You know who you are. And now, finally, so do I. You got me pretty good a while back before I had any idea what was happening. I posted a poem that had recently been published by a well known and well respected ‘zine and you publically eviscerated it under the guise of what may have been the first of your psycho alter egos. It was all the more hurtful because your entire online pseudonym persona and commentary was bristling with some really heinous anti-semitic undertones and accompanied by a very offensive profile pic of somebody else who had no idea his image was being used as your mask and subject to public ridicule. Since I had no idea of where this was all coming from, my reaction at the time was to disappear into the ethers in confusion and go to other venues where people didn’t stab each other in the back.
I can’t believe you are still running wild and wreaking havoc with your personal campaign to turn what had once been a vibrant, supportive and collegial writing community into a knife fight in a dark room. Your latest hijinks and commentary about stroking genitals that resulted in the exit of one of the finest writers in this forum is absolutely disgusting, disgraceful and just plain sad. Why that person has been asked to leave and you are allowed to stay is beyond me. It’s like something out of Superman’s Bizarro World where everything is the opposite of what it’s supposed to be.
Shame on you, Troll. However, since sociopaths are incapable of feeling shame or remorse or regret or most other emotions that normal, healthy human beings feel, I imagine that statement has little or no meaning to you.
You still have the opportunity to do the honorable thing and leave altogether. Go to some other playground and be a bully. We don’t want that kind of behavior here.
Even more honorable, would be to stop acting like a petulant 12 year old who makes prank phone calls and rings door bells and runs away. Lose all the alter egos, stop acting like a coward, come out of the closet and start posting authentic work of your own under your own name. I used to really like your writing, and I respected you and your work and viewed you as a solid member of this community. Now you behave like someone who kicks puppies and clubs baby seals to death while wearing fur. What happened to you Troll? Someone must have really hurt you somewhere back down the line to make you act this way. I’d like to feel empathy but all I feel is pity.
It’s not too late to turn back and start acting like a grown man, a normal human being, get back to being an artist and somehow rediscover the essential core of your being that makes you a good person. But only you can make that decision.
I wish you well on your journey.
Michael Gillan Maxwell
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”(attributed to Edmund Burke and others)
“You’ve got an invalid haircut / And it hurts when you smile / You’d better get out of town / Before your nickname expires” Warren Zevon ~ Life’ll Kill Ya
I’ve been hearing a lot recently about the “Heartbleed” bug, an insidious super cyber thief that invades websites, steals personal security information, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data. I’ve never changed some of my passwords, ever, since the dawn of time, or at least since my last three computers passed away.
This morning I opened an e mail from a company whose name I did not even recognize informing me that, although they had no reason to believe their security had been breached, they were advising everyone on their client list to change their passwords. I’m on THEIR client list? Who the Hell are these people? This really got my attention since I don’t even recognize their name or remember doing business with them. I have no record of my user name or password with them. However, they remember me, and if THEY have my e mail and other information, I can only assume the situation is far more serious than I even want to know. My cozy little veil of denial dropped away as I realized, that while my slovenly ways in never organizing my sock drawer may never result in any kind of serious consequence, outside of occasionally mismatched socks, THIS could cause some serious grief if left unattended. With a deep sigh of resignation, I decided to go all in and change my user name and passwords for over 32 websites. TODAY. Right now. No more screwing around.
After much pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth and rending and tearing of garments, I completed this odious task. My brain was fried and I was a gibbering idiot, reverting to one finger keyboard pecking and using a cheat sheet. But maybe this is the kind of rigorous mental activity that helps stave off Altzheimers, or causes a complete mental breakdown. Now, If only I could remember my own name….
Many sites have a “password helper” that rates the quality of your password on a spectrum of “strong” to “this really sucks. Why don’t you just advertise it on Facebook?” If you follow their recommendations you’ll create passwords like the rare Enigma machine used by the Nazis to send coded messages. My usernames and passwords are combinations of irrational numbers and Pleadian star language, closely modeled after the nuclear launch codes, and the secret combination that protects the vaults at Fort Knox. The problem is, I’ll never be able to remember any of them. They’re all so counterintuitive that it takes two or three tries for someone blessed with sausage fingers like mine. I feel like I’m already trying to hack myself. This is not good, since many sites freeze your access for at least 24 hours after three bungled attempts.
I’ve already had this error message more than once: “Hey numb nuts! You entered an old password. You changed your password 4 hours ago.”
