately, this isn't difficult. Nearly all your adult relatives and friends will be happy with one of these two magazines: Sports Illustrated ($39) or Gourmet ($20). Almost any family will appreciate National Geographic ($34). Anybody with a sense of humor will appreciate Funny Times ($23), a monthly compendium of America's best cartoons and comic essays. And I think it's in the Constitution somewhere that every 12-year-old must have a subscription to Mad ($24).

Finally, you really can't go wrong giving almost anybody America's best magazine, the New Yorker ($39.95). Even folks who don't want to read the great reporting, essays, fiction, criticism and poetry will get a kick out of the cartoons every week. And a pile of New Yorkers on the coffee table gives any living room a certain je ne sais quoi.

Those are the easy, safe choices, suitable for the masses. But there are also more obscure magazines that reflect every unique quirk of each of your eccentric relatives or oddball friends.

For Uncle Harry, the button-down accountant who's going through a midlife crisis and just bought a motorcycle: Outlaw Biker ($21.95) will show him how to behave at a Hell's Angels party.

For your friend Fred, whose wife just ran off with the mailman: Playboy ($29.97). He has plenty of time to read the articles now. Playboy is also a good choice for your Uncle Vinnie, who has, alas, gone away for a long vacation at the state's expense after that unfortunate misunderstanding involving the bank and the pistol and the ski mask.

For your niece Jane, who changed her name to Spiritchild while she was following the Grateful Dead around the country but has now settled down in Mendocino to became a holistic astrologer-aromatherapist: High Times ($29.99). Or maybe Trip: The Journal of Psychedelic Culture ($25).

For your friend Jenny, who always names her dogs after her favorite writers -- Colette, Austen and Woolf: Bark ($15), the hip, artsy, literary dog quarterly published out of Berkeley. (Unfortunately, I've yet to see a literary cat magazine.)

It's always tough to think of something appropriate to give your minister, priest, rabbi, imam, guru, swami or shaman. The mundane objects of the earthly realm just don't mean that much to these ethereal, spiritual leaders. So get them a subscription to the Door ($29.95), a magazine that bills itself, probably accurately, as "The World's Pretty Much Only Religious Satire Magazine." The Door combines serious interviews on spiritual matters with cartoons and comic pieces that poke gentle fun (or not so gentle fun) at the foibles of various religions. Caution: If your spiritual leader doesn't have a sense of humor, he or she probably won't like the Door. But if your spiritual leader doesn't have a sense of humor, maybe you should find another spiritual leader.

For the liberals on your Christmas list, get a subscription to the Nation ($39.97). For your conservative friends, get National Review ($29.50). Or, better yet, why not shake these folks up a bit, open their minds? Send National Review to the liberals and the Nation to the conservatives. They'll think of you every time they throw the magazine across the room in disgust.

And then there's your Uncle Irv, who livened up Thanksgiving dinner with a long monologue on how it doesn't matter whether liberals or conservatives run the government because everything is controlled by a secret cabal of Freemasons in the Trilateral Commission who are covering up the truth about how aliens killed JFK. For Uncle Irv, the perfect Christmas gift is a subscription to Paranoia ($18), the conspiracy theory magazine that dares to ask the question: "Did Nostradamus Predict Osama bin Laden?" But be sure to inform Irv that you bought him the subscription before the first issue arrives. Otherwise he might conclude that the CIA is using sensors implanted in his dental fillings to read his thoughts.

Believe it or not, there's a magazine for everybody on your list, even your nerdy nephew Jeff, who has no life and seems to spend every waking moment sitting on the couch, eating Doritos and watching his old tapes of David Lynch's weird "Twin Peaks" TV series. For Jeff, there's Wrapped in Plastic ($29.90), a magazine devoted to "Twin Peaks" and the rest of the Lynch oeuvre.

Giving magazine subscriptions is fun and easy, and your friends will appreciate them in ways you can't even imagine. Here's a true story:

A friend of mine is doing time in a Maryland prison. Last year, I gave her a subscription to Vanity Fair ($24). When I visited a few weeks ago, I asked her if she wanted me to renew it.

"Oh, yes!" she said. "I'd love that."

She likes the articles and the photographs and Dominick Dunne's column, she explained, but what she really loves about Vanity Fair is what so many people dislike -- those fragrant perfume ads. She cuts them out, rubs them her wrists and her neck and walks around feeling a bit more feminine and a little more human for a while.

When the other inmates got a whiff of this, they wanted some perfume, too. So she began cutting the ads into strips and giving them out.

She was, in her own way, playing Santa, passing on the joy of magazines.