Wartime Therapy

According to the National Retail Federation, despite the war with the Iraq, March retail sales (which include catalog) rose 2.2%.

You can thank me later.

You see, I’ve been on quite the spending spree. Via catalog and the Internet I bought sheets and clothes from J.C. Penney, a swimsuit from Newport News, shoes and games from Pearl River, men’s shirts from Lands’ End, beauty items from CCB-Paris, cleaning products I’m highly unlikely to use from The Clean Report, candles from Red Envelope, books from Amazon.com…

Maybe that doesn’t seem like much to you. But according to my family, many of my friends, and my managing editor, I’m a tightwad. (I prefer to think of myself as fiscally conservative.)

I can tell you what triggered my uncharacteristic urge to spend: the war with Iraq. The cable stations, the newspapers, and the Internet have been clotted with reports on the war. Pile the steady stream of tragedy and the vague threats of retalitory terrorism atop the grimness of the economy, and it’s enough to drive even a cheapskate — I mean, frugal spender — like me to escape into the serene pages of the nearest catalog. And if my credit card happens to be at hand, well, why not order those pretty black slippers with the Chinese embroidery for a quick pick-me-up?

The smartest, and I’d guess the most successful, catalogs this season are subtly capitalizing on consumers’ urge to consume away their woes by designing covers that are pure escapism. Case in point: the spring edition of “reading tools” catalog Levenger. The cover is an Easter basket of baby blues and bright yellows, far different from its usual serious browns. Or take the cover of one of Lands’ End’s overstocks catalogs: a closeup of a single white-and-yellow daisy against an ideal blue sky.

By now, those nearest and dearest to me may be wondering if they should call a doctor about the sudden change in my personal habits. But I should mention that in several cases, it took the promise of free shipping or discounts on certain items or purchases of a certain size. For nearly 40 years I’ve done my damnedest to avoid paying full price. Even the strife of the past several months can’t alter that.

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