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That Dreaded Catalogue

Posted by Elisa Taub
That Dreaded Catalogue

by Kristin O'Keefe

Some people eagerly await the arrival of their mail - the old fashioned mail, delivered through the front door slot or tucked in your mailbox. Take my kids, for example. They love the free address labels that come with the five solicitations a day, their monthly nature magazine, and the occasional birthday party invite. As for me, it's more stuff to sort through, frankly. And while the junk mail and bills are bad enough, there's one item that truly drives me to distraction... the dreaded catalogue.

You know the one. Pure perfection oozes from every page. Take, for example, the catalogue couch: plush, lush, velvety, and thoroughly sinkable. Chaises, lounges, sectionals... Colors like paprika, cranberry and pewter. But most of all, most infuriating, is the state of these couches. They are, in one word ...unblemished.

Contrast the spotless, tear-free paprika lounge to my stuffed green monster (meaning no disrespect to Boston's beloved wall of the same name). My couch is eight years old now, hunter green twill, purchased pre-children (oh foolish girl, to turn down the stain guard). It has met a move, a dog, and two toddlers - and it has lost. It is, in a word, blemished.

My couch had a lovely beginning - six months of relative calm in my cozy apartment. It's downward spiral started with a home purchase. My husband (then fiancé) insisted we could move everything, in one morning, using a hatchback, a friend, and the friend's borrowed pickup. As one might guess, the couch and pick-up did not see eye to eye, resulting in a rip along the back left corner.

That was the start of a downward spiral. Multiple stains of unknown origin followed, as well as a generous sprinkling of black dog hair. And, unlike those in the perfect catalogue, my couch is flanked not by tasteful black and white photos, but by matchbox cars, hula hoops, tiny dolls and the like. It's visible from every angle, and every angle is flawed.

Then there's the underbelly of dear couch -- protector of half chewed bones that slid from our dog's happy frantic paws to the depths of couch hell. (The couch is bad enough; don't ask about the hardwood floors). Pieces of hunter green fabric hang pathetically, shredded beyond repair, though they do camouflage an amazing array of matchbox cars. I have tried to cut off pieces, even safety pinned them, but still they hang. Note to self - next couch will go straight to floor - I have found far too many raisins down there for anyone's comfort.

I've tried to disguise it. The discounted slipcover seemed the perfect solution, until I realized it had to be adjusted six times a day, and gave up. The rip is now cleverly camouflaged by a tasteful chenille throw, when that is not being used to make a tent over the dining room chairs, or a cape, or a raft in the kitchen/ocean. The worst stain was cleverly covered first by a spit-up cloth and later a doily, but neither really "went" if you know what I mean.

The "glass half-full" optimists might suggest that my couch is really a tribute to family, to childhood, embodying countless sippy cup spills (you know, when the little plastic thing comes out), happy, slobbery kisses from the dog, the magic marker swipes that suggest the budding artist one of my babies is sure to become. Some might say mine is the perfect couch, emblematic of all the wonderful messiness that is childhood.

Or, one might instead echo my best friend, who's known me since age two and can say these things: "Big mistake, this one. Next time go with a pattern - the stains blend in much better. I bet even the rip would show up less."

She's right of course. So today's life lesson: plaids trump hunter green twill - even if they are not prominently featured in those perfect catalogues (though, as you might have noticed, neither are actual PEOPLE...)

Kristin O'Keefe lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland and is the mother of a very busy (no, make that "extremely" busy) five year old and two year old. She works part-time as a speech writer for the president of a local college, and has lately taken to free-lance writing (usually when she can't sleep at 2:00 a.m.). Her work has appeared in education publications and the Washimgton Post.