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Lots and lots of magazines

TIME, Newsweek, Redbook, Car & Driver, and Cosmopolitan are among the magazines we are familiar with. We may not read many of them but we know about them and roughly what they're about. They are displayed full cover at the pharmacy or newsstand. They crop up on friends' coffee tables, in waiting rooms, or placed conveniently in the water closet. But what about the row upon row of glossy publications behind these old standbys? The ones overlapping each other into oblivion. Periodicals we see only as a multicolored, blurred backdrop to the more popular issues. What are they about and who reads them?

What sort of human being, for example, reads Savvy? Or Outside? How about Crash & Burn? You could stake out a newsstand for weeks and never get a clue, much less find the answer. Rita, the manager of my local pharmacy, explains that the vast majority of such publications come in, stand neatly at attention for a month and then are sent marching back from whence they came. Indeed, have you ever observed a row of such magazines that looked in the least depleted? Dust them for fingerprints and you'd probably find that no one has laid a digit on them. But someone somewhere must read them. Why else would they be printed?

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It sounds logical until you scan the covers to get an idea of what lies within.

One slick specimen is Outside. Sounds like a lot of ground to cover, doesn't it? The front sports a robust, grinning gentleman sashaying up a mountain. Right by his face the bold type reads: ``Bear Dens, Rock Shoes, Parachute Art, Animal Lifeguards and More!'' It is difficult imagining that anyone could, or would, include all that in a magazine -- and more!

Further down the row, the titles are clearly confusing. Take Run, for example. Jogging, marathons, right? Nope. It's a computer publication, one of 17 to choose from. The only other category to surpass this is that all-American favorite, the automobile, with 25. Which brings us to Full Auto: an obscure periodical on how to pack your compact's tiny trunk efficiently, you'd guess. Wrong again. It's a handy journal about ``Guns & Tactics: Deadly Multipliers for Modern Combat.'' You never know when you'll want to mow down an entire battalion.

As illuminating as anything else about these journalistic gems is the number devoted to the same topics, like computers and cars. There are 6 publications about romance; 9 on fishing. Hair styles fill 5 issues; baseball, 8. Homes dominate 6 periodicals; detective dramas, 4. There were 8 entries aimed at the general life styles of women, including Woman, New Woman, and Complete Woman. There were no comparable magazines for men. No Man, New Man, Man-Self, or Man Alive.

Fewer of us apparently are fascinated by back-packing, storage ideas, bicycling, wrestling, or crashing and burning. In fact, atop the latest Crash & Burn issue is a banner headline: ``Last Issue Ever!'' Let's not despair; Life came back, after all.

Rita informs me that the rack from which I'm compiling these haphazard statistics contains less than half the available offerings. What can be done about this invasion of reading material? Why not combine the magazines? This strategy would save space -- and maybe even sell a few more copies.

In fact, don't you think a publication like Guns & Perms would sell like the dickens? Road and Romance would blow them all out of the water, except maybe Soldier of Fortune Hairdos.

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I can see the lead story in that last hybrid now: ``War Is Horrendous . . . for Your Hair.''

David Holahan is a free-lance writer.