Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Excerpt: 'I Still Have It'

I Still Have It Book Cover

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 in¿ated.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 ¿icked 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.

Excerpted from I Still Have It . . . I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It by Rita Rudner. Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Rita Rudner