Monk: Mark Czerniec in Slanket, with Heat Surge electric heater

The Great Recession and its effect on our household budget have started producing some bizarre yearnings in me — especially when combined with the influence of our TV set.

This began with a video that arrived here from Netflix. I don’t know how it got added to our queue. We generally run about a year behind our additions, so by the time a DVD shows up here, we have no idea who recommended it or why.

This one was a 2004 documentary called Into Great Silence, a 162-minute chronicle of daily life at the Grande Chartreuse monastery located north of Grenoble in the the Chartreuse Mountains of southeastern France.

The Carthusian monks who live there take a vow of silence, so there’s not a lot of dialogue in the film. Much of the soundtrack consists of the sounds of melted snow dripping, or the shallow breathing of old men.

Furthermore, when the monks are not occupied by vigorous activities like hand-planing wooden items or hand-sewing their habits or reading crumbling books, they are often in solitary prayer. Sometimes there is so little sound or light or motion in the movie that you wonder whether the DVD player is broken or the monk has gone to heaven. But then a distant bell calls him to group prayer or a meal, and the old brother creaks to a semi-upright stance and shuffles off.

Anyway, this movie got great reviews, and if Steve Dahl were my Netflix friend, I would definitely recommend it to him. I don’t want to say too much here that would spoil it for those who have not seen it yet. Just permit me two enticing words: Monk snowboarding.

Given our new financial picture, there were aspects of the film that were relatable and even appealing.

I could so do that, I thought to myself. We have snow. We have some gardening buried beneath the snow. I could go out there in my long, brown habit and improper footwear and poke at things with rusted poles. I could eat bland boiled tubers from a tin plate and wash them down with cloudy water or weak tea. I could squint in the twilight and try to thread a dull needle with coarse thread. It would be relaxing not to talk for days at a stretch, and God knows I love me some extended Bible reading.

The ghosts of these notions were still in my head when I saw a Snuggie™ commercial for the first time.

I had noticed some Internet ridicule of a “blanket with sleeves,” but I had no idea what is was about. Now, suddenly, here on my TV, the manifest concept of a big and roomy synthetic fleece gown was unfolding and inviting me in. Snuggies!

Plus, aside from being smart-looking and comfortable, these Snuggies blankets would probably allow me to turn our thermostat down to about 40° F. or so. Why, the heating bill reduction would be so substantial that I might not need an income at all. I could devote myself to textual criticism from dawn to dusk, then grab a humble hunk of bread and a cup of tea before snoring great clouds of vapor into my room’s chilly air.

The flaw in this vision, however, was that the Snuggie only comes in three colors. How could I possibly pursue severe self-denial dressed in burgundy, royal blue, or sage? No — if I’m going to painstakingly repair my own shoes, then I’m going to do it in Capuchin brown or nothing.

Miraculously, when I Twittered this into the void, an answer came back to me from Matt Dahl, who suggested the Slanket®. I had never heard of the Slanket, but it seems very similar to the Snuggie and comes in much wider variety of colors — including chocolate, which is close enough for Gregorian chant. Okay, so it’s twice the price, but the bigger outlay is going to force me to be that much more frugal once it arrives.

They even show a guy wearing it on a leather sofa. I actually bought our leather sofa thinking that it would somehow beguile young area women into removing their clothing and posing on it. As it turns out, that hasn’t ever actually happened, but now I will be able to use the sofa instead as my monastic reclining spot, a place to kick back and just savor the last hour of daylight after cracking the hard nut of an argument by Augustine or an allegory from Dōgen Zenji.

Perhaps a few sunflower seeds would not be too extravagant.

This morning, while practicing my abstemiousness on a very modest plate of Christmas cookies, I was visited by the ultimate epiphany.

I was watching the Rose Parade on The Travel Channel (I know; I wanted to have the cable disconnected today, but it’s a holiday), and during a break there was a commercial for an amazing contraption whose cabinetry is hand-crafted by moral, trustworthy Amish workers — and then, into this, is stuck an electric fake fireplace from China.

I realize, poor reader, that you must think austerity has driven me to hallucination, but I swear this is all true.

This electric heater is known as a Heat Surge™, and while this clip is not the very same commercial I saw, it is for the same product:

Hear that uplifting score? Feel how solid the top of that Amish custom-built mantle is? Picture the Amish community coming together to build these?

Want a tissue?

If I can concentrate on ancient texts when I’m freezing my keister off underneath a lousy Slanket™, just think how much more focus and dedication I could muster next to a warm and toasty simulated fire.

And, as the commercial I saw pointed out, “Everybody loves saving money on heating bills.” We could plug a couple of these 1,500-watt Heat Surges into the wall and start saving right away. Except for the electricity use, that’s almost like being off the grid. I wonder whether we could put our 80,000 BTU heating system on eBay and just use a couple of these 5,110 BTU wonders instead.

I say “a couple” instead of “sixteen” because, as the commercial states, the Amish are “imposing a strict limit” of two free units per customer.

I say “free” because, see, you’re only paying $298-$348 for the handmade Amish fireplace mantle. The Heat Surge Miracle Heater itself is being given away free.

That’s why there has to be a strict limit.

Strict … limit … Amish … saving — all of this could not come at a better time.

Our economy has cratered. I’m trying to downsize my lifestyle into a smaller sandalprint, if you will. Many people are looking to the Amish as the new American model of self-sustaining sufficiency.

And so what do the Amish do? They step up to the plate with hand-crafted quality — and they throw in the Yiwu Andong Electrical Appliances Co. heater for no additional charge!

Thank God they also take credit cards.

Update, 1/8/2009:

There was a very interesting story yesterday on All Things Considered explaining that hard times are actually good times for infomercials, both because fewer companies are advertising on TV, which allows the infomercial “bottom-feeders” to buy into better time slots — and because customers who are feeling economic pain seek cheap emotional pick-me-ups.

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