I opened the mailbox the other day and there was a catalog inside.

Not that thatís surprising. People are always sending me little leaflet catalogs, or cheaply printed ones that feel like a loose conglomeration of badly fitted, folded and ragged-cut pages. Little dinky things.

First of all, let me mention that I prefer mailboxes at the road. Post office boxes annoy the bejeezus out of me. Iím lucky to live in a place where I can get residential delivery, because I donít like post office boxes. I donít want to have to make a special trip to get the electricity bill, itís bothersome enough to get the bill itself. Then I have to worry if I have the key, and if Iím in a hurry, I just know Iíll run into somebody that wants to talk, and if I got all the time in the world I look up and down the rows and rows and rows of tarnished brass post office boxes and there isnít a soul I know around to chew the rag with. Yessir, give me at-the-road mailboxes any day.

But I got a real catalog the other day. It wasnít printed on newsprint (newspapers are the only things that should be printed on newsprint, period), it was nicely bound and it was full-color. I went inside, kicked off my shoes, popped the top off a cold one and leafed through it, page by page.

The Internet may be a wonder, an amazement, all that, but it canít beat a good paper catalog. Just like reading an online text canít compare to a good, real book. Under a warm lamplight, leafing through, you pick it up closer to your eyes when something interests you. I forgot how nice a good catalog is. Much more fun than clicking around Amazon or Ebay or the like. You can fold it in half down the spine and hold it up to the light. You can dog-ear the corners to mark a spot. The glare gets you in some places and you have to shift it around.

Reminds me of the old Christmas Wish Book that Sears used to put out. Gosh, how I looked forward to that. Iíd spend hours and hours with it, but you know, I donít ever remember regretting getting one thing and not another. Maybe I was taught to appreciate what I got, I donít know. I donít remember ever going back to the Wish Book after Christmas and longing for something else.

Whatever happened to things like that? What about magazines that taught you how to do something, other than play video games? You know, publications like Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Mechanics. Seems today like not only are kids afraid to try to do something, their parents are afraid to let them try to do something, and the parents themselves are afraid to do anything without taking a socially-accepted, government-approved accredited course teaching them how to do it. If they try, and mess it up, they have to go to therapy to deal with it.

No wonder kids turn into folks who are afraid of their own shadows, and the kids that werenít turn into thugs who prey on those that are. A cop in Tennessee pulls over a driver for tailgating (this is a true story) and is presented a valid Wisconsin driverís license. He asked if the driver is a U.S. citizen, and the driver refuses to respond. The officer calls immigration, the driver is arrested and deported. The cop is called to task for asking the question "Are you a U.S. Citizen?" because he is not an empowered federal officer with the rights to ask that question and theyíre calling it a civil rights violation.

Are you kidding me?

Thereís a good way of life dying in America. A way of life that used to be the envy of the world. Now weíre trapped by a government that allows energy speculators and big oil companies to rape you and me without lifting a finger to stop them. Now weíre in a society where someone canít look at a catalog and dream without coveting. I can look at a fine fly rod and reel in a catalog and in the mindís eye see the splashing fit of a sizeable bass bending the rod into a question-mark shape. The next guy will go steal a fly rod because he has no imagination to sustain his greed.

But about catalogs. I used to send off for catalogs from the backs of magazines and the arrival of each one was like a mini-Christmas all in itself. L.L. Bean, Orvis, Landís EndÖthose were catalogs you could sink your teeth into. Thatís catalogs you can wrap your imagination around, not a video game that only wears out your thumbs.

Because a catalog is like Robert Louis Stevenson or Jack London. You can wrap your imagination around White Fang and Treasure Island. A boy can become a castaway or a pirate, wander desert isles or Yukon wilderness. A good catalog is almost as fulfilling. Canoes in Beanís rush down rapids, sit tranquil on lake stillwaters. High-topped upland boots laced nearly to the knee conjure coveys erupting in heart-stopping flutter, fine bird dogs on point.

Doesnít matter what it is youíre looking at, what kind of catalog you get. It might be garden plants blooming in full splendor; elegant clothing to dance the night away, or some add-on to a fine muscle car.

Itís not so much about the wanting as it is the imagining.