Catalog companies of America, I hear you.
I'll bet you're right, too. Scotch probably does seem snazzier in cut-crystal glasses bearing my engraved initials. Thanks for the heads-up!
And if I order express delivery, those cuff links made from shotgun shells should be here by Christmas - what you folks call "The Holidays." They'll look great with that pheasant-feather bow tie that you, Orvis, so thoughtfully have urged on me. Is $149 too much for a bow tie? Not when the feathers are "naturally harvested!"
Rest assured I've got my eye on that $995 striped Henley-style wool blazer from Ben Silver in "super 120 doeskin flannel," though I don't know what "super 120" means.
And while that "barista style" espresso machine from Williams Sonoma looks like a steal at $1,999, I confess I'm not confident about my "milk texturing" skills.
But thanks to you, holiday catalog companies, I feel confident I can become the artisanal, Earth-sustainable, Fair Trade, backpacking hipster sophisticate in cashmere and ripstop nylon that you have told me - over and over and over again - that I need to become.
So, could you please turn off the faucet? I mean: Stop with the mailings? Enough!
You see, I did a little experiment this year to see how big a stack of your "holiday gift guides" might pile up. Just for fun (and for this article) I started saving every one of them as they started piling up at our house around October 1.
Yes, Nieman Marcus. Yes, L.L. Bean. Yes J. Crew and Restoration Hardware and Pajamagram and Hammacher Schlemmer and Tiffany and Uncommon Goods and PrAna and Pottery Barn and the Art Institute of Chicago - you know who you are!
You are the collective authors of my stack of holiday catalogs that rises to 29 inches tall and weighs 86 pounds. And that was a few days ago. Four to six new ones arrive with each visit of the mailman, whose back looks sore.
What might explain this torrent? Our zip code is "upscale," I suppose, but nothing to knock your socks off. And by socks, I mean Sea Island cotton argyles in sky/yellow/coral from Ben Silver of Charleston, S.C. for $40 a pair.
No, my hunch is that you catalog companies discovered I took the family on vacation to very fashionable Aspen, Colo., a few years ago, and that I bought a pipe carved to look like a steer's head for $150. For this I was surely identified as a fool with money, and my name sold to upscale companies around the globe.
What else explains the catalog from Shipton and Heneage of Scotland, whose handmade velvet and satin slippers are, it says, "sported by the fashion-forward at red carpet and black-tie events." For just $595 I could have a pair of slippers embroidered with my family crest - if I had one.
Mercifully, not every catalog company sees only the patrician in me.
The folks at 32 Bar Blues, whose line of men's clothing is built around themes of jazz and rock, has spotted my inner hipster. And their $138 snap-brim leather hat, called Cock of the Walk, assures me of "instant strut."
But am I not also a man of artistic sensibility? Signals, a catalog for "fans and friends of Public Television," sees me instead in a black bowler hat topped by a lightbulb. "An homage to the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte," it is a mere $22.95.
I'm not sure what the Active Forever catalog sees me as, though. It offers a "boyfriend arm pillow" for $24.95. Half a human torso, with an arm and hand clad in pajamas, it's described as the "perfect sleeping companion." Let me ask my wife.
I'm wondering, too, what sort of guy the Whatever Works catalog sees me as. Billed as being about "Garden, Home, Pest Control," its pages include offerings of a heated windshield scraper for $14.95, and a glue trap for bedbugs at $22.99. For me? A "fashion-forward" guy who's got his eye on crested bedroom slippers?
But wait. There's more to Whatever Works. Flip toward the back, and they've slipped in a "Tantric Massager" with "ten levels of pulsation" for $39.95, a ribbed "Adonis Extender" for $24.95, and a "Body Blossom Massager" (whose convolutions I cannot fathom) for $39.95. On the next page: toenail clippers. And what says "Christmas" like a "homeopathic hangover preventer?"
I'll have you know, America, that there are some catalog companies who see my eco-spiritual depth.
Rodale Press, for example, would like me to consider its set of "Dead Sea bath salt trio" for just $50. But I've got my eye on those tea bags "wildcrafted" from white sage and organic mint, "collected by hikers who are specially permitted to gather herbs and plant trimmings from national parks"? Twenty for $13. And they're "wildcrafted."
National Geographic's catalog wants me to know that a purchase of a $59.95 "chime of compassion" made by Tibetan refugees, or a $75 Donegal tweed cap, will "help support our mission of research, education, conservation and education." And Vivaterra, which promotes "inspired green living," is offering Christmas angels "fashioned in Haiti from oil drums" for $160. What the Haitian artisans earn for their labors is not made clear.
And so it goes. For sheer volume, the women's clothing catalogs far outweigh (literally) all other categories. Our stack of them weighs 19 pounds.
We've got 11 pounds of upscale "gentleman" catalogs, 10 pounds of home catalogs, five pounds of cooking and kitchen catalogs, four pounds of "hip" men's gift guides, and three pounds of glossy paper offering upscale children's clothing. The rest don't even fit into an easy category.
For sheer number, however, the winner is outdoorsy Orvis, where I sometimes buy sweaters and shirts. It has shipped me 16 catalogs since October 1.
Amid all this heap, however, one small, red catalog does stand out. It calls itself the "Most Important Gift Catalog in the World."
It's from Heifer International, a nonprofit that since 1944 has assisted more than 105 million of the world's poorest people by providing them with livestock, clean water, and improved agricultural techniques.
For $120 we can "buy" a goat for a family in Malawi or a pig in Thailand or a sheep in Romania. We can buy honeybee hives for $30, a flock of chicks for $20, llamas, alpacas, or irrigation pumps for $150, a water buffalo for $250, a heifer for $500.
A few years ago, we made a Heifer International water buffalo a Christmas present for our then-teenage son.
Mercifully, it was not delivered to our door, but he got a letter from Heifer International informing him of the gift, and was quite touched.
And so I'm going to pass this year on the monogrammed velvet slippers and the cut-crystal Scotch decanter and the cashmere coat and the alligator belt and the Henley jacket and yes, even the bedbug trap. Thanks for offering!
Instead, we have bought goats through Heifer International in both of our children's names. My wife is knitting them scarves and hats, and I imagine there will be some books and CDs under the tree as well.
I'm pretty sure it will feel like Christmas.