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State of Mind: The Seventh Season

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I recently spent two weeks away from Vermont visiting a place called America, and let me tell you, America can be a pretty whacky place sometimes. I know this because of all the fun I had just like Jack Kerouac “on the road” in the rain and sleet with two billion semi trucks — and that was just Pennsylvania. I also know this because when I returned, Vermont was in its seventh season. We all know about the other six — winter, spring, summer, fall, mud, and peeper. I returned home to a house buried in drifts of catalogs.

Catalog Season! There is nothing more Vermonty than sitting by the wood stove and dispelling the meteorological gloom of November and December with the warm glow of holiday gift possibilities. It is also a season in which logic is often bludgeoned to death by the zaniness of offerings from retailers throughout the nation, and sometimes Vermont, that cannot be found anywhere else but in catalogs. 

Roughly 457,896 catalogs came to my mailbox between the time I left and when I returned. Now, to be honest, 206,723 of those catalogs were variations of one from a retail establishment specializing in clothing and outdoor gear that is in reality the entire village of Freeport, Maine. Another 201,026 catalogs were from a clothing purveyor that hopes to compete with the folks in Freeport. It even goes by a “coastal” sounding name, even though the town in which it is headquartered is in southwestern Wisconsin more than 120 miles from a body of water that would warrant the company’s name. 

The remaining 50,147 catalogs were from all over the place and offered a dizzying array of exciting merchandise. This included 357 catalogs offering variations on cob-smoked ham and cheese products. These products are usually offered in “samplers,” which are collections in which you get amounts of each item that are so large you can easily locate them with a standard desk-type magnifying glass. The ham and cheese often come with one-quarter cup of maple syrup in a “decorative maple leaf-shaped glass bottle,” and usually a large jar of some sort of mustard. I think the mustard is there to act as a weight to keep the decorative box from blowing away if left on a porch by a delivery person. I once ate three entire sampler collections — minus the mustard — by myself in one sitting and was still jonesing for dinner. 

Then there are catalogs that offer such indispensable health and beauty items as a cure for itchy ears and “peptide”-based eyelash growth serum. Or how about seersucker sheets for those hot summer nights? Or a personalized wedding crock (not sure what that would be used for, and in a divorce who gets to keep the crock?). 

One of my favorite catalogs is chock full of hard-to-find products. In the health-and-beauty category, it offers such things as:

  • A neck pain relief device, which resembles shoulder pads and a collar that fits up under your jaw.
  • An underarm toner system, which you strap around your upper arms to massage away underarm flab, also known as “granny flaps.”
  • An under-eye rejuvenator, which looks like a padded version of reading glasses.
  • An LED lip therapy device, which resembles a baby pacifier and is designed to “plump” your lips Angelina Jolie-style using ultraviolet light.
  • “Rejuvenating” heated compression leg wraps.
  • A double-chin–reducing massager, which straps under your chin.
If you wore all these items at once, you could no doubt defeat the Terminator in hand-to-hand combat, or at least scare the wits out of all the children and half the adults in your neighborhood. Personally, I think when used in combination with the neck pain relief device, the double-chin–reducing massager makes a great fashion statement. 

Not into health and beauty? How about cooking? Impress friends and family with a “Mighty Carving Knife.” This plug-in device resembles a chainsaw. Just bring the roast turkey to the table, issue all the diners safety goggles, and let the mayhem begin. Any resemblance to massacres in Texas is purely coincidental.

Another item in this catalog that exemplifies “fun” is the canned beer draft system. This is a device that allows you to dispense canned beer like draft beer. You place your ordinary can of beer into the base, then pull the handle on top to let your beer flow into a glass just like from a bar tap. Here is where the fun comes in: Your guests will never guess that pint of “Hill Farmstead Edward” they are sipping is really Bud Lite. And the device only costs $120.

Still, no catalog can hold a candle to the one from a venerable “hardware store” in Manhattan that boasts the longest running catalog in U.S. history. It began publication six years before the first catalog from Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Their motto is “guaranteeing the best, the only, and the unexpected. . .” for, at this point, 174 years.

And the “unexpected” items are sure to wow any gift recipient. Who knew you could buy a hovercraft golf cart for just $58,000? Or a submarine resembling a killer whale (be the first to scare all the seals and swimmers out of your local swimming hole!) for $90,000? How about a flying hovercraft that can reach altitudes of 20 feet (requires registration as a boat — no mention of the need for a pilot’s license) for $190,000? Or an amphibious sub-surface watercraft with tracks for moving on land and a clear underwater observation bubble for a mere $300,000?

With gifts like that, neckties for dad pale in comparison! Happy Catalog Season, and warm holiday wishes to all!

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