It seemed innocent enough to begin with. But what doesn't?

Several years ago, she ordered something from a Friend's Christmas catalog. A-22B was a modest purchase, a calendar for $5.95 plus postage and handling.

How was she to know, I ask you, where it would all end?

At the time she had no idea that she was a marked woman, signed, sealed and zip-coded to the big catalog computer in the sky.

The first year went along uneventfully. The Christmas Catalogs that arrived were few and far between. She leafed through them casually, ordering a present here, an indulgence there.

She barely noticed a certain quickening of her heart when the catalogs arrived. Was she beginning to read catalogs instead of novels? Was there some odd thrill in putting the number, size and color along with her credit-card numerals into the self-sealing envelope? Not to worry. She was, after all, shopping at home. Safe and sound.

The next year, a dozen Christmas catalogs appeared in her mailbox, carrying the postage marks of faraway places: Texas, California, Oregan, Maine.

Did she get carried away? Not really. It's true that the fruit-of-the-month she sent her friends turned out to be two-dozen persimmons. But that worked out. They made them into a coffee table.

Some of those who loved her began to compare stories about exotic gifts -- the 45 pounds of thistle seeds, the gold-plated stitchery scissors and thimble with an Egyptian flavor, No. 4229F. But they let it all pass.

We are often slow to pick up on these things. Who had ever heard of the Catalog Crazies last year? Who knew a Mail-Order Junkie?

When her family began to see the stack of catalogs in the living room, she swore that she had it all under control. She was just a social cataloger.

Then the catalogs started coming in fast and furiously. They arrived earlier and by the dozens. One day it was Horchow and the next day Gumps. Come Saks, come Trifles, on Paragon and Duncroft.

By Halloween, they had her in their clutches. She showed all the symptoms of being truly hooked.

The woman spent her mornings sorting catalogs into categories. There were woodsy ones featuring the down of a million ducks; chic ones that shipped only to third-generation New Yorker subscribers; sleek ones with color-coded goods, photographed exclusively in primary colors; gadget ones full of left-handed nail scissors and 10-inch bacon tweezers.

She spent her afternoons separating the mail-order houses that would initial anything wool from those that would coat anything chocolate.

By Thanksgiving, her entire dining room was covered with things like Belgian chocolate golf clubs and alphabetically arranged Fair Isle sweaters. bAnd still it wasn't enough. She bought nautical weather instruments (No. 3511; $115 plus postage) for her boat. She didn't have a boat. She sent for Danish-red ice-cube trays. She had an automatic ice maker. She ordered aluminum pie weights. She didn't bake pies. She sprung for a Beta II videocassette of "High Noon"; she had no Beta Max.

They started being delivered by the droves: 18 pounds of jelly beans for $75. A decanter dryer that would absorb excess water overnight for $10. A suckling pig for $95.45.

Still she might never have found out. Who, after all, caught the woman who ordered the entire array of 271 tartan ties from the Scottish catalog? But it was the Neiman-Marcus catalog that did her in. On one fateful Monday she ordered the item: AC214-573-5780.

When two $1,500 ostriches arrived, the woman's family woke up. They couldn't keep their heads in the sand any longer. The Mail-Order Junkie had made a cry for help.

Indeed, the last two words the poor victim muttered as they led here into the waiting van will go down in the medical annals of the Catalog Craziness: "J-265 . . . D-14, size 10 blue rug . . . postage plus handling . . . postage plus handling. . ."