My “mailbox” is really not much of a box. It’s more like a New York Jets receiver: the concept of it holding onto something important is basically foreign. The lock on the front doesn’t even work anymore, and as of press time, multiple work requests have gone unanswered, so anyone can just grab whatever they want from it. Fortunately, everyone gets the same junk credit card offers, so I feel relatively safe.
Besides, I’d say 70% of my mail either gets tossed immediately or put in a place with other trashable to be forgotten until the stack is the size of a phonebook (I’d like to think I do this to remember the time when they actually delivered the Yellow Pages). I pretty much only keep bills, magazines, and letters from friends (jokes, millennials don’t write letters), so going to the mailbox is a bit like going to a baseball game: a few worthwhile moments surrounded by hours of soul-crushing boredom.
But autumn’s impending arrival reminded me how great the mail can be. As a child of suburbia, I know that fall means a few things, namely awkward first-day-of-school photos and a much denser mail haul.
Why does it get denser?, you ask. I’ll tell you: motherfucking catalogs.
I stress constantly that the internet is wonderful except for all the times when it’s horrible. I mentioned bills above, but the internet has robbed me of those. I don’t get the experience of opening an envelope and thinking holy shit, I spent that much on electricity this month?; I just check the Dominion website whenever my neurotic self damn well pleases.
It’s affected catalogs too. I get so many emails from J. Crew telling me what’s “new” that I’m not even surprised when they send me a “lookbook.” Besides, they’ve just been making the same shit with barely-noticeable changes for twenty years anyway, especially for men. No longer do I walk in the door after school and hear the thwap of a thick Land’s End catalog hitting the counter.
But all is not lost. I got an L.L. Bean catalog this week, and it’s just what I needed.
From the top: America, let’s accept as a fact that we are far too materialistic. We spend too much time looking forward to things--especially things that not everyone has the ability to acquire--which inherently creates a shitty divide between people. Okay, now that we’ve handled that, let me say that from a very young age (thanks, suburbia), I knew that things were awesome to have. You bet your ass I took a pen and started circling the things I wanted in those catalogs, leaving hints for my parents.
Did I need a pair of navy corduroys? Of course not, but the catalog made me want them. I’d turn a glossy page and the pants would just pop out at me. I’d find myself touching the paper, knowing that it was paper but still imagining the feel of corduroy against my legs, distracting me from some boring middle-school Virginia history lesson on Sir Walter Raleigh and the importance of tobacco.
That was the true power of catalogs: They literally inspired dreams, even if they were materialistic daydreams about owning corduroy pants. It’s the most American-suburbia thing I can possibly think of, but I loved every second of it. On top of that, because I didn’t know how money worked (and was not in charge of the purchasing of clothes in my household), I could just look and want without worry. I’d like to think that I understood the difference between wanting and needing, but it was a moot point. My parents were the ones who knew what I needed, so I was free to want what I wanted, and I loved the experience.
Today’s reality is different. I’m still excited to receive catalogs, and I’m still aware that they mean the arrival of autumn [Editor’s note: So what you’re saying is that L.L. Bean catalogs are your Pumpkin Spice Lattes?], but that’s about where the similarities end. Not only am I now responsible for the purchasing decisions in my household, but I’m also in charge of knowing the difference between want and need and prioritizing the needs. It's led me down the road of delayed gratification to the point of being a self-denying miser. Hell, it sometimes even bleeds over into the needs--for fuck’s sake, my shower curtain was not fine, and I needed a new one for months before I finally broke down and purchased one.
Now, I flip through catalogs like someone testing the ice on a Minnesota lake in late October. I’m so acutely aware of the fact that I don’t need a new pair of pants that I convince myself I don’t even want it. I already have a solid closet full of clothes that are in good shape, and especially when it comes to work, who am I trying to impress? I’ve had the same friends, and the same blue button-front shirts and gray tees, for years now. Most of my purchasing is replacing things I already have with something as close to the original as I can find.
I have habits. I’m old [Editor’s note: 26] and boring. I don’t feel that optimism I used to get in the beginning of September, anticipating a new school year. I know better than to get sucked up in “trends” like pants that zipped off at the knee to become shorts (related: fuck Old Navy [Editor’s note: You take that shit back right now. Those are fighting words.]). “Pleats are in again,” the adult equivalent of zipper-kneed pantshorts, won’t last, but my chinos will always look “fine,” and buying the same exact ones over and over again will at least keep me honest if I start expanding horizontally thanks to my beer habit.
I feel like I should clarify: I’m not upset about this! I held off on buying a pair of boots for three years, and I finally bought them recently, in part, as a celebration that I “could.” It made me remember the time when every autumn, every new school year, felt like a fresh change--like you had the chance to come back after summer break and be a different person, and somehow the pants you wore were the key to feeling confident as that new you. It's materialistic, sure, but when you're 11, the feeling--the confidence--is what's important.
I guess what I’m saying is: fuck this goddamn world for ruining our imaginations and making us wear our habits. Sometimes I just want to look at my mail and daydream again.