I Can't Believe I'm Filthy
There is something so traumatic about a woman turning fifty that for a while I was unable to form the actual word. It was more comfortable getting a laugh and telling people I was filthy than having to say the word fffiffffty. In fact, I still stutter a bit, even in print. Half a century is a long time to be on the planet, and though I'm grateful to be not only alive but healthy, being healthy gives you the freedom to obsess over the things that don't really matter, like wrinkles, veins, and how tricky it is these days just to be able to turn on--excuse me, I mean power up--a television.
I feel that life is broken down into these stages: you're born and you don't know how anything works; gradually you find out how everything works; technology evolves and slowly there are a few things you can't work; at the end, you don't know how anything works.
With the passing of every decade, our mortality becomes a little clearer and our eyesight a little fuzzier. One day the writing on the menu becomes so blurry you just can't bluff anymore. Now, I have to mention that in this optical respect, I'm lucky. I can see close up and my husband can see far away, so we're covered. He tells me who's in the movie and I tell him what's in his sandwich. Together we're human bifocals.
The comforting factor about age is that nobody is immune. The blond-haired bombshells of today are the blue-haired ladies of tomorrow. When I turned fifty, it also gave me cause to reflect on all the things that have gone right in my life. Marrying the right man, choosing the right career, and making sure my closet had lots of hanging space were all good decisions.
Fifty also caused me to reflect on friends who have left me too early due to genetics, disease, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope I'm lucky enough to live until I'm totally incontinent--I mean incompetent. In the meantime, I'm determined to enjoy and celebrate everything about being in my filthies.
While I do occasionally order items on the Internet, it's hard to teach an old shopper new tricks. I'm convinced that the catalogue will eventually disappear, but not until the last baby boomers have kicked off their smelly Nikes and been buried in mulch.
There is currently no treatment center in Malibu for catalogue addiction, so I was forced to assemble a group of women with similar problems to meet in my living room. They all had room to sit once I moved some catalogues.
I blame Victoria's Secret. My friend ordered a blouse for me as a birthday present, and the company's first final clearance catalogue made its way into my clutches three houses ago. It doesn't matter how often I move; the catalogue knows where I'm living. If I'm ever kidnapped, I'm certain it would find me before the police.
After perusing the final clearance issue numerous times and folding down the corners of pages showing outfits that were in the running but had not yet won my love, I ordered a pink sweatshirt and matching sweatpants. Since then, I have received roughly three hundred catalogues featuring buxom babes clad in scanty attire. On page 27 you can still find the same pink sweatsuit I ordered ten years ago. Either I am the only woman in the world who likes pink sweatsuits or they dramatically overstock--or possibly they just like the picture.
Now, I love the Victoria's Secret catalogue, but I have to mention that with each issue it edges closer and closer to pornography. The bosoms on the otherwise skinny women appear to be inflated. The last issue was so chock-full of overly endowed ladies, I couldn't even keep the magazine closed. And where exactly would I wear a head-to-toe black lace jumpsuit? At a Peeping Tom convention? Plus, as far as I know, there are only two types of women who prefer garter belts and stockings to panty hose: hookers and my mother-in-law. Hookers because of obvious reasons, and my mother-in-law because of her unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of any stocking advancements since 1947.
The Victoria's Secret catalogue was only the tip of my problem. If that were the only booklet I was receiving, my mailman would not be in the hospital with a hernia. Word instantly goes out into the catalogue universe if you order so much as a pen, and the next day your mailbox is stuffed with a cornucopia of nonsense.
It was last November that I first noticed Herb exiting from his mail truck rather delicately as he lifted the block of catalogues too thick to be placed in my mailbox and dropped them on the ground like firewood.
"I think this might be my last holiday season delivery," he said. "My lumbar support belt isn't really cutting it anymore."
"Is it me? Is it my catalogues?" I asked guiltily.
"It's not just you," he reassured me. "It's all women . . . and Neiman Marcus."
"Is it the BOOK?" I belched.
"Yes, the BOOK is here. I have the BOOK."
"Is it in that stack of crap? You don't put the BOOK in a stack of crap," I said, pointing to the roped-together periodicals.
"No, I separated it. It was too heavy."
Herb then handed me the BOOK. If you are not familiar with the BOOK, every Christmas Neiman Marcus puts out a BOOK of things that people can't possibly afford. It's beautiful, it's classy, and last year it featured a space station that cost several million dollars. I took it from Herb and caressed it with my nearsighted eyes.
Herb then handed me seven catalogues from Pottery Barn.
"Can I ask you something?" Herb mumbled wearily.
"Sure," I replied, folding down a corner of a page of the BOOK featuring a belt costing 65,000 dollars.
"Why do you need seven catalogues that are exactly the same?"
"If you look closely, they're not all exactly the same. My name is spelled slightly differently on every single copy. The computer made a mistake and there is no going back."
"So when they come next time, can I throw away five of them?"
"What? Are you mad? They're a family. When I throw them away, I want them to be together."
The really sad thing is that I haven't ordered anything from Pottery Barn for over six years. But you never know . . . someday a lamp, a bed frame, and a bureau just might catch my eye and we could be together for the rest of our lives.
It was then that I spotted Herb holding the new Williams-Sonoma, or as my mother-in-law calls it, Williams and Sonoma. She might be right. It has to take at least two people to think up that many things nobody needs.
"Give that to me," I commanded.
"Don't grab," Herb scolded, pulling it away. "Your husband promised me a big Christmas tip if I didn't let you have this."
"I'll give you a bigger one if you give it to me," I replied, ripping it out of his hands.
"Please don't sign me up for the cheese-of-the-month club again. I can't take it," Herb pleaded. "Nobody could eat that much cheese. Mickey Mouse would have given up on it."
