Catalogs for all seasons

My husband is a catalog addict. I had not realized the lengths to which he would go until the flagpole arrived. ``Your husband taking up harpooning?'' the UPS man asks as he hands me the package.

``I wonder if it's the flagpole,'' my husband says.

``You ordered something else this size?'' I say.

He squints at the box. ``Not quite,'' he says. ``Wait till you see the flags. They're back-ordered.''

I have visions of the UN entrance in our front yard. I'm afraid to ask him if flagpoles are cheaper by the dozen.

``I thought `Don't Tread On Me' would be great for the spring when the ground's muddy, and Betsy Ross is perfect for July.''

Somehow the thought of a snake and an old seamstress do not excite me the way they do my husband, but it isn't until he starts talking fondly about the Alamo that I look at him.

``A Texas flag?'' I say.

``No,'' he says sadly. ``The shipping was too expensive.''

``How much can a flag weigh?'' I say.

``Eight ounces,'' he says without hesitation. ``But most companies don't charge according to weight. It's the dollar amount. So many dollars, so much postage.''

While I'm trying to figure out what occasion calls for the Jolly Roger, he tells me to put my hand down on a piece of paper.

``Spread out your fingers,'' he says. ``Do you think they want your fingernails?''

``Who wants my fingernails?'' I say, yanking my hand away.

``Relax, or they won't fit. I'm getting you a pair of gloves. If you buy a pair of the deluxe, fur-lined doeskin snuggies, they'll send you a woolen pair with red hearts.''

``Free?'' I ask.

He mumbles something about a handling charge. ``You save money if you order things out of season,'' he says. ``Like a bathing suit now.''

The next day the UPS man hands me four packages. One is labeled ``Live. Open immediately.'' I panic until I remember that it is illegal to send small animals through the mail.

``Gopher purge,'' I say. ``These plants will keep the moles away.''

``You're right,'' he says. ``Haven't seen a single one in my van.''

I think neophyte comedians vie for our route.

Another package contains a present for a ``valued'' customer. My husband is disappointed when I cannot find a place for a plastic cow pitcher that pours through its mouth.

``Disgusting,'' I say.

``Could have been worse,'' my husband says. ``What if it had been realistic?''

I shudder and put the cow out to pasture in a hall closet.

When the package arrives from New Hampshire, my husband is elated, for snow may be coming soon.

``Don't look,'' he says, ripping into the box. ``Well, what do you think?''

``You should have let me keep my eyes closed,'' I say.

``Maybe I didn't pull it low enough.'' He gives it a tug until the visor rests on the bridge of his nose. That hat obscures light as effectively as a total eclipse.

I look down at the discarded brown wrappings. ``Maybe you should wear the box,'' I say.

``I'll send it back,'' he says. ``It doesn't look like the photograph.''

``Let me see,'' I say. ``You don't look like the photograph. The hat does.''

He stares at me and shakes his head. ``I hope you look better in yours,'' he says.

In desperation one evening, my husband hands me a catalog. ``What do you want?'' he says.

``Nothing,'' I say. I try not to encourage him.

``I haven't ordered anything from them in three years. They're going to drop me from their mailing list.''

``I doubt it,'' I say. ``They could make a fortune just selling your name to other companies.''

``By the way,'' I say, looking at the catalog. ``They've misspelled your name.''

``It's the thought that counts,'' my husband says. ``Besides, they have a couple letters right.''

Undeterred, he orders an aluminum ramekin, a star-gazing guide, and woolen socks that ``wick away moisture.''

Three weeks later the package arrives with a form letter worthy of Boss Tweed. ``Thank you for your renewed patronage,'' it begins. His name is still misspelled.

Starting in the fall, my husband puts his catalogs into distinct stacks. Catalogs pending excite him the most.

``I just love fall,'' he says.

``Beautiful leaves,'' I say.

``Oh, that too,'' he says, turning the pages of a new Christmas catalog. ``By the way did Ace or Senor P. come today?''

I shake my head, and wonder if he's turned to loansharks to pay for all his purchases. ``Who are they?'' I say. ``Nuts,'' he says, bending down another page.

It's worse than I thought -- unstable loansharks.

``Should we move?'' I say. ``We can get a new identity from some of the misspellings on your catalogs.''

``Then I'd never get my pecans,'' he says. He makes a note to write to Ace Pecan and Senor Pistachio. ``Oh,'' he says. ``Don't peek. I might be ordering something for you.''

Later that night I look at a bent-down page with a china cat with fuzz, a plant in the shape of a teddy bear, and a gyroscopic razor. I write ``diamond necklace'' in the margin.

``Your husband's at it again,'' the UPS man says the next day as he struggles up the stairs with the marble griddle, the gardening shears, and a collapsible stool.

``One of these days,'' I say to my husband as I stumble over his boxes, ``you'll have to go cold turkey.''

He looks up from his catalogs. ``Never trust meat sent through the mail,'' he says. ``Except bacon. . . . That reminds me. . . . Did the bacon come from Harrington's?''

Sally Huxley

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