Mail Disorder: The Catalogue Craze Hits Home

Here's Herrington again. Gleaming at me enameledly from my mailbox. This month, or this week, or today -- his visits know no rhythm -- Herrington wants me to buy one of his Tee-Gars (actually, $10.95 for the three-T set), those little plastic props that fit on top of any golfing tee so that I can put my cigar on it. The cigar -- a Churchill, no doubt -- that I'd have drawn from my $295 Herrington Statesman solid cherry or solid mahogany humidor. The cigar I'd ordinarily drop right down on the fairway, like any old retro shopping-mall prole, while I was using my short-irons. With the Tee-Gar, my cigar "stays safely above dew, grass clippings and dangerous chemicals."Of course, when I place my cigar on my Tee-Gar, it will be so that I can hit one of Herrington's "outlaw" golf balls (The Desperado, at $119.95 the six dozen) that "will add a sneaky 20-25 yards to [my] drives -- illegally!" And, of course, I'll be swinging one of Herrington's new and improved "Big Bertha" irons ($999 the graphite three-piece set) that will enable me to further confound, deceive, humiliate and fleece my poor unsuspecting schmuck of a golfing opponent.And after I have left said opponent broken and weeping in the Country Club locker room, and pocketed his vanquished balls for display in my $179 Genuine Walnut Collector's Ball Display Cabinet -- trust me, I'm not making any of this up -- I will slide acquisitively into my expensive, powerful and annoyingly red-painted torquemobile (Herrington doesn't offer these yet, but stick around) and drive back to my executive office as fast as I possibly can -- paying no heed to our restrictive and and totalitarian speed laws because I am equipped with one or more of Herrington's luxuriant cop-confounding devices du jour: either the pre-programmed and "discreet" Beartracker electronic scanner, at $199.95 the discretion , or perhaps the Bel Super Wideband "Undetectable" Radar Laser Detector, at $339 the evasion. (If there is one thing that gets Herrington juiced up even more than jackrolling some sucker on the fairway, it's outsmarting the Highway Patrol. His ad copy for the radar detectors is almost erotic.)So. Anyway. That's moi, see -- the quintessential Herrington guy. Real American role-model profile, right? Real Cabinet material in a Dole presidency. Gordon Gekko as mail-order browser.In Herrington's dreams. But that's just it: What the hell am I doing in Herrington's dreams? What am I doing in any of their dreams? The dreams of these mail-order moguls, or phantom corporate personae, who with each passing month are micro-marketing their fantasy sales pitches to an increasingly fine-tuned -- and diverse -- collection of compulsions, neuroses, dreads, appetites and avarices of the American consumerate.I don't know. But I do know this. Jacques Ellul had it wrong. Jacques Ellul is the the Frenchman who said, approximately, that if one were to understand the American mind, one must understand baseball. Get a life, Jacques. (Or get a credit card -- same thing.) You want to understand the American mind, pal? Study the mail-order glossies. They are our new narrative, our new Grail, the reflecting pools of our narcissism. Every day you just open the mailbox, reach in and pick your identity -- before it picks you.Let's see, whom do I want to be this week? (No thanks, Mr. Herrington -- it's still too soon after the San Diego convention, and anyway, your version of me is a little, I don't know, New Hampshire.) Let's flip the pages.In J. Crew, I'm a big, blond, goofy college bozo who cannot wait to get to the nearest suburb and start barbecuing.In Tweed's, I'm a suicidal Radcliffe fine-arts major. In L.L. Bean, I'm a bozo who actually was headed for the nearest suburb, but made a wrong turn on the Long Trail and now must spend the rest of his life wandering among rugged-looking women with canoes on their shoulders, while wearing really embarrassing galoshes and slate-colored "travel" blazers with hidden pouches for his money.Or is that Orvis? No. Sorry. The Orvis guy has a gun. In Land's End, I'm god help me, Dagwood. The ultimate Average Joe, who thought Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a thigh-slapper and Up With People was a terrific rock band.In Bachrach, I'm a body-builder with syndicate connections who dresses semi-drag in the hope that you, you pencil-necked wuss, will have a problem with DAT. And so on. In every case -- in every catalog -- it isn't just some clothes or Public Television coffee mugs they're trying to sell me; it's a version of myself. And although the "theys" of corporate merchandising have those versions worked out to a frighteningly minute degree, they haven't yet come up with a "self" with which I would like to be viewed after dawn.The first question for every mail-order browser -- it should precede even "do I need this shirt?" or "is my Visa tapped out?" -- is this: Is that what they think of us?


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