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Mail-Order Madness 

There's probably no way to get all of them in. Too many catalogs clog the letter box on too many mornings, especially around Christmas time. Can't remember which catalog actually started it all, which one I actually ordered from and yielded my name and home address up to every retailer from all time.

On the bright side, there is the never-ending stream of Totally Worthless Stuff clamoring for space in the storage bins of America. True, we still await an OPEC-free automobile engine and a cure for juvenile diabetes, but who can doubt a culture that delivers "tattoo sleeves" (slip-on body art) or a 13-inch "mooning Santa"?

And then there's Gadget Universe, which offers the Disguise-Your-Voice gadget ($29.95), which enables you to sound like a "burly football player, a school girl or a soulless android." (What about a burly, soulless school girl?) For a little more, own the Digital Spy Camera Pen ($69.95) and "work your secret spy mojo."

If you want to be medieval and hip, try Noble Collection, which features Frodo and Harry Potter stuff. I was drawn to the Knights Templar Signet Ring ($125), though I could likely go a lifetime without crossing paths with another Knight Templar, and the Phial of Galadriel ($75), simply because I've never met a phial-owner.

Lest you think that the only catalogs to darken my mailbox are silly, frilly things, behold the one from Heifer International. Just to assure you of the seriousness of purpose here, we have photos and testimonials from such world-savers as Susan Sarandon, Ed Asner and Sir Walter Cronkite himself. I'm not fully sure how it works, but you dedicate, say, a llama ($175) in honor of your mama (who gets a holiday gift card) to a family in Llamaland, who gets "soft warm wool and the promise of new hope." Also available: Pigs, goats, sheep, water buffalo.

Along the same lines is The Southwest Indian Foundation. Lots of turquoise and moosehide moccasins, of course, although the Turtle Fetish ($45) is made of "hand-carved Picasso marble," and I'm not sure to what tribe Pablo belonged. My favorite was the Medicine Wheel Wall Hanging ($95), which includes peace pipe and dream-catcher.

Marked-down altruism comes via Serve International, which promises "hope and justice with every purchase." Typical would be the Garlic Keeper ($13) or the Mortar & Pestle ($8) from India. A bit higher is the Calabash Rattle ($20) from Cameroon and truly high-end would be the 7 Nesting Kaisa Grass Baskets ($95) from Bangladesh. I think $95 is the annual wage in Bangladesh.

Enough of this feel-good stuff; let's get back to some old-fashioned crass commercialism -- and what better place than in the Barbie Collector? (Please ask me not how these catalogs arrive.) My favorite Barbies would seem to be the Lounge Kitties doll ($39.98), which features "luxurious faux fur and fluffy tail" and "lip-shaped chaise." And of course, the Juicy Couture ($99).

Getting those hormones humming? Then catch Playboy. Prominent is Hef's New Favorite ($50), a shirt featuring 20 magazine covers and rabbit-head buttons, though I think the silk robe ($79) and lounge-pants ($49) are more in keeping with my image. Though I'll admit, Hef's New Favorite would be a hoot at church on Christmas morn.

Even more adult fare? How's about the Spice TV catalog? Not much herein can be repeated in this family publication, though a couple of movie titles will serve as examples. Say, Lashed in Latex ($29.95). Or here's one for you stay-at-homes: Mardi Gras Orgy ($24.95). The Cliff's Notes summary finishes thusly: "Well, here's all the secret footage you can handle of liquored-up lushes having sex with people they just met!" And, no, this is not about Saints fans.

Let's get a bit more high-brow, shall we? A catalog from The Art Institute of Chicago. On page 51, there's the Frank Lloyd Wright Waterlilies Panel ($75), and the description begins, "Eschewing traditional window coveringsŠ" I don't know about you, but I've never bought anything that used the word "eschewing" in the product description.

Along the same lines is The Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog, which includes the William Morris Tote and Umbrella ($57) and Music of the Gilded Age CD ($14.95). You too -- like Frasier Crane -- can step back to the splendid era of Childe Hassam and hear tunes played on the museum's Chickering piano!

Maybe something more blue-collar, you say? How's about The Sportsman's Guide? How's about "an actual scrotum from a bull" -- fill yours with candy, coins or beef jerky! -- for only $34.97. For the same price, you can possess a walking cane made from "an actual reproductive organ from a full-grown bull."

But no monopoly for manly-men; there must be catalogs for nerds as well. And there are! Check out Computer Gear's stunning PC mouse embellished all over with hand-applied crystals ($29.99). For $18.95, you can choose from myriad T-shirts with egghead slogans (e.g. "Obey gravity. It's the law.") Now let's see. Siegler & Co.'s Sovietski Collection offers an Astrakhan Cap that is the personal favorite of Vladimir Putin. Only $225! Is this a great country or what?

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