“My Writing Process” is an ongoing series in which authors “tag” each other to answer some questions about their work. Robert Vaughan invited me to participate. Initially I declined, but reading Robert Vaughan’s and Bud Smith’s responses to these questions kind of got the wheels turning. I have always been fascinated by the creative process and it seems to be different for each individual.
I have two chapbooks looking for a home. Although, it seems the longer they are homeless, the more they keep changing. “Long Gone and Never Coming Back” is a poetry chapbook and the other is a flash fiction chapbook called “Between Dusk and Dawn.” If they go much longer before finding a publisher, they will be full length collections and may not contain any of the work that currently comprises them.
I’m also working on a portfolio of altered photographs called “In The Studio” which documents my friend Daniel Hoffman’s work as a luthier making cellos. I’ll be posting that on my website. To view Hoffman’s exquisite work go to http://www.danielhoffmanluthier.com.
I have an ongoing series on my website called The Lunch Lady Cookbook where I post recipes and photographs, music and beverage pairings all carried along by tongue-in-cheek goofy narrative. I also write essays when the spirit moves me and irate letters to my legislators when I’m hot and bothered by environmental issues, which seems to happen more and more frequently.
Oh yeah. Almost forgot to mention. I write songs too. Singer/songwriter/Americana story stuff, blues, ballads and rock and roll. Guitar, harmonica, vocals ~simple chords and simple structures.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think, like everybody else, I try to be authentically “myself” and put my “personal stamp” on it without getting so esoteric that I lose the reader. My best work conveys irony, humor and redemption, no matter how far it may veer into the dark side. From time to time, I’m lucky enough to write a piece that only I could write. However, that’s a slippery and intangible bit of magic that I am at a loss to explain, because I don’t even understand it myself.
3) Why do I write what I do?
It usually comes from a deep emotional response or a reaction to a situation, social condition, event, or nature. Sometimes it’s triggered by a song or a visual image. I also seem to write a lot of stuff that comes from driving my car. I have a lot of fun writing parody and satirical pieces laced with ironic, often self deprecating humor. This shows up a lot in my series The Lunch Lady Cookbook and in my serial detective noir send-up “The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks.”
4) How does my writing process work?
I compose most every thing on my computer or iPad. I think all my years of academic writing rewired my brain. Or maybe “short-circuited” would be a better description! Songwriting is done differently. I usually write songs in long hand and use a guitar or mandolin to play the chords. Although, some of my best songs came to me, unbidden, while doing things like mowing the lawn or walking my dogs. In a couple of cases they came like a “download” ~ fully formed with lyrics, melody, chords all intact ~ and I had to rush into the house to write it all down before it vanished back into the ethers. It was like I “channeled” them. A lot of my poetry starts with a line that has come to me in a near dream state, either just before falling asleep or as I’m awakening. Most of the heavy lifting in my writing is done with a burst of energy using blunt instruments and big, broad strokes. After that, it seems like an endless process of revising, cutting, and rearranging words and phrases. It’s like feng shui. I’m also a recovering adverb and cliche abuser, so ferreting out those buggers is an important part of the process. Quite often, I’ll get ideas for poems while driving my car and I start scribbling madly in a notebook on the passenger seat. Of course, this is even more dangerous than texting, so I’ll pull over if at all possible. I also beg, borrow and steal ideas shamelessly, then hammer it into something that is my own. Don’t we all? Perhaps the secret to transmuting it into something new and original lies in responding in a truly honest, personal and authentic manner. That’s all easier said then done, but it’s worthy of striving toward.
I know I’ve bitched and moaned about good old fashioned Christmas cards being replaced by tedious newsletters with sappy photo bombs of everybody and the family dog wearing goofy reindeer antlers and ugly Christmas sweaters while the kids all flash big toothless smiles. I used to tape the old school cards to the wall, but who the Hell wants to look at those friggin’ mugshots for the entire Holiday season? And then the newsletters! Oy Vey!
BUT who says a man can’t change? If ya can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em, right? (Although I can think of one or two people I wouldn’t mind licking, but I’m drifting off point.) Anyway, I decided to try doing it their way and see how it goes.
First of all, I apologize for this stick figure rendering instead of including an actual family photo. We haven’t actually been on speaking terms for most of the past year and really can’t stand to be in the same room together. In fact, I’m writing this in a Motel 6 while watching a show about making Viking swords, so this little pen and ink drawing will just have to do. It’s a strange and wondrous life!
