From my filing cabinet


[Written at the start of the first Gulf War – remember that one? We had a deficit then too. Bad economies; wars. Do you think there might be a connection?]

Catalogs, and what to do about them. That’s what’s on my mind these days.

I know my mind should be occupied with more pressing matters, like the federal deficit, my personal deficit, and our forces in the Gulf. But it’s easier to think about catalogs than about the fact that a lot of men, plus at least one young woman named Tiffany, might be dying in a desert.

I know there’s a woman named Tiffany over there because I saw her on the news. She’s a Lieutenant. I have a theory that girls whose parents give them hyper-feminine names like “Tiffany” and “Chantilly Lace” end up joining the Armed Forces in reaction. Sort of a “boy named Sue” thing, only for girls.

But not for girls named Sue. In my experience, girls named Sue go into marketing.

Back in the days when I responded to a clogged kitchen sink by calling the landlord, no one sent me any catalogs. Which is too bad, because back then, you could have talked me into buying a black satin plunge-bra corset from Victoria’s Regrets. (“Victoria didn’t wear one of these to bed with Albert, but oh, how she wished she had!”)

But now, when I have to write checks equal to the GNP of Belgium for a new roof and some nice seamless gutters, I’m not likely to spring for a plunge-bra corset, not unless I can use it to unclog the kitchen sink.

I’ve never asked for catalogs. What happened, I think, was that I bought a house in northern California and thereby got put on a list of people who have money to burn. Not so, catalog-senders! I bought a fixer-upper with a down payment it took half my adult life to save, and all my burnable money gets spent on things like adjustable wrenches and Drano.

Most of the catalogs I get are accurately “targeted,” as my friend Sue (who’s in marketing) would say. It’s reasonable to suppose that a person who has ordered things from a catalog called, say, Chock Full o’ Country, will also order things from a catalog called Country Things ‘n’ Stuff.

“Country” recurs in my catalogs. So does “Victorian.” The catalog-senders have figured out that I live in a Victorian house in the country. They might also know that I have a mountain bike in the garage and a bunch of holes in my hardwood floor from the night my friend Tessa belly-danced in stiletto heels after one too many Kahlua sours.

But they don’t know everything about me. I can state this with confidence, as opposed to not believing it but stating it anyway, because last month I got a catalog targeted to hunters. I’m so not interested in mahogany gun-cabinets, mugs with handles shaped like antlers, or sofa-cushions with pictures of ducks on them. (“Christ, honey, there’s ducks on the sofa again! Quick, where’s my rifle?”)

I also get catalogs that sound right for me but just totally aren’t. In Victorian Country Crock, I found this item: “At last! A basket that also works as a trivet!” I don’t know about you, but it depresses the hell out of me to learn that somewhere, perhaps in my own neighborhood, are people who’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for the arrival of a multi-tasking basket. What, I ask myself, must these people’s lives be like?

“Myrtle,” says Clem. He is dressed in rags held together by string. “Does our basket work as a trivet yet?”

“Not yet,” plaintives Myrtle, placing work-worn hands over a belly that’s swollen with their eighth child, not counting the twins, Mort and Gert, who were born nine months after that nice duck hunter from down Molasses way spent the night. “But have faith, Clem. The Lord will provide!”

Should Clem and Myrtle care to attribute that quotation, Victorian Country Crock will come to their aid again: “Now, electronics can help you find any passage in the Bible!” The Franklin Electronic Bible costs $250, which ain’t duck feed. But then those old-fashioned “hard copy” Bibles don’t have a spelling corrector and a pronunciation guide.

In the same catalog, I found – and this is Gospel, although without the Franklin Electronic Bible I can’t quote chapter and verse – an item called “mess-o-trout.”

“Light up your life,” enthuses Victorian Country Crock, “with a 14-foot string of six-inch plastic trout! Perfect for kitchen decoration, holiday festivities, or to create a poolside environment! Extra light bulb included.”

Of course the first question raised by “mess-o-trout” is, “Can I create a poolside environment without actually having a pool?”

But there’s another, more pressing question.

We all know you make plastic from oil, though as a science-impaired person I found that it didn’t work when I tried it at home. So it stands to reason that if we bought less plastic, we’d need less oil.

And although I know that we’re in the Gulf to protect the sovereignty of our good friends Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – staunch democracies, both of them, and a good market, according to Sue, for the Franklin Electronic Koran – well, I can’t help thinking that oil has something to do with it.

So what I wonder is this. Are we asking Lt. Tiffany and our other forces in the Gulf to lay down their lives for strings of plastic trout?

Catalogs, and what to do about them. That’s what’s on my mind these days.

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