Sunday, December 2, 2012

(Cata) Log-Jammed

Okay, so I watch the news.  And it's my understanding that the U.S. Post Office is teetering on the edge of some kind of cliff.  I don't think it's a rocky cliff or a fiscal cliff* or a heath cliff or any other type of cliff ... including that weird kid named Cliff** who used to sit at my lunch table at Willowick Junior High -- he won a classroom Ho-Ho eating contest and ended up vomiting in the nurse's office.  No, I'm talking about the standard metaphorical cliff, the kind used to signify when something or someone is ready to crash and burn in a huge fireball of failure. 

Now, I'd hate to see this happen for several reasons...first, it's impractical to not have a Post Office.  While UPS and FedEx are more than happy to ship my packages, where am I going to take my greeting cards?*** Second, I don't like the idea of more people being out of work.  Third, life will become dull and meaningless for far too many neighborhood dogs.  Fourth, all the postal employees I know are really nice, except for that weird guy behind the counter in Middleburg Heights who's mean to me and makes me feel like a moron. Fifth - and probably most important - I like putting stamps on things.  When I was a little girl, I loved stickers only slightly less than I loved Colorforms, and I would see my Mom filling up her little book with green stamps and I'd think, oh goody, I'll get to play with stickers until I die.  Green stamps didn't even make it until the dawn of the Internet (which, let's face it, is to blame for every other fun thing we've lost in the last 20 years).

Not to say I don't get really frustrated with the Post Office.  The other day, at work, the postman handed me a pile of mail that included a plastic bag.  Inside this baglet was one-third of an envelope I had mailed out a week earlier ... the part of the envelope that contained the send-to address was entirely missing, so all that remained was the return address (the envelope looked like it had been chewed in half and spat out by the Postmaster General's mastiff, Fluffdog****). Not wanting me to be confused about why my mail wasn't delivered, the Post Office kindly rubber- stamped "insufficient address" underneath my return address before putting the remains into a protective ziplock bag (you know, so nothing bad would happen to it on its way back to me).

Who knows where the actual letter ended up ... I like to think it stayed with the part of the envelope that had the send-to address, thereby increasing the chance they both made it to their final destination. I imagine the two of them telling reporters, "We don't know what happened to Return Address ... after the giant dog attacked us and destroyed our ship, he went down a different chute and we never saw him again, poor little guy."

So, no.  The Post Office definitely has its problems.  It occasionally shreds our mail and is, by all news reports, going broke ... even though they keep raising the price of stamps to some number none of us can remember.  Really ... it intensely bothers me when they hold a press conference to announce the price of stamps is going up to some weird amount like 43 cents or 44 cents or 47 cents or some other number that isn't divisible by 5 or, preferably, 10.  If a book of stamps has 20 stamps and stamps are 44 cents each (I'm just guessing that's what they are; I really don't know and I'm too lazy to look it up), how much money do I hand the mean guy behind the counter? Yeah, I can figure out the answer ... or wait for him to bark it at me ... but if the postal gods would simply make the stamps 50 cents each, I'd know I'd need 10 dollars for a book, life would be simple, and the Post Office wouldn't be crying so much about how broke they are all the time. 

Which reminds me of what I wanted to talk about when I started this entry ... there's something I don't understand.  If the Post Office is delivering fewer pieces of mail and is bringing in less revenue ... and we all have this thing called the Internet that is apparently replacing everything, including face-to-face relationships with other people ... why am I getting more catalogs? 

Now, I'm not complaining about the catalogs.  I love them.  They're Golden Books for grown-ups.  I don't have to read the actual words in them and, consequently, stress out my brain; I just look at all the pretty pictures.  Yes, I know I get gorgeous, high-definition ads on my iPad from mostly the same vendors, but it's not the same as having the glossy remains of a dead tree gathering dust on my coffee table, loaded with stuff I might be able to buy if I hit Powerball. Because I have too much attention deficit disorder to sit and watch TV without doing something with my hands, the catalogs keep them constantly occupied.*****  When "Big Bang Theory" has a commercial, I can pick up the latest installment from Hammacher Schlemmer or Cheryl's Cookies and fantasize about new toys and frosted buttercreams. So no, I do love catalogs.  But this time of year they multiply at an alarming rate...I fear that, by Dec. 15th, the catalog tower I have piling up next to my sofa will topple over and kill my cat.  I really don't want Miss Kitty's final, muffled meows to creep out from beneath the Fingerhut Big Book. (But I sure like that one; it has a very shiny, sparkly cover and makes me feel all Christmasy inside. Having a dying cat would kinda ruin that for me.) 