It’s been a busy year for us. Of course, my release from prison and sex change operation were pretty much the high points of the year for me. There was that alien abduction thing last spring, but I don’t really consider that a high point, since I was missing two months when I woke up. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s only been a 10 month year for me, but you work with what you’ve got.
Henrietta found Jesus and started a monitor lizard rescue shelter in our living room. Somehow we ended up with a Komodo Dragon named Ralph. It’s one thing to harbor an internationally protected endangered species in our living room, but that fucker is almost 10 feet long and over 150 pounds. I can’t even describe the unbearable stench. And how do you even keep a thing like that fed? Just read an article that places humans somewhere between pigs and anchovies on the global food chain, so that makes me a little nervous. All I can say is that I think we had too many cats anyway.
Almost forgot to mention waking up to find our yard mysteriously filled with garden gnomes. There must be 10,000 of them. I’m sure it’s some kind of close encounter, but I really haven’t quite figured out what to make of it.
After me and Henrietta get back on an even keel, we’re gonna buy an RV, leave all this behind and take our act out on the road. Of course we’re bringing Ralph. We may just show up on your doorstep! Life moves pretty fast and creeps up on ya like a pair of cheap undies!
A Journey Through the Shopping Mall and the Heart of Darkness
I know this is out of character for me, but for once I’m not trying to be a smarty pants, take a sardonic tone or criticize anything or anyone. I’m simply making observations based on my experience, trying to make some sense of it and and perhaps express an obnoxious opinion or two. This is about American culture, of which I am very much a part. It’s also about shopping malls and the culture of consumer madness. I am one of America’s great consumers and I’m just reflecting upon my observations. I worked in a shopping mall and so did my son. That almost makes it a family tradition. Please bear in mind that I’m not a trained journalist or sociologist. I’m just offering my “boots on the ground” opinions and observations, for whatever that’s worth. However, when I spot a boat foundering in the surf that appears to be sinking, or a house engulfed in flames, I can’t restrain myself from reacting in some way. Or at least make an observation for posterity’s sake. If this is offensive or demeaning to anybody in any way, it is unintended. I’m just trying to get a grip on what’s going down.
The other day I needed to go to a big box store at the regional shopping mall. I try to avoid going there because it’s an enervating environment and it seems to suck the life right out of me. I find it sad and depressing. It’s not all that far from becoming a humongous ghost town. This is a shopping mall that has fallen upon hard times in recent years as a number of competing strip malls were built in the near vicinity. There was a steady diaspora from the established mall as consumers did more and more of their shopping in the surrounding strip malls and left brick and mortar stores behind altogether to find what they are looking for online. Now the oldest of the competing strip malls are already on the decline as stores have folded or moved down the road to newer strip malls, leaving cavernous retail spaces that will stay unoccupied for years before they are finally repurposed or torn down. One of them has a whopping 146,522 square feet of retail space available and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Who’s going to be able to fill that kind of retail space as it is? The state of the mall and the surrounding strip malls says a lot about the changing landscape of retail stores and consumerism in America.
I never go to the regional mall anymore because there is almost nothing there that I can find to buy. However, on this particular day I did have some business to transact at the mall so I decided to walk around to get a feel for the current lay of the land. It was eye opening. There are still at least six major big box stores that anchor the mall and these retailers compete with each other, carrying many of the exact same lines while trying and be all things to all people. The result is a watered down “sameness” and lack of any truly unique “brand” or personality. Outside of these stores, few of the other old stalwarts remain and there are major swaths of unoccupied spaces, shuttered, dark and desolate. Conspicuous in its absence is one of the old stores with unique personality that was a news stand and tobacco store where you could buy newspapers and magazines, pipes and cigars and get a good cup of coffee. Changes in newspaper and magazine publishing and American smoking habits may have sounded the death knell for little shops of this kind. Add to that, the near extinction of book stores and what used to be known as record stores. One thing that really stands out is how many of the stores that were there for years have been replaced by something totally different or have been repurposed altogether and are occupied by ventures other than traditional retail stores. It seems there are a growing number of places that offer some kind of community based service as opposed to pure retail.
