Ever since I started working at home, my grasp on the outside world has grown progressively more tenuous. I had thought that going into business for myself would allow me unprecedented freedom; what it seems to have actually offered is the unprecedented freedom to live like a reclusive lunatic. Days blur into one another in a haze of frozen food, web pages and crumb-coated blankets. I haven't been outside in over two months. My skin has gained a ghostly pallor, and, even better, I seem to have developed some limited bioluminescent abilities like those weird transparent fish that live way way down in the deep. I no longer have any idea what day it is. My bed is long gone, having been replaced by a sleeping litter composed of old rags and newspaper. In short, I am becoming a Howard Huges-class isolated freako.
Thankfully, there is one link to the glossy, vibrant, pulsating world outside that I can always count on, unlike the stupid TV, whose friendship seems to be contigent on how well you can keep the damn thing dry. No, the truly unfailing, unflappable visitor from the bright outdoors comes to me every day through a little slot in my door. Those friends are, of course, glossy mail-order catalogs.
There are four main categories of mail order catalogs I recieve: MacMall/Warehouse catalogs (about 40 a week, and they form the base layer of my sleeping litter), Victoria's Secret catalogs, J.Crew catalogs, and everything else. Of these, the significant ones are, of course, the Victoria's Secret catalog and, surprisingly, the J.Crew catalog.
The Victoria's Secret catalog, which always comes addressed to a woman who, ironically, I am not allowed to approach within 50 feet, is very significant, but only for a brief, furtive, sweaty, clumsy moment. Then it becomes a crumpled, damp, shameful reminder of how low I have sunk, another brick in the horrible Temple of Onan I am imprisioning myself in. Sure, the web may offer more advanced, more sophisticated and graphic stimulatory aids, but, for some reason, perhaps because it feels more like I'm not supposed to, I prefer using the Victoria's Secret catalog for this nefarious purpose. Sure, every few months I have to order some hosiery or panties or a pair of 'London Jeans' or something so they'll keep coming, but this seems a small price to pay for something so wonderful.
But even the lurid, nubile charms of the Victoria's Secret catalog are nothing compared to the more subtle, insiduous power of the J.Crew catalog. A J.Crew catalog is a lot like a mid-50s movie portrayal of the Chinese Ambassador. Inscrutible, quiet, and powerful. A hidden, sinister kind of power that we can only guess at. I mean, to look at it, what's more innocent than a J.Crew catalog? Christ, you'd have to be the Amazing Kreskin or a Philip Roth character or somebody to catch a beat to one of those things, crammed as they are with healthy, fully clothed men and women of all ages, engaged in such robust, honest activities as hiking or painting a fence or having a nice game of rubgby in the unnamed New Hampshire/Colorado/Denmark/Northern California wonderland they all seem to inhabit. What could be more pure, more clean, more innocent?
Well, nothing, I suppose. And that's where it's insiduous power comes in. The sin J.Crew preys on is not lust, like their Victorian friends, but rather envy. And I mean envy with a capital N and V, just like Nevada, only worse. It starts as I'm absently flipping through the catalog, probably sitting on the heaps of unpaid bills and unacknowledged eviction and condemnation notices that carpet the floor by my mail slot. I start to just notice the people in the catalog. How healthy they seem. How active. How clean! At about this point my gaze is distracted by a long-neglected thumbnail blocking my view of a model's face. I scan down the thumbnail, to the pasty hand, to the scrwny arm, and realize all this sickly mess is connected to me. Then I glance back at the vibrant youthful wunderkind froliking in front of that wonderfully aged Land Rover there on the pages and marvel that we're the same species. Think about it! Scientifically, that means that, given the appropriate circumstances (several hundred dollars' worth of roofies) I could mate with that model and generate a living offspring. Wow!
At this point disbelief sets in. We can't be the same species. On the pages, that's the LX model human, made with nothing but the best parts and fitted with all the candy, while the poor slob reading this catalog is just the DX-model person. The economy model, bottom of the line, no options. Gets the job done, but that's about it. The soul-squishing envy is starting to really ramp up now as I start to really study the pictures. I don't just mean look, I mean scrutinize. Take in every detail. Where are these people? Look how they live!
I remember looking at this J.Crew spread of this couple lounging in their J.Crew jammies in their large, comfortable J.Crew-clad bed, in their incredibly roomy, pristine white-painted converted factory loft apartment. I looked up from the spread and gazed around at my own home, from the torn out newspaper clippings and cereal box pictures affixed to the walls with mustard and jam, to the grim heap of food scraps and wood and stuffing that was once my sofa, to the large, pastic-covered hole in the sheetrock where she threw my stereo just before the bitch left me here all alone.
I took this all in, then looked back at the catalog spread and burst into envy-fueled sobs of anguish. Who were these people? How did they do it so right, and I do it so wrong? Why wasn't that me with the beautiful girlfriend and incredible apartment and matching bedwear and energetic attitude and controllable bladder? How come I never rolled in the snow with beautiful girls and laughed, all without spraying spit anywhere?
Envy's an ugly thing, but it gets shit done. I'm through with envy. Its served its purpose. It's kicked my ass hard enough to get me out of my grim, filthy stupor. No longer will I sit and dream of lives like that! I'm going to go out and get one! Look out world, and now hear this: today I cut my nails!