Back before “Seinfeld” made it a house-hold name, I was a total sucker for the J. Peterman catalogue. I would read those pages like I would read a book, imagining trips to Tangiers, Australian cowboys, Hemingway’s cufflinks, that kind of thing. I was in seventh grade then.
Now, I think back on that catalogue and I think about the people that slaved away in their cubicles writing it. Probably people exactly like me: writers just untalented or unmotivated or unlucky enough not to break out of a day job comprised of corporate shilling. Our breed is ubiquitous.
My fascination with—and compassion for—the monkeys behind Imaginary Adventures of One, Mr. J. Peterman, reminds me of the fascination with which today I pore over the product descriptions by the writer for the American Science and Surplus catalog. His days are filled writing 100-word blurbs for things like little pill bottles, extra-leverage pliers, 1,000 pens, batteries, and belt drive motors. And he’s good at it. So good, in fact, that his 100-word blubs make for the ultimate in toilet reading (in the catalog’s hard copy version, of course).
This man takes the product description and elevates it to the level of…personality. For example, this small masterpiece:
“Flat Glass Bottles: Well, not flat flat, or they wouldn’t hold anything at all, right? These are flattened: 4-1/8” tall x 1-3/8” thick x 3-1/2” wide clear glass bottles with double lips and 7/16” ID mouths. They’ll take a #4 cork or #00 rubber stopper. We suspect they might have started life in a parfumery, but they’d make equally nice cruets. Or hold very, very small tall ships.”
I imagine him in a huge warehouse, toiling away at an Army-green office desk, the only desk in the building. A single fluorescent desk lamp shines on his computer. He has bad posture and possible issues with nose hair. The keyboard makes sounds that echo, I think.