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Herb Opalek: The holiday catalog infestation

Herb Opalek

You know the holidays are fast approaching when your mailbox fills up with catalogs.

Catalogs are the sales engine of American entrepreneurship. Sears, Gottschalks, Macy's, JC Penney, Eddie Bauer, Back to Basic Toys, and Reformation and Revival are just a few of the many and varied types of catalogs that come to mind.

From flowers to fruit cakes and from baby gifts to A&B Cattle; there is no scarcity of catalogs in my mailbox.

Some years ago, there was a Time magazine article about the Victoria's Secret lingerie chain, which printed and mailed more than 1 million catalogs per day. There is also this fact: Over the past decade, catalog production has grown 40 percent, and in 2004, when last researched, more than 18 billion catalogs were mailed, more than 64 for each person in the USA.

I am not particularly happy when I open my mailbox and dozens of catalogs fall out on the ground.

Who wants catalogs that are extraneous to our daily lives?

What do I need with a lip pump, a peppermint inhaler or a toe stretcher?

Would you buy the cho-pat knee strap, which sells for $14.50? It is a simple strap with a Velcro fastener that is advertised to really relieve pain.

There are many people addicted to sales catalogs. They pore over every item in them; get caught up with the picture layout, read the provocative copy and purchase items just for the sake of purchasing.

I even know of a prestigious publishing house that recommends you read their catalog in order to find out the best way to be treated for this addiction.

Mind you, I am not railing against all catalogs. There are catalogs that are necessary and are a desiratum for our intellectual and entertainment needs.

College catalogs and vitamin catalogs do serve a purpose.

My mind boggles when I leaf through some of the more reputable catalogs. Of course, many stores use beautiful models in provocative poses to sell their wares. I have seen too many youngsters holding these catalogs and just plain leering at those pictures.

One catalog that personally appalls me reminds Christians of the debt we owe to the Gutenberg printing press, a 15th-century technology was used to mass disseminate the Bible. More than 500 years later, we are in the midst of a new digital technological revolution, and once again Christians are taking advantage of the medium to spread the gospel.

It then goes on to extol its own modern catalog that has among the toys it sells to young boys and girls the following item: an All-American Boy's Crossbow and Blowdart Gun, an accurate reproduction of the ones seen by Henry Morton Stanley when he traversed Africa in search of the missionary Dr. David Livingston.

At least they suggest adult supervision for the 3-inch-deep forged steel frontier tomahawk that they sell.

It is true that we don't need "unsolicited and unwanted mail."

We hardly have time in our pell-mell existence to read our important letters, magazines and journals.

But I am still mindful of the fact that my unwanted catalog may be wanted by my wife. I hope so, because there are an awful lot of nice presents for her to buy me.

Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission. He writes a column every other Saturday.

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