Let`s go HOME, Mrs. Rittenhouse

My Catalogue Life

Nowhere else are things so perfect.

by David Holzel

In the tug-of-war between trying to be happy with our lives as they are and striving for something more, we begin to yearn for shortcuts -- winning the lottery or receiving a windfall from a dead relative we didn't know we had. Some people wish their lives took place in a novel, rich with detail and the opportunity for unlimited introspection. Others want to live in the movies, a life larger than life, powerfully visual and awash in music.

Me, I want to disappear from this existence and re-emerge in a mail-order catalogue. Several of them, actually. Once inside those glossy pages, my life would become everything it isn't now: relaxed, comfortable, leisurely, soft, cozy. In a word -- perfect.

You'd love my home. You've seen my home -- part English country manor, part Vermont farmhouse, part TriBeCa loft. On wintry nights I read in my booklined study, my wing chair drawn close to the fire. Smooth leather upholstry complements the classic profile of my wing chair. The chair's well-padded back and rolled arms let me relax in complete comfort.

The only thing better is snuggling in my sleigh bed, where my flannel sheets wrap me in soft, warm comfort.

In the morning, I don't get frozen feet, thanks to my bath mat. That's because Chenille's plush softness makes it a perfect complement to the bathroom.

That's a typical day in all its plush softness. And who would want to leave home even for a minute, except, maybe, to go to the country store. That's where I go to get the practical stuff, the old fashioned stuff. The stuff that reminds me this country was once populated by hardy, no-nonsense folk. The kind who valued a light bulb you won't have to change for 12 years. Who kept a bottle of Bear Paws lotion on hand to help soothe dry, painful skin and Tiger Balm to relieve sore muscles.

People with old-fashioned values, who don't believe in fancy frills like barbers; they've been combing themselves a perfect haircut with Barber King since way back 1956.

In my converted-warehouse living room, with its painted brick walls, I use a polished metal trunk as a coffee table. Next to the bowl of fruit and book of Ansel Adams's photography, I've piled my favorite catalogues.

One offers every kind of pique polo shirt in every heathered color imaginable. Even better, this catalogue tells me the story of its clothes in such intimate detail that I've become close friends with a couple of oxford cloth shirts.

And thanks to this catalogue, I've learned the declension of "knit": Interlock: a soft, smooth knit consisting of tiny loops interlocked in rows. (Now isn't there a rule about not defining a word by using the word?) Mesh, or pique: A more open knit, named for the French word "to pierce."

 I have a catalogue that offers "tools for serious readers." And while most catalogues speak in the first person plural, as if they're a group of cheery students putting on a school play or the voice of a particularly materialistic workers' collective, this one comes in the calm confident voice of a man named Steve.

There was a week I walked around absolutely giddy. Steve had me convinced that I had to buy a $350 fountain pen. It's easy to see why:

It's a real penman's pen. The shape is the classic cigar design, generous in size, but quite light and perfectly balanced.

Steve also tells me about the fascinating history of pens and watches, and gives me advice on how to choose stationary: For the notes I write to customers, friends and family, I prefer Correspondence Cards. For type style and ink color, I recommend Shaded Roman in blue or black ink.

This isn't a catalogue, it's a mentor.
  Dancing 'round midnight. I wear the David Niven blue blazer and Colonel Mustard's Herringbone Pants.
  But if you need to find me, try looking first inside that tall, slim catalogue with the water color drawings. I'll be the one living life as it was meant to be -- bold, worldly, arch, ironic, glamorous and sexy.

Dancing 'round midnight. I wear the David Niven blue blazer and Colonel Mustard's Herringbone Pants. You're stunning in Mme. Q's tea length tunic with the mandarin collar. Makes your legs look a million miles long.

These catalogues are my home, my intimates, my family. But now that the holiday spending season has come, I've been receiving unfamiliar catalogues by the barrelfull. They're like relatives you never knew you had, inviting themselves over for dinner. Elbowing their way to the table with yet another handblown weatherglass filled with colored water that predicts rain.

The truth is, I can't afford the kind of lamp Winston Churchill used for $399. Or a $119 watering pot, even if it is reminiscent of what they use in Parisian apartments.

But here's a secret. And this is free. My catalogue life is so wonderful because things take on meaning -- become valuable -- when they have a story attached to them.

Once I realized this I began looking around my other house -- my nondescript ranch house.

And I discovered. "The Towels from the Previous Marriage" and "The Bathmat I Accidently Bargained For in an Outdoor Market in Jerusalem" and "The Shower Liner I Bought the Day After Hurricane Opal."

And that's just the bathroom collection. Wait until you see the entire catalogue.

1998 by David Holzel
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Pat's Web Graphics

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