It's that time of year when the mailbox is chock full of retail catalogs attempting to sell, sell, sell and one begins to wonder how the Postal Service could possibly be $15 billion in the red with all this glossy paper crisscrossing the country and landing on my countertop. There's a Land's End here and a Signals there, here an LLBean, there a Grandinroad, and then, there's the grand-daddy of them all, billed as "America's Longest Running Catalog," Hammacher Schlemmer, "offering the Best, the Only and the Unexpected for 164 years" (according to the cover) -- or, as it's known around my house, "the catalog with things you never knew existed, that you don't really need, at prices you really can't afford." This is the type of catalog where every item is preceded by the definite article "the" -- as in "The Glow in the Dark Driver Ejecting Bumpercrafts" or "The Best Electric Wine Opener." (I kid you not.)
The latest edition of the catalog came over the transom with a strange gadget pictured on the cover, something that looks like a cross between a unicycle and a droideka destroyer droid from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
Unfolded, "The Folding Electric Mini-Farthing" still has much in common with the other two, since encountering any of them could very possibly lead to an excruciatingly painful injury, if not a sudden death.
Moving on from unsafe transportation you really don't need, we have the "and why exactly do I need this?" toy: The 50 Foot Snowball Launcher.
According to the catalog copywriter:
"This toy blaster makes and launches softball-sized snowballs up to 50 feet, allowing rapid, long-range assaults during neighborhood snowball confrontations Simply place snow in the forming chamber and close the lid. It packs three perfectly spherical snowballs. To blast your mark, place one snowball in the muzzle, aim the launcher, and pull back the slingshot mechanism..."
And then there are the oxymorons:
"The Healthiest Deep Fryer," which purportedly uses only one tablespoon of oil and "The Filterless Air Purifier," which uses "billions of harmless electrons that attach to air impurities and convert them to negatively charged ions," and "The Healthiest Potato Chip Maker."
And then there are the WTFs:
"The Powered Pumice Stone," and "The Remote Controlled Tarantula" and "The Thinning Hair Boar Bristle Brush" and "The Pain Relieving Neuromuscular Stimulator System." And I am only on page 21 of 88!
And if you are so gullible as to purchase "The Hands Free Hair Rejuvenator"
(pictured at left, below) at $699.95 a pop, I have some property that used to lie along the Jersey Shore to sell you!
Gozer the Traveler. He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the traveler came as a large and moving Torg! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Slor! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you! (Rick Moranis, Ghostbusters)
'Curiouser and curiouser!' cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English);
Forgive me for feeling like Alice in Wonderland, but I was just perusing the strangest catalog from a company called MacKenzie-Childs. I have absolutely no idea how this gem found its way into my mailbox since I am not in the habit of purchasing $4,000 fireplace screens and $6,000 love seats. Is my zip code upscale???
Anyhow, it was definitely a trip through the looking-glass into the life of the 1% that the Occupy Wall Street movement is railing against. And I have come to the conclusion that the 1% must love checks and checkerboards. (Or at least, they must be "in" this season. But first, that $4,000 fireplace screen:
What? No turtledoves????
From the "Espalier" collection, it includes 13 hand-crafted ceramic pears in the "Courtly Check," "Parchment Check," marble and harlequin patterns, hand-formed cast brass and four "petite Cheltenham vases" (pronounced 'vaaah-se,' I'm sure. To accessorize your fireplace screen and have a place to rest your 'aaaaah-ze,' you can purchase a "Courtly Check" Tuffet and/or a "Preposterous" Bench (their adjective, not mine.)
A tuffet for your tush.
Miss Muffet couldn't ask for something more hideous: those rampant checks, the red velveteen button and strange ball and chain fringe, but the price is right -- a steal at $1,025.
I would agree that this bench is entirely preposterous with its faux marbling, checks, dots, gold leaf, wallpapers and that heinous glass-beaded fringe. But what's really preposterous? The price: $4,200!
But wait, there's more! For only $19.99, oops, make that $99.99, you can get a Courtly Check fluted dinner plate. And for only $625 more, we'll throw in a Pièce de Résistance Tureen!
It's a real piece, all right.
There's more where that came from. Click if you want to check out more of the egregious ridiculosity. As for me, I'm saying ta-ta to the Mad Hatter, climbing back through the looking-glass and running off to join the Occupy movement.
The Catalog Season - Part II
The latest edition of the J. Peterman Company catalog, Owner’s Manual No. 91, came over the transom the other day. For those of you who may not be familiar with The J. Peterman Company, it’s a retail company that sells clothing and fashion accessories primarily through catalogs and the Internet. It was launched with a travel and safari theme, featuring as its first product an original horseman’s duster.
