When the U.S. Mail was the only mail, when cards and letters carried greetings and news, when people allowed 6-8 weeks for parcel delivery, there were catalogs. I am speaking of fat, glossy catalogs that included clothing, appliances, and toys displayed and described to entice and sell. I am sure the "mailman" did not look forward to catalog season, but as a child, I certainly did. The Big Two catalogs were Spiegel and Sears. Both catalogs would land in our mailbox around October of every year. I drew big circles around all the clothes and toys I wished would be my Christmas presents. Sometimes I was lucky enough to see and feel the real merchandise on Christmas morning. Sometimes gazing on all those full-color photos was as close as I came.
I really don't know if children spend hours on the couch with a catalog and a crayon nowadays. I don't recall either of my kids being inclined that way, although they might have spent a few minutes with a flier from Toys R Us. No, I am sure the heyday of catalog marketing is past, with a few exceptions . . .
I get about a dozen catalogs out of my mailbox every year. There are a couple that I am glad to see and one that I will buy from. That one sells shoes. I don't like to shoe-shop in stores because I rarely like any that I see. If I flip through the catalog often enough, I eventually find 3 or 4 pairs of shoes I can live with, and I order them all. (I also feed Mr. Powers a ton of beans and rice for the rest of the month.) I am not surprised that the shoe catalog keeps showing up whether I need shoes or not.
There are an additional two catalogs that I get; I have ordered from them before, so they keep coming back. I won't order from them in the near future, but I don't mind looking at the pictures. One of them sells all kinds of kitchen equipment. There are aqua frying pans, bright red toasters, and purple Dutch ovens for sale. One time I was so seduced by the idea of pretty pots and pans that I ordered a 12-piece set of coppertone cookware. The tops of saucepans and boilers counted as part of the 12 pieces, which hardly seemed fair. Worse, the non-stick coating began to peel off of every single item after one or two usages. I should have read the fine print. I imagine it says, "Cookware is not intended for use at high temperatures or with liquids, solids, or cooking oil."
I also get a seasonally-accurate catalog selling decorative items for the home. Five years ago I ordered some fake antique vanity drawers which are supposed to be used as catch-alls in the bathroom. They are, in fact, still in my bathroom, and they look okay. In the future, I will make sure my "shabby chic" decor is the real thing. I enjoy the catalog every fall and spring, and I especially like the Halloween issue. I am amazed that people buy witches with LED eyes, resin gravestones, and faux pumpkins that look just like real jack o'lanterns.
Several other types of catalogs have appeared periodically at my house for the past couple of years. I don't remember inviting any of them. For example, I sometimes hear from the nice folks at Cabelas. I don't know why; we have very little in common.
There are a pair of clothing catalogs that I am getting by mistake. I am certain they are intended for other women. Somewhere, these ladies are disappointed every day, because they need to buy themselves some clothes. One of them must be an African-American woman in her 40's. Her catalog sells gorgeous 2-piece suits. The slim, calf-length skirts have kick pleats. The jackets have squared shoulders and wide lapels. Each suit has a handsome, elaborate hat to match. The suits, I think, are for church, and if they aren't marketed for black women, then why are all the models black? Besides, anyone marketing Sunday clothes for me would know
1. I am a Lay Eucharistic Minister, and I serve at the altar. I have to dress out, so it doesn't matter what I am wearing when I arrive at church.
2. Episcopalian women come to church wearing whatever they'll wear to the lake as soon as church is over.
3. I don't wear hats.
The other clothing catalog I get, inexplicably, is for hookers. Sister, if this is your catalog, send me your address by private message, and I'll forward it on. For now, for the record, for any misguided marketers out there:
1. I never wear tops that lace up from navel to breast bone.
2. I never wear jeans with laces in the back. Why would you do that?
3. If I wore 10-inch platforms, I'd have to sue you sooner or later, because I would break my ankle.
4. Why does that pink bra have black appliques on the cups? They look like hands. Creepy.
Which brings me to the one catalog that gets a laugh from me and Mr. Powers both--we have just copped our second copy of it, and I must say I admire the nerve of these marketers. I can understand mailing out one of these catalogs in the hope that they have targeted the right audience, but two?
The catalog is slick enough. On this season's cover is a thin blonde in Capri pants frolicking on the seashore. (Already they have missed the target--I am not blonde, I despise Capri pants, and I never frolic.) The merchandise is called "products for your well-being." Okay, I'll bite. I found sections selling vitamins, homeopathic creams for banishing spider veins, and CD's with ocean sounds. I found fabulously expensive pillows for my aching neck, wind-chimes to drown out my tinnitis, and an herbal tea to treat most anything.
There were a few pages of special underwear. My grandmother would have named these items corsets, but my catalog said they were super-slimming support for the lower back. It also promised I could have some free gelcaps containing a miracle herb that would rid me of belly fat forever if only I would order two corsets.
Then there were these mystery products displayed on two pages in the middle of the magazine. I think they may be flashlights. Yep, they're pink and purple flashlights that must be powerful because they guarantee me mega-satisfaction with just the flip of a switch. And they are so cute--one of them has a switch shaped like a butterfly. That flashlight has intensive thrusting action, but sorry--I won't be nosing around in any dark corners any time soon. If I have to do any work up in my attic, I'll know whom to contact.
Now, anyone out there shopping for a purple, vibrating, ultra-thrusting-action flashlight--you are welcome to this catalog! I don't need any well-being products. As long as I can order new shoes once a year, my well-being is secure.
I leave you with a warning: Even though I order only a few items at a time, and even though I am predictable in my buying habits, I suspect my name and address have been shared by catalog merchants! It's incredible, I know, but the evidence is piling up like junk mail. I should have been suspicious when Cabelas arrived trying to entice me with a dozen free rubber worms for every rod and reel purchased. I am thankful for catalogs, but I must admit--Sometimes I miss the old days. . . Sears and Spiegel, once a year.