The obvious answer, of course, is to suck up some personal responsibility and throw them out. But ... I don't wanna throw them out. I have a horrible time doing this, and it doesn't make sense.  I spend the rest of my waking hours on a futile quest to continuously de-clutter my house.  I give bags and bags of clothes to Purple Heart and Easter Seals and I am forever throwing out crap that has been lurking in closets that never seem to get emptier.  There is even more stuff in the basement that needs to go away, but I'm afraid of the basement, so my master plan is to just leave it all there until I die and then I won't have to worry about it.  (That was my Dad's plan, and it worked for him, so who am I to alter tradition?)  I want a clean, orderly life ,.. but since I can't have that, I try to settle for a clean, orderly house.  The house just laughs at me, but I still try.

I think, though, the catalogs are different because they have become as much a part of my Christmas experience as the greeting cards and gift-wrapping.  When the inevitable flood begins right after Labor Day, I relish each new book, knowing some perfect gift is just waiting to jump out at me and announce itself.  Gift-giving is a competitive sport for me, but not one where I compete against other people. I compete against myself; if I dazzled friends and family last year, THIS year has to be better. To that end, I'm always open to whatever new inventions my catalogs tell me to buy. The Internet really sucks at this; you mostly have to know what you're looking for, and then you can find anything. But the catalogs aren't so passive; they tell me what I want before I even know I wanted it, and I rather enjoy that.  I have to control everything else in my life, so it's refreshing when somebody else takes over, even if it is my good friends Harriet Carter or Carol Wright.  Thanks to them, I completed all my Christmas shopping without stepping foot into a mall this year.  By the time Cyber Monday rolled around, I knew exactly what I wanted and who I wanted it for.  I didn't have to burn out my retinas searching through online catalogs; I merely found what I wanted in the mailed books, marked the pages accordingly and ordered my selections off the websites.  Thanks to free shipping, I've been able to take my laziness to an entirely new level of sloth.

But, for me, when I throw out the catalogs, it means that Christmas is somehow already winding down, and even though my shopping's finished, I'm not ready to face that.  I want the first week of December to last forever; I love Christmas when it's still fresh and new and the stores haven't yet slashed their cards and decorations to 50 percent off.  I love gift-wrap, and I love to see neat, pretty rows of wrapping paper lining the aisles before they've been picked over. I don't want Christmas to get tired, or old, or over; if I lived alone, I'd probably keep my tree up until February. 

But ... I really love my cat.  
So...I guess it's time I shovel out the catalogs. 

But I'll take a deep breath, tell myself it's okay, and remind myself that they'll all come back next year ... that is, if the Post Office does.

*Hey, all you Fox-watching, CNN-slumming news addicts out there ... this is our new drinking game... raise your glasses whenever you read or hear these words and you'll stop caring that one even exists, which it really doesn't anyway but that's an entirely different post in somebody else's blog.

**If, by some bizarre occurrence, Cliff is out there reading this blog ... well, I'm sure you know who you are, Clifford, and I'm sure sorry you do.

***And yes, I'm talking about a physical card somebody cared enough to buy at a store, stick in an envelope, stamp and mail.  E-cards are not cards, they're somebody's way of saying, "I'm too lazy to turn off the computer and get up from this chair," and that's something I'm always saying to myself so I certainly don't need to hear it from you.

****Really, that's his name ... what, you think I make this stuff up?

*****Usually I just play with my iPad, but I can't hold that thing forever - it gets heavy, so yeah, I still need the catalogs.  I really think I need to buy that nifty floor stand that would hold the iPad for me ... which is, of course, in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.

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