Sunday, May 01, 2005

Cataloguing the Inside

Well, my blog is grinding to a halt, but I assure the world it's temporary. Hannah has her law exams and I am confined to quarters, ordering books from ebay and quickly reading them as they arrive. Yesterday I read a 1930's novel by George Milburn, Catalgoue. I was attracted to Mr Milburn for two reasons, firstly, he was mentioned as an interesting guy in the life of Jim Thompson, and secondly, he wrote about one of my favored subjects, hoboes, in the luridly titled Hoboes and Harlots.

This novel is interesting, it is the life of a small town with the binding thread being the mail order catalogues for Montgomery Ward (Monkey Ward as they were nicknamed) and Sears Roebuck (Sears Sawbuck). The novel contains genuine entries from the 1930s catalogues, and the detail from these throws up interesting perspectives. For instance, the sizes for the pimptastic "sizzle pants" run from 28 to 36 inches for men. Obviously not too many fatties around in those days.

HERE'S A SIZZLING STYLE

They're a WOW! No fooling! these pants have "IT!" They're really trousers and semi-vest combined and are they stylish? Say! they were born in Hollywood and in two weeks they had spread like a conflagration all the way to Fifth Avenue! The double-breasted vest effect is what they're all raving about. Vest is a part of the waistband! Fancy buttoned sidepockets, adjustable strap in back, and 22-inch cuff bottoms carry out the stylish scheme. All wool and silk in a rich brown stripe. Sizes 28 to 36 in. waist and 28 to 34 in. inseam. State measurements

45F8575 ......... $3.65

The details of the plot are really quite intricate, the characters archetypal, the fat banker, the merry widow, the nerdish postmaster, the racist with the ridiculous name, C R Butts, the hypocritical newspaperman, his son who compiles lists and dreams his way through the catalogues. On the way there is small-town political intrigue, conflict with parents, racial tensions, rivalries for love, a murder, a witch-hunt, a bonfire of mail order catalogues, and finally, a huge run on postcard requests for replacement catalogues suggests the cycle is about to begin again. The novelty is how the items bought from the catalogue populate the plot, the bicycle bought without parental consent, the rosebud-studded pantyhose that a father confiscates and uses as an oilrag (with doubly fatal consequences), the unjustly accused and lynched black man, Sylvester, hung with his own Sears clothes line, etc.

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