20 July 2003

Why grab possessions like thieves, or divide them like
socialists when you can ignore them like wise men?
  - Natalie Clifford Barney, socialite and heiress

Last night, there was a Levenger catalog, a pre-approved credit card, and a J. Jill’s catalog waiting on the kitchen table for me when I got home. I briefly scanned the catalogs, but the credit card invitation went straight into the trash. I don’t even bother to open them up. The envelopes could be filled with large denomination currency, and it wouldn’t matter to me. They’re the equivalent of the unwanted, unsolicited emails and telephone calls, begging me to buy this, that, and the other. I have no desire for them.

It just amazes me, too, how advertisers have the nerve to use the word ‘only’ next to double- and triple-digit numbers. For only $29.99 per month (this is $384.88 per year, by the way), I can have a cell phone to ensure my constant connection to the world, and increasingly jangled nerves. For only 49.00 (taxes and setup not included) per month (a considerable $588.00 yearly bargain), I can have broadband access to the Internet, right in my own house. For only $99.59, I can have a monogrammed leather wrapper for my journals. For only $699.00, I can relax in an ergonomically-designed, wire-mesh contraption that masquerades as a chair. All these ‘only’ costs can add up, and put me beneath a burden I have no desire to bear.

I looked through the catalogs. Ugly clothes in one, shapeless and full of pre-set wrinkles, at exorbitant prices. For whom are these clothes designed? Who actually enjoys walking about looking like a rumpled bed? And why do all the bone-thin models have collagen-enhanced lips, the which never seem to part in smiles? I can’t blame them, though — nobody could be happy or comfortable in those potato sack-style garments. Trousers, too short at the ankle, drooping in the ass, over-cinching the waist. Shirts, requiring professional laundering and ironing. Who actually likes spending as much as it costs to buy a shirt, to clean it? The shoes, chunky, clunky, and only reasonable on long, skinny, bunion-free feet. Who are these women in the catalog, and what are these clothes all about?

A better question might be, why do advertisers think I want to look at them? Into the trash they went. That left me with the Levenger’s catalog. You know the one. “Serious Tools for Serious Readers.”

Yeah, right.

I was confronted with every imaginable temptation, from paper clips that can’t hold more than two pieces together at a time and function better as desktop finger fidgets, to glass-fronted law library book shelves in maple, teak, and cherry wood. These latter I can have for only $1,000.00 per five linear feet. You read that right. Each foot of book shelf space sans books costs $200.00. I don’t know that I could afford books, after buying the shelves. The pens, too, are grossly overpriced for what they are. Oddly, there are few books in the catalog. I guess the serious readers come pre-loaded with material, like me.

There were a number of blank books, journals with lined pages, note pads, loose sheets, pre-punched stock, and binders, though, for aspiring writers and compulsive note takers, all at hair-graying and eyebrow-raising prices. I have enough journals to last for at least three years, even at my current clip of filling them. That’s surplus, by Fromm’s definition, and dragon’s hoard, by mine.

The Levenger company wants me to believe that my accoutrements define me, that the implements I use themselves somehow impart intelligence, breeding, class, and good taste to the world. They also want me to believe that the more I spend for an item, the more onlookers will admire me for it. Even though it’s rare to find kitsch — all the items actually are the things they appear to be. Globes do not disguise wet bars or telephones, footstools do not masquerade as turtles or kneeling gnomes, and pens do not resemble feathered birds or gliding snakes — in the catalog, I wonder why the Levenger company thinks “serious readers” are the best target for their wares?

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a very serious reader, but all the gadgets in the world won’t speak to that attribute in me. I’m also a serious writer, whose needs are more than adequately met by the tools I already possess. So far, what I need most is time to write, an active imagination, and an agent to help me sell my work. Everything else falls under the category of what I desire.

Into the trash went the Levenger’s catalog, too.

Excuse me. I have to fill a box with unused, wrinkly clothes, and books from which I no longer learn anything. Maybe the Salvation Army can redirect them to a skinny girl with big lips who also happens to be a serious reader.


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