In the dream I am upstairs, standing in front of the linen closet, stacking the bars of soap. There are already 48 of them and it's just July. An idiot has sent me a gift from the Soap on a Rope catalogue: eight bars of bath soap per month for a year, 96 in all! Almond, ginger and oatmeal soaps. We're not sure whether to bathe with them or serve them for breakfast.

My wife yells up, "Honey, dinner's ready."

"I can't eat," I say. "I have to take another shower."

"That's your third today."

"Fourth, actually -- two more to go. I'm finally making a dent in this bar. Why would anybody make pralines-and-cream soap? Where did the guy work before he got this job, Baskin-Robbins? ... Look, make sure to send the kids up for their baths after dinner."

"They refuse to take another bath. Kids in school are teasing them because their fingers are always puckered. We don't have kids anymore, we have baby prunes. Michael's science homework was to use the word 'experiment' in a sentence. He wrote, 'I am part of a hydroponic experiment.' "

"Tell them this will stop soon. Tell them Daddy will soon have enough rope to hang the people who manufacture the Soap on a Rope catalogue."

Every day more and more catalogues arrive at my house. They are left on my stoop because they are too thick to fit inside the mail slot. For Christmas I'm not tipping my mailman, I'm giving him a truss.

I am new to the Catalogue Game, unlike my colleague Ronalie Peterson, who is legendary for getting EVERY CATALOGUE EVER MADE, an average of 20 a day this time of year! If there were a "Michael Milken in Jail" catalogue, Ronalie would have had it five minutes after sentencing. When I was young, nobody I knew shopped by catalogue. The only catalogue I ever heard of was the Spiegel catalogue, which they gave away on TV game shows. I know this sounds totally retro, but people in my neighborhood went to stores to buy their food and clothes. "Who shops by mail?" I asked my father. "Farmers," he assured me. Now, farmers are the only ones who don't shop by mail. If they're hungry and they want a pear, they'll go out and pick it off a tree. The rest of us dial an 800 number and wait for UPS. The good news is, the pears come exquisitely wrapped and gorgeous. The bad news is, they come in three weeks.

"Your pears are here, dear."

"Fine, set them next to the $90 orthopedic pet bed and the $175 nostalgic Air Force leather bomber jacket with the hand-painted map of the Hapsburg Empire in the lining."

Let me make my position on catalogues clear: If I am driving, and I see you walking down the street in L.L. Bean duck shoes, I'm going to try to run you over.

Enough is enough. How obscure and limited is our taste supposed to get?

Duncraft: gourmet birdseed catalogues. Gourmet birdseed! What, with little flecks of brie in it? This is what we need during a recession, birds that only eat Omaha steaks?

Almond Plaza: 36 pages of almonds. Okay, eight pages, even 14, but 36 pages of almonds? The Gettysburg Address is written on the back of an envelope, and we get 36 pages of almonds.

The Plow & Hearth: compost heaps for college grads. Here's something from this one: the Scoot-n-Do, a little green wagon you sit on while you do your gardening so you don't get grass stains on your catalogue jeans. (Also in here is the Squirrel Spinner: "train your squirrels to be acrobats." You put corn at the end of a wooden stake, the squirrels climb down for the corn and presumably spin around until they vomit. Great fun for the whole family.) Todd, who showed me the Scoot-n-Do, also told me about the Bug Sucker, a self-explanatory tube device used to rid yourself of household bugs neatly, without squashing them on your wallpaper.

Smith & Hawken: nature junk for the environmentally guilt-ridden, including an $85 "Sardinian Fire Tool," a long, steel, confusingly needless rod.

Mission Orchards (also, Harry and David): incredibly expensive fruit, like one pound of Medjool dates for $17.95! I've had less expensive dates that led to marriage.

The Cockpit: macho aviation fantasy wear for desk-bound chicken hawks.

Brownstone: serious clothes for female fogies of indeterminate age.

Hold Everything: empty boxes, all shapes, all sizes. Yuppie Tupperware.

Nothing doesn't come in a catalogue anymore. One man at work told me he has a catalogue devoted exclusively to Soviet military insignia -- apparently they're liquidating now that the Cold War is over. One woman said she'd just sent away for "The Robert Redford Catalogue," undoubtedly a time-share deal. Another woman told me she has inherited the catalogues of the people who previously owned her house, including a Lesbian Music catalogue and a politically correct children's game catalogue. "Who'd you buy the house from, Gertrude Stein?"

Soon we'll see a "Keating Five" catalogue that lets you order free, laundered money by discreetly calling the Senate Office Building, a "Trump Goes Bump" catalogue for slightly soiled Georgia peaches and used airplanes, and a "What's Shakin' on H Street" catalogue, where you can order huge new holes in the ground.

My smart friend Martha is partial to the Miles Kimball catalogue, where she once ordered the indispensable rotary nose hair clipper for a loved one, not to mention the personalized cocktail napkins with a picture of a back-yard swimming pool that say "A Sip and a Dip With the {family name}." These, Martha explains, are for "people who drown drunk in their pools," the Orange County A-list.

I notice I'm getting a classier kind of catalogue lately: Ever since I let my membership in Telly Savalas's Players Club lapse, they have stopped trying to sell me vinyl jackets and felt paintings. I kind of miss the catalogue that tries to sell brown, nuclear-winter sausage and quasi-edible "cheese food" in the shape of a log cabin. Hand to God, who buys that stuff, and whom do they send it to? Thankfully, I still get my Lillian Vernon catalogue, and, just like you, I search for that cute Lucite bunny with a cabbage face that I can monogram to use as either a key ring or a dinner plate, and of course I crinkle up my face and say, "Oooohhh, that's so pwecious, I want one."

I have come to view catalogues as the window to my soul. I'm the kind of guy who hopes for Victoria's Secret, and winds up with Lillian Vernon's.