THE CATALOG'S cover proclaimed "Products for Country Living." I live in the country, so I commenced browsing.
The city-slick pages contained the usual conglomeration of upscale accessories for nouveau hillbillies like myself. There was an $85 computerized watering thingumajig; a $30 seed package entitled "Flower of Monet" (Never mind the birds and bees, give me Monet, honey); a "serious watering can" (at a serious price: $19.95 plus $3.95 for shipping and handling), tick removal kits ($9.95 plus), etc.
Thumbing through the pages of such rustic mailers, I am alternately attracted and revolted by what I see.
One page inspires a "Gee, this doohickey looks handy." The next induces the contemptuous snort of a self-made DavidHolahanclod-hopper: "I wouldn't be caught dead wearing an electronic mosquito repellent gizmo on my belt." ($12.50)
My hayseed hauteur deflates somewhat when I come across a preposterous item or two that I happen to own (After all, why else would I get several dozen countrified advertisers a month?).
Before going on, let me confess: Hidden under an old peach basket in the middle of my vegetable garden is a "Go-pher-it," a battery-powered, electronic stake ($50) that is supposed to drive moles crazy.
Yes, sad to say, I went for it. The catalog copy said it was safe for children and pets; judging by the meandering mounds in my garden, it also has a benign, if not downright salubrious, effect on my rodents.
So I hauled out my checkbook again and sent $18.95 (plus) for two "clip-clop" mini-windmills whose vibrations purportedly would "confuse burrowing rodents and cause them to leave the area." Well, when the wind happens to be blowing a gale, the invading moles leave the area all right. Unfortunately, they do so with all the grace exhibited by Saddam Hussein when he pulled out of Kuwait. Every time my wife sees me reading a catalog nowadays, she makes a point of reminding me that $70 (the amount squandered on the mole campaign) buys bushels of fresh produce.
Make no mistake, however, I am not a complete bucolic ingenue. I have my standards. There are some over-priced, nonsensical products I simply won't buy. For instance, I will not order the "Thatcher," a $40 rake with wheels. And I would not risk further ridicule by clomping around the yard in "Lawn Sandals." These green plastic booties ($13) are armed with inch-and-a-half-long spikes designed to aerate the turf while the homeowner makes an unmitigated ass out of himself. Nor am I in the market for a $35 "Log Cabin Bird House" (Birdhouse, of course, is one word except in advertising land).
Ditto for the "Yard Cow." A yard cow is a one-dimensional wooden bovine adornment for the north 40 (if you don't have 40 acres, 40 square feet will do). They run $68 per. Or start a herd; buy three for $186 and save $18. My fellow yappies (young agrarian professionals), it doesn't get any lamer than this.
Or at least that's what I thought until the next catalog arrived. Please understand that it now takes a fair amount to amaze me.
I've seen just about everything: electric birdbath warmers; battery-operated flower bulb augers; solar-powered address markers; fire-retardant, faux lambskin mini-couches for kitty-cats; sound-activated night lights; elevated doggie-dishes set in cedar chests (so Bowser doesn't get lumbago); plastic wafers impregnated with red fox urine to scare bunnies away; and on and on.
I think it's time to amend the line attributed to P.T. Barnum, to wit, "There's a sucker born every minute." That was before the 20th century sucker boom.
For all my extensive catalog experience, nothing had prepared me for "Video Catnip." Here's the ad copy, raw and unedited: "The 25-minute VHS cassette has three segments featuring creatures cats love to watch -- birds, squirrels and chipmunks. Cats have been known to become so engrossed that they sit for the duration and actually bat at the TV screen. A real treat for a special cat." $14.95 plus.
Let me set the record straight. I have a cat named Chuckles and he doesn't simply love to watch birds, squirrels and chipmunks. He loves to kill them. Then he seems to enjoy leaving the remains on the front stoop, where I have discovered them on occasion, on my way out to get the morning paper, oozing about beneath my bare feet.
I may not be much of a country cat but Chuckles is. He simply showed up one evening a few years back. I gave him a baloney sandwich and he settled in. Chuckles lives outside, recumbent atop the hay in the barn as if he were heir to the throne of France.
Sometimes in the winter, when the temperature sinks below zero, we let Chuckles in the house. In an hour or two he is whining to go out again. I'm telling you, this cat was country when country wasn't cool.
Chuckles would have no truck with Video Catnip. Oh, he might take a swipe at the screen all right. Then he would examine his paw for blood or feathers. Finding none, he would slowly swivel his head to locate the designer bumpkin responsible for the hoax.
David Holahan writes from East Haddam, Ct.