As I strolled through, I was surprised to see that one of the long time clothing stores is a mixed martial arts school and another is a cheerleading academy. You can buy a grand piano in what used to be a purveyor of leather goods and across from that you can buy a granite tombstone and have it custom engraved. The optometry store where I once bought glasses is now a full service body modification studio offering tattoos and body piercing. The calendar store that occupied a corner of the mall is now a pastoral counseling center and church that offers Sunday morning services in the movie theater complex. There are a number of other “community centers” of one kind or another, all with limited hours of operation. I don’t know if this is a nationwide trend or if this is a unique situation. It certainly does reflect a genuine effort to adapt and evolve. In any case, it’s one way to fill these spaces and offer something that people might actually want or need. I think the sheer monstrous size of the one-stop-shopping-big-box-stores is actually its own undoing. In this case, bigger is not better.
Pop up seasonal stores come and go and there are at least two Halloween stores for the time being. Needless to say, even though it’s late October, all the spaces I visited or peeked into were already headed full-on into the Christmas season complete with lights, decorations. and music. Christmas is nice during a couple of weeks in December. More than that and I start to get more nauseous and jaded than usual. I really started to get an overwhelming case of the heebie jeebies and quickened my pace toward the parking lot before I collapsed from sheer ennui and existential exhaustion.
Is this the death of the American shopping mall as we once knew it? I really have no idea. Maybe malls like this are going strong all over the country? Admittedly this is all based on my own limited observation. But generally speaking, what if malls offered goods and services that are more naturally integrated with the needs of daily life, in addition to retail stores that sell clothes,shoes, jewelry, electronics and hair&nail care? What would these places look like with grocery stores, medical arts services, auto repair, health clubs, veterinary services, small cafes, restaurants and a whole bunch of quirky, one of a kind places in subdivided cavernous retail spaces that feel more like warehouses than any kind of intimate space. There are many issues to contend with here, not the least of which is that malls may be located far and away from the day to day lives of the consumers they hope to attract.
I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe it’s symptomatic of a need for a cultural paradigm shift. I don’t know. I’m just sayin’……
People use all kinds of different sources of wisdom to help predict the future and guide their decisions. Some methods of divination include reading the flights of birds or searching for answers to the mysteries of life in oracle cards, yarrow stalks, coins, tea leaves or the entrails of animals. For the ancient Greeks it was the Oracle at Delphi. The Vikings were big on reading rune stones. For some it’s the Bible. For others it’s the daily horoscope in the newspaper or Dial-a-Psychic. Me, I draw old folk sayings from a hat.
Old folk sayings have guided me through many of life’s tough choices. Here are some of my favorites:
A poor excuse is better than none at all.
Better late than never.
Better weak beer than lemonade.
Better bowlegs than no legs at all.
Bad breath is better than no breath at all.
Good things come in small packages.
Bad things happen in threes.
Go all the way on the third date.
More on this later.
We were doing a load of laundry last week. It was business as usual until the final spin cycle which sounded like the space shuttle lifting off from a launching pad in the utility room. The entire house vibrated with the sound and fury of a star going super nova. After it wound down and stopped, I unloaded the laundry and spun the basket around a few times. It sounded fine. So I thought this might be a small hiccup and it would go away by itself. This is where folk sayings come in handy to help me justify sheer insanity. Let sleeping dogs lie, I thought. This kind of logic is like hoping a flat tire will repair itself while you’re driving. This is why I’m not a mechanic or a surgeon.
A few days later I mustered the courage to do another load of laundry and everything sounded good until the final spin. This time it was the starting line at a NASCAR race or an F-15 taking off from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. The machine was vibrating like a jackhammer and walking across the floor under its own power. This was as close to poltergeist activity as anything I’ve seen in this house. With another nugget of folk wisdom blazing in my brain, All good things must come to an end, we put in a call to a repairman.
The repairman arrived at the appointed hour looking every bit the part of Dan Akyroyd’s classic depiction of the Norge repairman. I did not, however, look at his ass to see if his crack was showing. It took him less than 30 seconds to diagnose the problem as a bad bearing which probably caused collateral damage to the fleegywinkle, bearing straits and various and sundry other parts. He hammered away at his iPad for a few minutes and handed me an estimate for parts and labor. After I recovered from my apoplectic episode, I stammered: “It would cost less to buy a new machine.” “Exactly,” he replied. “Too bad you didn’t have the extended service contract. This would have all been covered.” I have always thought that extended service contracts were like buying protection from the mob and that stuff should last beyond it’s warranty period. But still, I was silently kicking myself for not buying protection from the mob.
