The Frontgate Catalog Mocks Your Economic Pain

There is another crass, capitalist catalog out there, beyond the well-known horrors of four-figure Williams Sonoma hen houses. There is another. There is…Frontgate.

Unlike Williams Sonoma, as was so masterfully described earlier this month at Deadspin, Frontgate caters to the wealthy person who does not have pretensions of living in a rustic French estate. No, Frontgate caters to a different sort of market: that particular sector of fabulously wealthy men that still harbor pleasant memories of watching Tom Hanks run around F.A.O Schwartz in “Big.”

It is unfortunate that Williams Sonoma and Frontgate allow these catalogs to be disseminated so widely. Viewed through a certain lens, these are documents that could incite a potential class-based riot like no other: Let Them Eat Cake, or Let Them Buy Comical Novelty Pool Tables For More Than A Fast Food Workers Annual Income.

When the time comes, when we find the bodies of investment bankers in rivers, they will have pages from the Frontgate catalog stuffed into their mouths. And we will know that it has begun. 

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Provides an easy way to identify who will be First Up Against The Wall. You know, that “financially minded” man. The one whose Hair Was Perfect.

If you see a man wearing these cufflinks, who is also drinking a pina colada and has perfect hair, he is probably a werewolf. 

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In case you were wondering if your current vastly reduced financial circumstances aren’t all Just A Game to a certain subset of the population, allow the Frontgate catalog to remove all doubt.

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For the man who has everything, but desperately wishes he could play a rousing game of pool inside of a lovingly dismembered 1965 Shelby Gt — for considerably more than what I suspect an actual Shelby GT cost back in the 1960s. Presumably can also be used as a staging-ground for a rousing round of cocaine-off-the-rump of a Ukrainian prostitute.

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Frontgate caters to the type of captain of industry that cherishes his quotidian memories of playing primitive video games “at the Pizza Parlor,” years and years before he made all that money, before the game he played began to play him back, back when the world seemed limitless and kind. I like to imagine the buyer of this game playing it alone after he gets back at 10:00 PM from the office, a tumbler of whiskey in one hand. The music plays the same as it ever did, and he jerk the levers. But the joy is not there. The joy has gone forever.

This is probably wishful thinking on my part.

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An elegant addition to your home movie theater and arcade emporium, at least if you’re a 12 year old super genius Internet magnate.

If you purchase this item and are not a 12 year old super genius Internet magnate, you may consider re-evaluating your life.

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Standard fooz-ball tables are for the weak, the takers, the miserable shreds of humanity that make eye contact with you when you decide to slum it at Target. The activity must be elevated. The activity must cost at least $20,000. (Addendum: I believe you could virtually buy something like this in “The Sims.” Which was very exciting when I was actually 12).

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Storing your cash with your iPhone in a flashy case (con mirror!) is something that would only ever occur to a human with absolutely no expectation of getting mugged.

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I remember seeing these in catalogs when I was seven and wondering if 1. people actually had “home movie theaters” and 2. if people actually bothered to buy these expensive popcorn machines. I grew up and encountered a couple homes where people actually did have these things, which were never used and often pressed into service as impromptu shelves for clothes. I am led to believe the only people who have ever actually used these popcorn makers in history are The Help.

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A resting spot for your imported Norwegian Wifflehound, or convenient housing for unpaid interns — it’s your choice!

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It’s actually difficult to write a humorous caption for an advert for a $10,000 custom Santa Claus doll. One contemplates the spirit of giving that both Christmas and Santa exemplify – how much are these workers churning out Santa Claus dolls that cost as much as a used car getting paid, anyway? One thing is clear: This is why they hate us. Specifically, this. 

Expat Guide: Terrified PHD Candidate

This species of expatriate found Asia much more pleasant when it was theoretical, nicely ensconced on a glossy page inside of an Ivy-covered library, perhaps. The study trip he went on sophomore year was guided by professors and everyone they met was pleasing and English speaking, and someone ordered his noodles for him.

Why not go live in Southeast Asia and study the ancient art of Angkor-era stone carving? he thought. It’ll be a real adventure. I’ll become one with the people.

He would write a book to join the others on the shelves of that ivy-covered library. He would have a little Somerset Maugham moment. It would be romantic.

He was not prepared.


Expat Field Guide: Australian Yobbos

Australian Yobbos are found wherever there is a beach and cheap beer, although more adventurous (or clueless) members of the species can sometimes be seen staring blankly at maps in remote villages in Laos.

Incomprehensible accents only grow so more so after considerable application of cheap, slightly stale beer. Communicate with sign language.

Their spawning ground is Bali’s Kuta Beach, although they also occur in considerable numbers on various Thai islands and in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville. Mostly harmless, although should be treated with suspicion if it’s after 11:00 PM and Bobby has broken out some tabs of LSD. Handle carefully — the species suffers from some form of eternal sunburn.


Expat Field Guide: Sinister American Contractors on Leave

Lest all my foreign friends think I’m singling them out for special abuse….here’s Sinister Middle Aged American Contractor On Leave.

