Saturday, November 27, 2004

A catalog of disasters

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How pressed for time am I this holiday season? I may have to stoop to Jell-O Instant Figgy Pudding.

My wife and I cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving, but we had very little time to bother with too many fixins. Are store-bought dinner rolls a fixin? Or is it just assumed that they always come with the meal, like the biscuits at KFC? How about forks? I already counted them as a fixin -- is that OK?

And now that Thanksgiving is over, it's supposed to be time to join the herds at the mall, to spend five hours getting fifteen minutes worth of shopping done. I'll also end up getting a cold. I always get a cold. Some typhoid-ridden kid at the mall always coughs on me while I'm cutting into line to sit on Santa Claus' lap.

I'm not sure I can fit even one trip to the malls this year -- much less the half-dozen or so that's usual with me as I gradually discover the gaping plot holes in my Christmas list.

So I have two choices. I could regift a bunch of extra stuff I already have lying around the apartment -- my spare pair or sneakers, let's say, or that half-empty box of lasagna noodles in the pantry. Or I could do all my shopping via catalogs and the Internet.

A slew of catalogs just arrived in the mail, conveniently enough. Ordinarily, I just boil catalogs in a bleach solution, strain the pulp, pour it into a manila envelope and send it back with a note asking kindly to be taken off the mailing list -- but I decided to take a closer look at these. They just might save Christmas this year.

Williams-Sonoma, best known for selling overpriced kitchen gadgets to overpriced, kitschy people, now has a catalog for home furnishings, called Williams-Sonoma Home. It's a real nuts-and-bolts kind of store, with everything from variegated-stripe duvet covers to pewter toilet-paper cozies.

The cover of the Williams-Sonoma Home Holiday 2004 catalog is a veritable postcard from pre-war Berlin, as a blond, granite-jawed husband lords over his blonde wife and two sinister blond kids. The family dog -- another blond -- lies at its masters's feet, tongue wagging and eyebrows cocked in a moue of Aryan entitlement.

I opened it anyway, and inside is the most adorable little stadium blanket: "Lofty Australian merino lamb's wool is ready to go, with a buckled carrying strap in dark brown leather. Generously sized for two." Perfect -- so's my dad.

It's pricey at $98, but keep in mind the lambs had to come all the way from Australia -- a 12-hour flight, minimum, with a layover in London.

Just a few pages away are a set of four "stag dessert plates." Your next stag party won't be complete without them. They're decorated with drawings of deer -- those majestic woodland creatures just scream "dessert," don't they? At $68 for the whole set it's a bargain. Mom's now off my list. Two down!

I have a Crate & Barrel catalog that can help me shop for that special someone on my list who's elegant and practical -- or that elegant someone who's practically special.

On page 37 of the Holiday 2004 catalog, there's a piece that is perfect for cold New England winters by the fireplace:

"Folding Leather Log Tote. Squire your logs and kindling in style. This handsome folding tote in warm brown leather has a sturdy wire frame to hold its shape." Keeping old twigs in a leather bin seems a little like keeping your toothbrush in a
velvet-lined jewelry box -- but have I mentioned the "pewter-finish hardware details"? Only $99.95! Hey sis -- I know you don't have a fireplace, but...wink wink! Use it like a purse!

Speaking of storage -- leafing through the Pottery Barn Christmas 2004 catalog I saw these precious little boxes called "Kenya Cubes," which have "snug-fitting lids" covering storage space for books and blankets. Kenya, I shouldn't have to mention, makes the world's snuggest-fitting lids.

"Crafted from hardwood with a distressed espresso-stained finish," the ad reads, "our cubes have the intrigue of artifacts discovered at a flea market." What's nice about Pottery Barn is that the prose uses metaphors.

Each Kenya Cube is a mere $199, but it'll be worth every penny for my mother-in-law. She's a swell lady who can appreciate a snug-fitting lid with the best of them. Sure, she could get a cheaper wooden box and stain it with her own home-brewed espresso and thrash it with a golf club to "distress" the wood. But where can you get flea market intrigue if not Pottery Barn?

For the kiddies in my family, there's the famous Pottery Barn Kids catalog, 88 pages of must-have fun. It's got all the hot toys tykes love: monogrammed towels, silk valances, 200-thread-count scalloped percale pillow shams -- you name it.

I have two nephews and a niece. I don't want to spoil the surprise for them, but let's just say...if they're good...Santa might bring those fluted floral curtain rods they can't stop yakking about.

I also got this catalog called Gaiam, which is chock full of environmentally friendly gifts for earthy-crunchy granola-type people. My wife isn't one of those, but I found a great new gadget for her in there, anyway.

It's a countertop bag dryer, which is a spool with a bunch of sticks poking out of it. You're supposed to wash plastic bags and let them air-dry on it. It uses the latest in amazing 15th century technology.

We use plastic grocery bags to pick up our dog's droppings, and usually, we just end up flinging them in the garbage afterwards. How wasteful!

With this special gift, we can reuse those bags and help out the environment. Only $16 brings this life-changing appliance into our home.

I tried to gauge her interest -- so, clever Dickens that I am, I left the catalog on the kitchen table yesterday near the turkey leftovers. The bag dryer was circled and starred, a check for $16 lying nearby. I was also pointing at it with my nose and whistling "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town."

She looked at the picture of the bag dryer, then at me, then back at the picture of the bag dryer. Her forehead wrinkled.

"A bag dryer?" she said.

Success!

I couldn't hold it in anymore. "No, honey -- no thanks necessary. 'Tis the season of giving. And it only took me two minutes to pick it out. Think of all the time I saved!"

"A bag dryer," she said again, and her eyes began to well up -- no doubt with tears of joy.

"Now, now," I said, pecking her on the cheek. "Better not pout, better not cry."

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