“You know” he said, “there’s an old saying that appliances break down in pairs.This dryer is a ticking time bomb. Could go anytime.” Yeah.” I thought, “ Washers and dryers mate for life like black vultures, gibbons or albatrosses.”
“I’m just sayin’,” he said, “If that fleegywinkle goes bad it will be like a claymore mine exploding in your utility room. If the shrapnel doesn’t kill you, cleaning up the flood will be like Love Canal exploded in your house.’
After he left I briefly contemplated going back to washing my clothes by beating them on rocks in the river. Then I realized there is no nearby river and that I had never beaten my clothes on rocks. I started shopping the internet for a washer that would mate with my dryer for the rest of its troubled and uncertain life. I also needed a washer that would stack underneath the dryer.
I quickly found one that I thought would work. It was also the least expensive. I was starting to feel like a mail-order-bride broker. I was also haunted by the old folk saying that a man who marries twice is a two time loser. I started to get the creeping feeling that it might not be possible to remarry my old dryer to a spanky new washer.
Armed with internet quotes, a newly approved store charge card, coupons with guaranteed rebates, perks and discounts and the resolve to drive a hard bargain, I entered the store. I had a quote for a washer for $599. With all the rebates, coupons and Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards, I thought I could wheel and deal my way out of there for about 500 bucks. I figured I could cover that by recycling my empty beer bottles.
What happened next will always be one of the darkest events in the voluminous annals in my personal Hall of Shame. It is why you should NEVER allow me to negotiate the final price of a new home, new car or a double de-caf, half-caf latte at Starbucks.
A sales associate came to my assistance with iPad in hand. He was quite near sighted and asked for my help inputting data into his iPad. Of course, luring me into this “helping” role immediately sucked me into letting my guard down. It took mere minutes to go from driving a hard bargain on a washing machine for $599 to the purchase of new washing machine, new dryer, (They mate for life, you know. Just like albatrosses.) and all the hoses, fittings, duct tube, mounting brackets and five year service contracts for just under two grand. I’m using the term two grand because that’s how we roll when we’re playing the numbers in the back alley gambling houses of Detroit.
I left there with my head reeling and wondering if I need to enroll in a 12 step program for gambling addiction. I’m taking delivery on my new appliances tomorrow. Sometime between 8AM and 5PM. I’m waiting for my man.
At least, this time, I did purchase protection from the mob. For five years. We’re gonna drive this thing ’till the wheels fall off! Even if a fool and his money are soon parted, maybe by that time, I’ll be living in a Buddhist monastery on some bleak hillside, dressed in an itchy woolen robe and won’t be needing a washer and dryer.
I had surgery yesterday. Why, yes, it was a penis operation. Well, not a penis operation per se. It was a procedure on my bladder, or more accurately inside my bladder. With a camera. And a laser. And two Star Wars action figure robots to operate the laser. And a flashlight of some sort. Kind of a hard place to get to for a tune up, but all that had to get into my bladder, through my urethra, which is technically part of my penis. So in many ways, it was a penis operation. In any case I think “penis operation” sounds edgier and more bad ass than “bladder procedure.” Actually it would have a more distinctive military vibe in keeping with the times if it was just called “Operation Penis.”
Apparently I had a bladder stone the size of Mount Rushmore (without the presidential faces) and a possible foreign body in there. By “in there”, I mean my bladder. All complications from an earlier surgery and radiation treatments from another situation some time ago. Not unheard of, but it can lead to some awkward moments when an explanation is called for. Like when your checking on for the procedure.
“Hmm. I see we’re going to laser a bladder stone and remove a possible foreign body?” Eyebrows raised, waiting expectantly for clarification.
“I know what it sounds like. I wasn’t smuggling illegal immigrants in my bladder and it’s not like the urban legend about the guy coming into the ER because he shoved a gerbil up his rectum and it wouldn’t come out. I mean it’s not like I’m going to hide my apocalypse stash of South African gold kruggerands in there. I hide those where nobody would dream of looking. Like my sock drawer or under my mattress.”