"You didn't like my cheese gift?" I asked in horror. "It cost two hundred and twenty dollars plus shipping."
"I like cheese. But if I run out, I can drive to the supermarket and buy some more."
"But this cheese comes in the mail."
"Rita, I'm a mailman. That sort of thing doesn't impress me."
I flicked through the catalogue.
"What about a pigeon toaster? It has a specific heat designed only for toasting pigeons. . . . Or maybe a cake girdle. If your cake is too big for the plate, you can squeeze it and correct the size. . . . Or maybe a turkey shredder. If you've cooked a bad turkey and you don't want anyone to know, you can shred it."
When I looked up, Herb had already gone. I never saw him again, and I know that wherever he is, he's in a happier place.
My husband tried to help me in any way he could. He would make an effort to be the first one to our mailbox and throw the filthy paper temptresses away before I could see them.
"I'm only doing this for you," he would say, trying to save me and my credit card from myself.
I'm not proud of this, but I would actually dig in our garbage, fish out the discarded beauties, and dry their coffee-stained pages in the sun. It wasn't even that I needed to order anything; it was that I had to see what was available to me, just in case.
I feel the reason catalogue shopping has not lessened with the advent of the Internet is the limited but crucial social contact that you get to enjoy with people over the phone. It's like talking to a relative that you never have to see. I like speaking to people who are doing their best to be polite to me. I like giving my source code and my customer number, which appears in the little blue box on the back of the catalogue. I like that the call is being recorded to ensure impeccable and courteous behavior.
"Hi, this is Betty. How can I help you?"
I picture a friendly white-haired lady in her sixties wearing her glasses on a chain around her neck. She has a picture of her grandchildren on her desk as she writes down my order longhand.
Ordering on the Internet, I picture a badly dressed teenager with greasy hair in a warehouse examining a crumpled piece of paper, climbing up a ladder, matching the number to a box, and then tossing the box into an anonymous receptacle below. It's just not the same.
I've kept my biggest difficulty with catalogues from you until now. It's not so much the ordering that's the problem as it is my inability to throw the little suckers away. I didn't know how many I possessed, but they were hidden everywhere: under the side table next to my bed, behind curtains, and yes, even in my daughter's bedroom. I'm so ashamed.
They are all gone now. I had a group of women from my meetings come over and we burned them in the backyard. Oh, they still come in the mail. There is no way to stop that. But now I look at them and throw them away, if not immediately, then certainly the next day. If I feel the need to hide one, I call my sponsor and she stays on the line until I agree to smear it with ketchup and throw it in the garbage.
I recognize that I have a problem, but I'm in recovery. I must be, because I recently received my first recovery catalogue.
When you get older, you really appreciate sleep. It's the best of both worlds: you get to be alive and unconscious.
Do It Again
Because I was a child such a very long time ago and my contact with children until I had my own was so limited, I was entirely unaware of a child's capacity for repetition.
In a typical hide-and-seek session it is not unusual for my child to hide in the same place fifteen times. I've tried to explain it to her.
"Molly, the whole idea of hide-and-seek is to vary the places that you hide so I can't find you. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Mommy. You tell me a new place to hide and I'll hide there."
"Excellent. I'm glad I've gotten my point across."
Instead of hiding behind the bookcase, she'll hide in the new place I picked out. Upon finding her, she squeals in delight and shouts, "Do it again."
A while ago I made the mistake of carrying my daughter to her bath upside down. She is almost five years old and weighs forty pounds. I know it was in my power to say no and not carry her to the bath upside down ten times, but she is very persuasive.
"Just one more time, Mommy, I promise, this is the very last time. Really, it is. Mommy, just once. Really."
I hauled her upside down and proceeded to jog to the bathroom holding my forty-pound weight, reversed her, and placed her carefully down on the bathroom rug.
"OK, now it's time for your bath."
"Do it again, just one more time. I promise. This is the last time. Really, really, really."
And I would believe her, just like a first-time home builder being told by a general contractor, "I swear, I will not go over budget."
In our third hour of playing on the beach one day, my daughter actually got tired of building sand castles and knocking them down and we decided to go for a walk and look for seashells. This is harder than it sounds. I don't know where you live or if you've been to the beach lately, but there is a severe shortage of seashells. There are plenty of bottle caps, plastic forks, and the odd unmentionable decorating the sand, but the actual seashells have been disappearing faster than cashews out of a bowl of mixed nuts. I am such a people pleaser the thought occurred to me to sneak out after Molly was asleep, buy a few bags of shells, and scatter them around the beach during the night so our shell collecting would be more exciting the next day.
Just then, in the distance, I saw it: a complete shell. Not a fragment, but an untouched, sparkling beauty. I raced toward it to snatch it up before anyone else spotted it. It was my shell and I saw it first. I pulled it from the sand and stared at it intently. I ran my fingers over its smooth surface and thought, Am I able to pass this piece of Frisbee off to my daughter as a shell? Previously, I'd tried to pass string beans off to her as Martian spaghetti and that was a no-go, but what the heck, it was worth a try.
I turned around and Molly wasn't there. I turned the other way and scoured the beach. All I could see were adults ignoring the dangers of skin cancer. I'd concentrated so hard on trying to find a seashell for my daughter's enjoyment, I'd neglected to keep track of her whereabouts.
Horrible thoughts flooded my brain. She could swim but was no match for an angry ocean. What if someone had snatched my baby? The news was full of tales of the demented. I tried to keep calm, but couldn't. A panicked tone entered my voice.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from I Still Have It . . . I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It by Rita Rudner. Copyright © 2008 by Rita Rudner. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.