Saturday, April 28, 2012
New and Improved!!
I love catalogs and always have. When my family first came to America, catalogs and comic books were the stuff of English 101 for my mother and me. They had excessively long and mighty words, fabulous, extraordinary, amazing, improved, powerful, convenient and always the basic most, best, never before, for the first time, greatest, and one of my personal favorites, limit one to a customer!!!
Catalogs were America on shiny newsprint and in full color. They promised us that everything this bright new land of untold wealth had to offer could be had cheap, now, without guilt and, it seemed, almost without payment. You didn’t have to save up anymore because only five low monthly payments of four dollars each, plus postage and handling and the treasure was yours, why wait? Why indeed?
My mother went for the seed catalogs from Burpee and it was there my father discovered Big Boy Tomatoes! Two of our tomatoes feed a family of four! And yes, it looked as if they could, those impossibly large vegetables—or were they fruit—that defied gravity as they hung from the vine, juices oozing from the page and dyeing your fingertips red. Twenty varieties of tomatoes large and small, round and oblong, red, orange, and every shade in between, and carrots a foot long, radish that grew in profusion, white eggplants, white eggplants!!
My father bought pieces of slate because the watermelons and honeydews ordered from Burpee would need a place to rest as they grew to outlandish proportions. He bought stakes and cages and nets and rabbit repellent, and my mother planted marigolds around the vegetable garden because she had been told the flowers warded off pests.
From the toy catalog sent directly to my home address I bought the ordnance box full of plastic soldiers, molded in the perfect likeness of those helmeted American boys who had saved Europe and made the world safe for tomato growers. Two bucks got you fifty soldiers, and five bucks got you the soldiers, plus half-a-dozen guys with bazookas, infantryman who crawled or lobbed grenades at the hated Nazis and Japs, two Jeeps with drivers, and a comic book history of the undefeatable US Army.
I still get catalogs, and I still fall victim to their bombast. My hands-down favorite is the 58-pager from Heartland America, offering little steamer ovens for ball park quality hot dogs in your own backyard! (as opposed, I suppose, too making them in your neighbor’s backyard.) I am tempted by the solar powered carriage lanterns that burn like flickering candles!, and it’s tempting to strike it rich with this new and improved metal detector! Never mind that the exact same ad ran on the back of Superman comics in the 60s; one could be led to believe that time and time alone is enough to make something new and improved.
Shortly after I bought my first car, I got an automobile accessory catalog and sent in $20 for a fuel efficiency booster that promised increased mileage and more horsepower for my junker. It took only minutes to install the thing between the carburetor and the air filter and when I stepped on the gas, I was pretty sure that the strange wooshing sound now emanating from my car’s engine was the resonance of added muscle. A week later, an article in Popular Mechanics debunked the fuel efficiency booster as useless and potentially harmful to engines. In a catalog I received today, there’s an ad for the Fuel Dr. FD47 Power Conditioner. JL from MN says, “I am seeing a 24% increase in fuel economy!” I am tempted to believe him JL; I have never met anyone from MN who had reason to lie to me.
Since I’ve gained some weight in recent years, I tempted to spring for the Williams Power Shape Shirt, which will give me the smooth lean look I’m seeking without dieting or exercising. The shirt, which appears to be a pretty standard undershirt with heavy elastic straps sown around the belly, is great for class reunions, weddings and interviews! Funerals too, I assume, though this is not stated in print.
Golf clubs, wireless telephones, watches worth hundreds but here for $29.95, massagers, super-slim leather wallets, knives, a toilet safety support system that fits around the bowl, complete with magazine rack, a natural salt crystal lamp that helps purify the air, reduces stress, relieves respiratory problems and more! I want them all. Is this a great country or what?