The night before, I downloaded a living will form from an online legal site and feverishly started checking boxes to pull the plug on any and all life prolonging efforts if the ship is going down and it’s all over but the shouting. BUT the one about NOT administering pain medication gave me cause to pause. I mean why would I NOT want to have pain medication if I’m suffering a painful, screaming death. I can’t see any upside to that. Strikes me as a real lose/lose situation all around. If I’m going down swinging I might as well go down feeling like I’m dancing my ass off at the Last Rave. To make it all legal and above board, the form required two witnesses who were not related to me. I only had one. We forged the other. Won’t say who, but one of the possible contenders was my dog Chauncy. He’s known me for six years and he’s not a blood relative. In the end it was not necessary anyway because I already had a Living Will on file from my last medical misadventure. That one was properly drawn up in my attorney’s office, and I was relieved to see that I’d had the presence of mind to include the proviso that I would go out in a lime green mohair jumpsuit yelling “One more time!” with Donna Summer blasting through blown speaker cabinets.
Checking into the ambulatory surgical unit was surreal. I registered my arrival with a rather stern looking volunteer in the hallway. I appreciate the work she does as a volunteer in a hospital, but she had a rather unnerving air about her. Kind of like my piano teacher when I hadn’t practiced the week’s lesson. Not one bit. Her eyes were shocking blue and her gimlet gaze made me feel like I was trying to sneak something through customs (in my bladder) or like I was trying to get back into homeroom without a hall pass. I was shown to a room where I was issued a change of clothes for surgery.
Hospital clothes are the embodiment of the. most. tragic. fashion. choices. ever! A flimsy, threadbare, assless gown with horrific floral prints, skin tight extra small robe more like a straight jacket, powder blue paper shoes with matching powder blue paper hat. I suppose it’s all part of breaking me down so they can build me back up again.
More check-in questions.
“Did you take your meds today?”
“How ‘bout your Viagra?”
Stunned by the personal nature of that question but even more so by its absurdity I wanted to say:
“Why yes. I took a double dose of Viagra about 15 minutes ago. I thought it might be easier for the surgical team to find my penis that way.”
“We need an X Ray. We’ll take you down in a wheel chair.”
Apparently you can ambulate in but not ambulate out. So feeling resplendent in my new get up, off we went through the public hallways. I just couldn’t wait to run into someone I hadn’t seen in ages.
Much of the hospital was built during Pre-Columbian times and some of the hallways look like they might have been used as a set for Shutter Island. As we tooled through the hall way leading to X Ray I marveled at the flesh colored walls and wondered if Stephen King might have served as their interior decorating consultant. A technician wheeled me into X Ray and told me to hop up onto the table, which was a hard plastic table about 5 feet off the floor covered by a slippery white towel. Suddenly I went from being wheel chair bound to feeling like a performer in Cirque du Soleil.
Before I knew it, I was in the OR, counting backwards from a hundred in German and giving up all my secrets to the Russians before slipping into unconsciousness. I came to in a curtained cubicle in recovery with an overwhelming need to pee. Needless to say, I was alarmed that my pee was the color of a vintage cabernet sauvignon, but assured that it was quite normal and that at least I was able to pee. Anyway, even though my body feels like it was used as a piñata everything came out fine, and we all lived happily ever after.
All kidding aside, THANK YOU to the compassionate and extremely competent medical team that helped me through this.You guys are the best and I couldn’t be more awestruck by what you do. I owe you one!
I just returned from my mailbox. Today is Saturday and it’s a light day. There were only four catalogs. On any given day, it’s not uncommon to find a half dozen catalogs, and more as we approach the holidays. I wonder to what extent this may actually be keeping the US Postal Service afloat? Consider this scene from the classic Seinfeld episode “The Junk Mail.”
Postmaster General: “Kramer, I’ve been, uh, reading some of your material here. I gotta be honest with you: you make a pretty strong case. I mean, just imagine. An army of men in wool pants running through the neighborhood handing out pottery catalogs, door to door.”
Kramer: “Yeah! Ha ha.”
Postmaster General: “Well, it’s my job. And I’m pretty damn serious about it.
I must admit, I’ve wondered how I ended up on so many catalog mailing lists. But then again, considering how much shopping I do from catalogs and from the internet in general, it should come as no surprise. Pretty much every active consumer in today’s economy ends up on multiple mailing lists. It’s almost impossible not to. All you need to do is subscribe to a magazine, fill out a warranty, register a product, enter a contest, carry a mortgage or auto loan, use a credit card, give to a charity, have a baby, use a retail store charge card, register to vote, send in for a rebate, belong to a supermarket loyalty club, or purchase anything from a catalogue or online. If you do any of these things, forget about it, you’re on someone’s direct mailing list. Unless you’re a monk or in an institution, that covers pretty much most of us in 21st century America. I’ve done all of these things so I’m on a diverse group of lists. So much for my fantasy of going underground. Companies rent or sell these lists to other retailers who are searching for new consumers for their products. Hell, even a casual internet search puts you in the crosshairs of internet search engines. That’s how you end up with so many whacky ads showing up on your Facebook sidebar and your web browser.