This species is usually found hanging around in inexpensive bars, and tends to emerge from its den as early as 10:30 AM to prevent an attack of the shakes. Often has a wife at home, whose existence will be carefully concealed from you, especially if you’re a female under the age of 40. Would really like to share his PTSD with you, regardless of your opinion on the matter.

Here’s another subspecies of Sinister Middle Aged American Guy:


The Anthropological Oddities of Christmas Tree Shopping


I’ve been living in countries that are not America, where they have Holiday Traditions I remember reading about in picture books in fifth grade. In the places I have been recently, holidays involve things like throwing rice to your dead extended families, Easter processions that visit eight different chapels, and a Balinese day of silence where Australian tourists are occasionally pounded for un-reverently drinking Fosters.

All this seemed awfully odd until I came back to the US for graduate school and, for the first time in three years, went to purchase a Christmas tree with my family.

I got to the lot where I’ve been going since 2001 one evening in December right before the rush but after the enthusiastic day-after-Thanksgiving crowd. The lot that we go to is staffed entirely by solid-looking Oregonian man in plaid shirts and their teenage sons.We had put on entirely too warm clothes for the 50 degree weather, to get ourselves in the right sort of mood. We began the inspection.

I examined the trees and I imagined explaining this Christmas tree business to a hypothetical Cambodian person, preferably someone who had not been over-burdened with elementary school picture books about strange lands that are far away.

“Well, you see, these strange men drive here from far away with a large truck full of trees. I mean, live trees, they’re not cut into logs or anything. They’re not for ornamental tables, or export. Really.”

Christmas in Cambodia.
Christmas in Cambodia.

The Cambodian person would take a sip from their Angkor beer and raise their eyebrows at me, delicately.

The trees at our California Christmas tree lot are stood up in a grid of straight lines, lit by twinkling white lights. We are shopping for a forest plant for our home, and this is considered perfectly normal.

“We’re having a great deal on silver tips,” the Oregonian lumberjack notes somewhere behind us as we wander, assuming we are well-versed in tree jargon. Americans know their ornamental trees, and the varieties that they come in, it is assumed. We are all life-long experts on decorative tree selection. We all remember that scene from “A Christmas Story.”

“Well, then the whole family drives out to the tree lot and….no, it’s not a mall, it’s just sort of a yard. Usually behind a taco place. Yes, it’s cold. And then the family walks around and examines all the trees with great interest,” I’d say.

As a small child, I had taken extreme interest in selecting a tree, for reasons that are gauzy and obscure to me now. Mostly I was concerned with obtaining the biggest possible tree that would fit in our house, because it would be cool and also because, in the finest Calvin and Hobbes tradition, it would be then possible to fit that many more presents underneath it.


Privileged American children tend to assume a direct correlation between the length of a tree trunk and the quantity of Christmas presents they will obtain. In a direct commentary on our society, they are generally never proven wrong.

“I like him,” my dad says, pointing to a fluffy tree that is exactly identical to all the other trees to me. He is very big on gendering inanimate objects, although I’m fairly sure only the trees know for sure.“It’s all symmetrical, and it’s the right height.”

My formerly finely tuned ability to determine which tree is superior left me years ago, when I realized that the correlation between tree trunks and presents was negligible, when I reached the age when all the presents I ever seemed to want arrived in an envelope and were in the form of cold, hard cash.

“It’s a nice tree,” I say, gazing upon the piney object. “It does all the…tree stuff.” The somewhat chilly California air is scented with pine needles, and the faint smell of cooking tacos from next door. I am standing there and trying to focus on assessing the tree, but I am internally still explaining this entire affair to the metaphorical Cambodian In My Head.

“It actually isn’t really that simple a process, selecting this tree. The whole family generally argues over it. It’s especially concerning for children. I mean, you want to get the best one. They cost $99 after all. Yes, $99. Yes, that’d likely buy a lot of Christmas presents but that isn’t really something people contemplate.” 

We wander down the aisles to the other side of the lot, to inspect the Silver Tips. I think they look rather lovely, sort of like a pine tree I recall seeing on a mountain in Vietnam, another place where they don’t have Christmas tree lots. I imagine buying the tree and hanging it with tasteful regional ornaments that I’ve accumulated over the years from many foreign lands that frown upon murdering and then decorating trees.

“I don’t really like it,” my dad says. “They don’t really do that twinkling thing well.”

“It’s an artsy kind of tree,” I say, in a half-hearted sort of argument.

My mother agrees. “It’s a very contemporary sort of tree.”

Dad humphs. Nostalgia wins out. There will be no contemporary trees this year. Preferably none of the years, unless I somehow find myself in a contemporary white home in the shape of a shoebox on the hills of Los Angeles, in which case I will do whatever I want. The mission continues.

rock bar tree

“No, you don’t keep it for next year, that’s considered pretty gauche,” I explain to my my Metaphorical Cambodian. “You have to throw it out, at least by New Years Day. The homeowners association might call. The homeowners association? It’s well..we should stay on topic.”

