Der Zauberlehrling, or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

It is common practice for magazine publishers to send complimentary issues to doctors’ offices, where it is presumed the periodicals are kept in waiting rooms for patients to read until the practitioners are ready to see them. Free magazines for the office, entertainment for bored patients, and exposure for the publishers and advertisers. Everyone wins.

My father graduated medical school in 1936, practiced as a generalist until WWII, and then served as a flight surgeon with the 34th Bomb Squadron in the North African and the Mediterranean theatres. After discharge from the USAAF, he went back to residency and completed his training as an OB-GYN. He was in private practice from the late 1950s until 1965, at which time he went to work for the federal government as a medical disability reviewer, pouring through charts and other data, but with no hands-on duties. He maintained that professional role until he retired in 1996 (at the age of 85).

My point? The last time that dad had an office with a waiting room was in the mid-1960s, when I was a toddler. Though he worked for years after that, he didn’t see any patients.

All through my teens – starting more than a decade after dad had maintained his private practice – I recall women’s magazines arriving regularly in the mail at home. Vogue. Cosmo. Glamour. Ladies’ Home Journal. Whatever else was popular at the time. I knew that my mother, who was always sensible with a dollar, wasn’t subscribing. That’s when I found out about the complimentary subscriptions. Somehow the publishers still thought that dad was seeing patients, and that our home address was, in fact, his practice’s office address (even though, by then, we were living in a different state). I doubt dad had notified them of any address changes – he frankly couldn’t have cared less. I suspect it was just the publishers’ assumption, and we were too busy with our lives to worry about these unrequited deliveries.

Dad passed away in 2002, more than 35 years after his last office practice. Over that span, I can’t even imagine how many magazines had come to us. We’d recycle them. We’d give them away. We’d leave them in waiting rooms in which we ourselves were forced to wait. At last, I thought, the magazines will now come to an end. I don’t recall whether I phoned or wrote, but as his executor of his estate, I notified the publishers and distributors that my father was deceased, and there was no further need to send magazines.

Alas, this act merely sent them further into distribution agita.

More magazines started to come, but now to my address. Women I dated over the years found this amusing (and to their benefit… no need to buy their own subscriptions). I called them ‘Magazines from the Great Beyond.’ We laughed.

But the titles expanded. While once strictly magazines aimed at reproductive-aged females, I started to get Newsweek, Time, and the occasional National Geographic. Good Housekeeping and TV Guide were represented, as were Ebony and Jet. There were a few Spanish-language mailings. And Opera News. Cheerleading periodicals showed up. Once there was a fishing magazine, and some other unusual titles, such as Cigar & Spirits, Cigar Aficionado, Food & Wine, and Wine Enthusiast (I do not smoke, and my taste in wine is usually not very exotic).

I moved out of state. The magazines followed.

I moved again. They kept coming, and there were more of them.

I’ve moved three times since dad passed. They have always followed, and I’ve never once submitted a ‘change of address’ notification. They follow, and they’re not merely being forwarded by the post office, since they arrive at my door with the correct address on the label from Day #1.

The strangest part? They are still addressed to my dad (we do not share the same given name).

I feel sometimes like the modern Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the computer-generated mailing labels that stalk me being the 21st century equivalent of Goethe’s powerful spirits inadvertently unleashed.

This is proof positive that once a computer has you targeted, you can never really escape.

I am curious if, with my passing, my son will be similarly cursed?

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