The classic J. Peterman duster
The company expanded through offering unique lifestyle merchandise, which included reproductions of antique clothing and clothing worn in specific films (think The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and Raiders of the Lost Ark). The catalogs use long copy to explain the products, often recounting elaborate stories of how the catalog writer came across the product, with sprinklings of literary embellishments. Also, the products are illustrated with artwork as opposed to photographs.
"John Peterman" and Elaine
Its unique, one might say slightly pretentious air, earned it a place in the Seinfeld TV series pantheon of parodies, when, from 1995 to 1998, the show parodied the owner and the company with a catalog-company businessman named J. Peterman, played by John O’Hurley. The Company went bankrupt in 1999 after it was purchased by the Paul Harris stores. But it was resurrected by the original owner, yes, his name is John Peterman, and is once again sending its hip, literate catalogs out into our increasing illiterate society. It’s just a wonderful example of a company that has used storytelling to set apart its products.
Sure, the descriptions are silly; that’s why it became a running gag on Seinfeld. And that’s a huge part of its singular charm. Like the hand-drawn illustrations instead of actual photos. It rises above our generic, McDonald’s-on-every-strip-mall-intersection mentality. Some examples below:
The New Mrs. Peel (description theirs):
Vienna Leather Jacket
"Emma Peel launches out of a box hedge, cartwheels down the gravel path, and knocks unsuspecting John Steed flat with a karate blow from her shapely foot, then stands astride him, smiling down wryly.
Who says there was no intelligent television programming in the 1960s?
Emma showed that a woman could be powerful, even dangerous, and all the more appealing for it. Her leather jacket summed up the intriguing idea so well, it set us thinking: why not issue something updated for today’s special agent?"
Makes even the most unassuming mouse of a woman want to roar. Well done, Mr. Peterman.
And for the man in the new Mrs. Peel's life (again, description theirs):
"Parliament passes the national 20 mph speed limit, so the Auto Cycle Union (Britain’s premier motorcycle club) goes to the unrestricted Isle of Man and creates the Tourist Trophy races. The Mountain Circuit then was little more than a cart path across farm fields. They ran multiple laps, so the first rider out had to stop and open all the gates; the last one closed them. The lap record in 1922 was 55.62 mph. By 1939, it was 91 mph. Thanks in no small part to nerves of steel and jackets like this:"
1930s British Motorcycle Jacket
Do I have any idea what the above copy refers to?
But this jacket looks smokin' hot.
The Catalog Season - Part I
Okay, so it's that time of year when the catalogs start to pour over the transom in a cascade of glossy paper, reminding me that a thousand trees died to provide me with a good laugh. Trees who are about to die, we salute you. Where to begin... that is the question: the J. Peterman Company? Something called MacKenzie-Childs, a purveyor of outrageously overpriced ceramics and glassware? Isabella, with its "gifts for reawakening the spirit?" Or the ever-amusing American Girls catalog, which used to be sacred in my household, but now that my daughters have way outgrown its charms, is just for snicks-and-grins?
Decisions, decisions. So let's go for the low-hanging fruit... American Girls.
I confess to having a closet stacked with storage boxes of these dolls and their accessories (saving them for the grandkids, you know). My daughters found many hours of amusement playing with these lovely things, even into their adolescence, when they descended into mockery and condescension, which reached its ultimate expression in the creation of a monumental movie, appropriately entitled "The Tragedy," which starred their brace of dolls, a trio of the dolls' dogs, and the nefarious "Betty Loo," who was a doll of a doll (yes, a doll owned and played with by a doll). Don't ask - it's complicated.
Looks too young to be retired Felicity
Now I haven't perused one of these catalogs in years -- I find it hard to believe the company even found us here at our relatively new address, but to my shock, I discovered that my daughter's first American Girl doll, the original, Felicity Merriman from 1774, has been put out to pasture! And her historical compadres, Kirsten Larsen (Prairie Girl from 1854) and Samantha Parkington (Edwardian maiden from 1904) are also "archived," in the words of the American Girl Company, subsidiary of Mattel.
Julie, love-child of the '70s?
Instead we are now offered Julie Albright, a "fun-loving girl growing up in San Francisco during the seventies." Oh please, a hippie child in bell-bottoms replacing the redoubtable, pre-Revolutionary War girl? And what kinds of accessories will they be selling with her? Bongs and acid tabs?
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