Throwing out the tree always caused me considerable emotional pain post-Christmas, at least when I was a small child. The tree was symbolic of a day of the year when I got a lot of presents and was allowed to stay home from school for untold weeks. The tree was a magical reminder of the Happiest Time of The Year for everyone ever subjected to elementary school, and as long as the talisman lasted, so too did the holiday. The object was to avoid Letting Go of Christmas. When the Boy Scouts came to haul it out, your freedom went with it.

Furthermore — rather like my father and the genders of trees— I was prone to the wildest kind of anthropomorphizing, ascribing unique personalities to objects from staplers to CD drives to my computer. I felt sorry for them, secretly, wondered about their hopes and dreams and aspirations.

The tree, in line with the pagan notions that likely gave the tradition birth in early Western history, had taken on significant pagan meaning to my seven year old psyche, which was at the time willing to be convinced that a black dish towel was a potentially living, feeling, life companion. I was raised godlessly, but I definitely worshipped the Christmas tree.

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I suspect many people under the age of ten would happily join that Christmas Tree cult, that pagan sector that would occasionally make sacrifices of cookies and water and particularly auspicious ornaments to the Vegetable God.

Sometimes I saved the pine tree needles after the tree had been discarded, and would sniff them until they lost their scent, out of a combination of both sentimentality and the vague feeling that they were some sort of magical, mildly consumerist talisman of good elementary-school fortune. The tree’s remnants, to me, were something like the bejeweled relics of Saints viewable at the Vatican.

“Well, once you get the tree into the house, you decorate it. You know, sort of like a Chinese New Years tree, but without the firecrackers. Yes, it’s not nearly as fun. It’s more…glass balls, and dead-eyed teddy bear ornaments that family friends who don’t know you too well give you but you feel obliged to keep, and also random stale candy that everyone regrets eating immediately after they pick it off the tree.”

We come back to a tree again, the first one we saw. Dad regards it with serious, intellectual interest. “Which one?” he asks. “You should break the tie.”

“It’s a nice tree!” I say, over enthusiastically. “We need this one.”

“But it’s got a gap in it.”

“That one in the back then!” I say, mildly tensely. It’s cold outside and I am weak. The tree is a tree, the presents will fit.

We get the tree inside the house, after it has sat outside overnight and accumulated an unhealthy quantity of water. We press on, anyway — as I make myself scarce, eager to avoid the annual You’re Holding Your Hands Wrong eternal parental debate. The tree is set up, and a bonnet is placed around it.

The ornament boxes come out, smelling slightly sweet as they always have — the nostalgia of elderly plush plastic reindeer and Korean ornaments my mom accumulated from her childhood in Seoul, the glass ornaments that dwindle in population every year as we break them.

christmas tree rieder


There’s the wicker Christmas scorpion I acquired somewhere and always move to the back. The tree is living scrapbook, an annual antiques show. It comes together, tacky and rainbow-lit and impressive, and I am proud of it. I hope our annual visitors will look at it closely, and wonder.

“We put the ornaments on the tree, and then we put lights on it. Yes, electrical lights. It adds to the energy bill, but everyone in the family issues dire warnings about turning it off when you leave the house because otherwise we’ll all burn to death. Which happens sometimes. We start putting presents around the tree, that we’ve wrapped in paper so the recipient is forced to merely guess at the contents for weeks on end. We think it’s more fun that way. Then we keep the tree up for a good month or so.”

Anyway, the tree itself is not the point.

Freshman year sociology classes have taught me that well enough: it’s the entire notion of the ownership of the tree, of bringing some curious, pre-Roman religious ritual into your home. The tree is a symbol of regeneration, of the eventual triumph of human ingenuity, electricity, and convenient Taco Bell emporiums over the forces of darkness and snow and want.

harpers christmas tree

We are not far off from the tree worshippers of old, or the actors in the medieval mystery plays of old, who venerated the Tree of Paradise. Our mighty ancestors who painted themselves blue and shouted at invaders would probably have been proud. The tree stays and will stay in my Christmases to come, artsy silver oak or natural fir aside. I will not truck with plastic versions of same, that are collapsible and come in a handy duffel sack.

I want the real thing, sawed from the earth and covered in sap and likely harboring insects. I want to continue my pagan tree worship into adulthood.

“What do we do when Christmas is over? We take down the decorations and put them away, and it’s usually poorly organized and no one remembers where you put your favorite ornament, so sometimes they just sort of re-appear at random from year to year. And then, these Boy Scouts come and haul it away. Yes, little boys in outfits come to your house and take them to a chipper and…I think they make mulch for your lawn.”

I imagine the Cambodian person mulling the idea over. And sipping their beer again.

Over the Hill

It’s easy to forget at Stanford that Half Moon Bay, and by proxy, all this nonsense, is literally a little jaunt over the hill. Like forty minutes in Sunday traffic.

These are all from the very scenic Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which is known for tidepools and beautiful stands of cedar trees planted by a now-defunct hotel owner. I need to come back at low tide.
sea cliffs through the trees

A real enchanted forest feeling here, owing to the unnaturally straight rows of trees.

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Details, details. more on the sea

This almost has a Hopper-esque feel to me. Probably the contrasting colors.

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Evidence to the court vis a vis Best Coast. The opposition has…what, Jersey?