Anneli Byrd


It’s Christmastime and for months now I’ve been wallowing in catalogs. For escapist entertainment, catalogs beat just about anything short of Disneyland. Catalog world is pure fantasy.

In my happy catalog world, our house, like our bank account, is big enough to accommodate everything, so of course I will need the waffle maker that makes Lego-like bricks. It’s only $59.95. I’ll put it in my imaginary waffle iron cupboard with the construction vehicle waffle maker and the Bob Ross waffle maker. I’m sure someone will get up at 5 a.m. every morning to make me lavish waffle breakfasts, and none of those waffles will have negative consequences. I know this because all the models in the catalog look great and they must be eating the waffles (and the chocolate and the cookies and the Vermont jam) because, otherwise, why would they appear in that same catalog?

Catalogs fire up my baser instincts and I indulge in them all without guilt.

There’s greed, obviously. My husband has learned to accept this charming little quirk in my personality. (I think he may call this quirk something other than charming, but I forget what). I not only helpfully provide him with well-marked, dog-eared, annotated catalogs, I create long lists with websites, discount codes, item numbers, sizes and preferred colors. Unlike other husbands, lucky Dave never has to wonder what gifts I might like.

Vanity is a lot of fun too. In the real world, my looks are not exactly magazine cover caliber. But in catalog world, I look amazing. The clothes all fit beautifully (the actual clothes not being here to suggest otherwise), and there are pages and pages of miracles that will fix my figure, my posture, my skin, my nails and my hair. My eyes will be luminous, my hair lush and my house will provide the perfect background to showcase my perfection.

Next is smugness with a side of intellectual superiority. I would never be so classless as to purchase that tacky T-shirt, mug, knick-knack, etc. And I know that only an idiot would buy certain items, they would never work! (Naturally, I choose not to remember that the reason I know these won’t work is that I have once bought them myself).

Then there’s gluttony: “Come to me, Hickory Farms!”

And laziness — they will deliver it to me and, if I’m lucky, I don’t even have to get out of my chair because Dave might bring me the box.

And lastly, thrift and good money management. After all, I don’t even ask for, let alone buy, even a fraction of all of the things I see. I wish my frugal grandmother could see me — she’d be so proud!

But all is not lightness and fun. Even catalogs have a dark side (darker than the shipping costs even). I expect to see many things that I don’t like. These trigger my smugness button and so add to my joy. But also hidden in the pages are sometimes items of spectacular wrongness. When I see these, it’s like being suddenly yanked out of my own lovely fantasy world and into an alternate universe — somewhat like the Upside-Down world of “Stranger Things.” It’s an awful place, but it’s compelling. It’s unforgettable, no matter how hard I try. I’m going to share three of these items here in hopes that by implanting them in your mind they will leave mine.

The first is the Christmas Caroler set from the Vermont Country store. On first sight, they look fine. It’s a set of two candles shaped like nice, old-fashioned little carolers. No problem — unless you actually use this item. Just light their heads on fire and imagine their cheerful carols changing into shrieks of anguish as their bodies melt in gruesome agony.

The other two treasures come from The Victorian Trading Company. Here you can find a very nice women’s basic black sweater. The only problem is the monogram: a large, scarlet letter “A.” This is no accident, as the advertising blurb makes clear, “Inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s notorious heroine, Hester Prynne.” Indeed! And if we remember our high school English class, we remember that A is for ... drum roll, “Adultery.” At least the sweater is on sale this year. This gift will certainly convey a memorable message — not of Christmas, but a message nonetheless.

Lastly, we have a lovely “nouveau” necklace. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but then Dave called out, “Hey! Did you see the uterus necklace?!” Now I can’t see anything else. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who wants to wear their most private insides on the outside cast in pewter. It’s actually quite graceful for a uterus, and only $39.95!

Catalogs. It’s nice to know that among the thousands of fun things I will never own, there are at least a few that you couldn’t pay me to take.

Anneli Byrd is an academic advisor in Weber State University’s Student Success Center.

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