Even though I like to think I’m doing my part to help bring our economy out of recession, there are times when I wonder if I’m contributing to the destruction of the rain forests with so many paper catalogs filling my recycle container on Thursday morning. Sometimes the sheer volume is a little much. People don’t write letters much anymore, and nearly all of my bill paying is done online, so most days my mailbox is filled with nothing but catalogs. It can be a little vexing. Consider this scene from that same Seinfeld episode.
Kramer: (entering Jerry’s apartment) “Will you look at this? More catalogs! ‘Omaha Steaks’, ‘Mac Warehouse’, ‘Newsweek’?! I can’t stop all these companies, so, I’m gonna attack this problem at the choke point. I’ve had it with these jackbooted thugs!”
Kramer: (throwing his catalogs in the Pottery Barn store) “Hey, you like sending out catalogs!? How do you like gettin’ ’em back!?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. They make marvelous reading material in the bathroom where I do most of my heavy thinking and profound intellectual work.
This is not really a new phenomenon. Going as far back as the late 19th century it was possible to purchase nearly everything you needed to survive from a catalog including food, clothing, shelter and even a mail order bride. From 1908–1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold more than 75,000 homes through their mail-order Modern Homes program. You could buy a kit for a complete house ranging from $425-$3,000, which is about what it might cost you to buy a garden shed today.
Now you can do it all online. All you need is an internet connection and a credit card. It is consumerism run amok on steroids, but I am an unabashed internet consumer and certainly not the only one who is attracted by the ease and convenience. However, I could do without those annoying live chat boxes. “No I don’t want to chat! That’s why I’m shopping from home on the internet in nothing but my underwear !”
In Buddhism, desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. By desire, Buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality. If consumers are jonesin’ for that, then internet commerce certainly fills that need.
One catalog I got this week advertises “nothing you ever needed but everything you want.” That about says it all. From another catalog, it’s possible to purchase such other items of necessary esoterica as a genuine brass periscope from a World War II German U Boat, a “Faithful Freddie” Royal Navy Submarine Binnacle for $6000, Japanese Admiralty Signaling Searchlights for $3,000, Italian Air Force Long Underwear. (I guess I never think “air force” when I think of Italy. When a country produces the quality of wine they produce, who needs an air force?) This catalog also offers dozens of Swiss Army surplus items, which are of superior quality. I can see why the swiss Army has so much surplus to offer since the country has been neutral since 1515 and their last armed conflict was a brief civil war between the Catholic and the Protestant cantons which resulted in about a hundred casualties. Instead of waging war like the rest of us idiots, they invested their time and resources inventing cool stuff like Ricola and the Swiss army knife.
Other catalogs in this week’s mail offer a men’s leather shearling coat for $3,000, a beaver fur felt stingy brim hat for $800,(who actually wears beaver hats anymore?) shirts for $200, an English pub sign for $1500, an Allied Victory Sidecar Motorcycle, a wireless Pavlovian canine trainer, a variety of haunting zombie statues and zombie garden gnomes. Still other catalogs offer classes like Defense Against the Paranormal for Men and Women and the Zombie Apocalypse workshop.
Enough with the zombie apocalypse already!
If you’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt and adventure travel is your thing, then why not take the 14 day Mongolian Horse Trek, or if your bucket list’s gettin’ a little low, how about Around the World by Private Jet ~ a 24-day journey to five continents by private jet for $72,950? What’s not to love?
Yesterday, I got the ultimate catalog crammed with dozens of “must-have” items that you just can’t live without! Now you can have your own kitchen hot dog roller. Nothing handles a hangover better than a couple of gas station grade roller dogs. What about a flask that holds a gallon of your favorite libation? How can you say no to a pair of zombie flamingos for the front lawn? But wait! There’s more! You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood with your very own Zombie Apocalypse Tactical Tomahawk & Kommando Survival Tools and nothing settles an argument faster than a One Million Volt Zap Baton Stun Gun! And who can live without your own personal Backyard Tiki Bar~ on sale now for only $499?