Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...

How The World Wags

By Dave Kiffer

January 22, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - If your favorite slogan is "shop local" please avert your eyes for a few minutes.

According to the highest authority possible - our mail carrier Johnnie - our home receives more catalogs than any other single-family dwelling in the 99901 area code.

jpg Dave Kiffer

It's possible that he is exaggerating, but you know it's bad when you open the mail box each day and then have to ponder various extrication techniques to find the right way to remove the day's accumulation. It's getting so we might have to order a family-sized "Jaws of Life" from the our new Emergency Medical Technician Catalog (just arrived yesterday!)  in order to "go get the mail" in the future.

It's also bad when the mail carrier talks about having to go on disability after toting bales of mail back and forth to our house. I'm pretty sure that is an exaggeration, although he has taken to bringing the mail in some odd sort of weight-dispersing cargo sling that he borrowed from TEMSCO.

Next, he'll shift to one of the head totes that you see balancing on top of the women in the National Geographic magazine (we get a lot of magazines too, but that's another column). Or maybe he'll just offer to pay for us to get a Post Office box. Unfortunately then we'd have to buy a flatbed truck to bring the mail home from the downtown substation.

There is also a geophysical concern in all this above and beyond our mail carrier's hyper-extended coccyx. The sheer incessant weight of all those catalogs in our mail box is gradually causing our driveway to lengthen. This is increasing our property but also increasing our property taxes. I am also concerned that it might cause a subduction zone that could create a serious earthquake risk in the Miller Ridge Road area in the future.

I'm not sure how it came to this. My excuse is that living in Ketchikan one tends to do a lot of a catalog shopping. This is generally born out when you talk to large outside retailers. They tend to do a lot of business in Alaska and an awful lot - per capita - in Ketchikan.

I don't mean that as a slam on our local retailers. It's just that sometimes you need something that you can't get here. Actually, frequently you need something that you can't get here. Sometimes it is a matter of price, but more often than not it is a matter of availability. Since we are not well-heeled enough to fly to Seattle every time we need something, we must then throw ourselves on the mercy of the patron saint of our household, St. Franco di Porto (Free Shipping!).

The minute you order from one catalog you immediately receive two new ones in the mail. When you order from two catalogs, four more replacements then arrive. If you order from four you get sixteen back. Based on the number of catalogs we receive each year, we have obviously ordered from 1,333,189.3789 catalogs in the last year. Somebody's timber (paper) industry is still pretty danged healthy!

Perhaps my math is a little faulty. The numbers could also be skewed by the "We've missed you (actually we've missed your business)" campaigns. Those campaigns carry an even higher catalog ratio. If you don't order something from a catalog in a given week, you immediately get three new catalogs. If you don't order something from a catalog for two weeks, you get nine catalogs. If you can stand to hold back for three weeks, you get 81 catalogs. That usually works. If enough enticing, full-color catalog pages pass before my eyes, I always succumb to speed-dial or the internet.

Speaking of the World Wide Web (makes me feel like a fly just using that term), I've assumed for the last few years that it would - as part of its paperwork reduction mandate - eventually lead to the cutting back of the number of catalogs in our mail box.

But I have to admit now, after staring at 1.9 zillion glossy, full color computer screen catalog pages, that I have not been weaned of that visceral feeling of actually holding the catalog in my hands. It's the same reason I don't like audio books.

I love to turn the pages. I love to feel the sales leaping off the pages. They tingle down my fingers, pulsate through my forearms, curl around my elbows and blast up through my shoulders right into the deep primeval shopping core in my brain. I really love to turn the catalog pages while sitting in the bathroom. If you ever find me looking at a computer screen while sitting in the bathroom, feel free to shoot me. But I digress.

Fortunately for the future of the Web, there is plenty of shopping to go around in our family and we end up making some of our purchases over the internet anway. It seems to have reduced our daily catalog mail not one iota. We just now get lots of catalog related Spam on our computer. What good is that? You can't even stuff it in the attic for insulation.

Besides, catalog spam will never dramatically increase in value like real flesh and blood (paper and binding?) catalogs. I spent $20 for a 1944 Nordby Supply Catalog on Ebay last year. Unfortunately the prices are a little out of date, so I haven't been able to order anything from it as yet. But I'm working on it.

gif email


Dave Kiffer ©2004

Post a Comment
        View Comments
Submit an Opinion - Letter

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska