Want to impress 100 customers at Christmastime? Give them a 10-week yacht cruise from Greece to China and back. This trifle from the Sakowitz Christmas catalogue will only set you back $5.3 million, since refreshments are included.
If you'd prefer to curry favor with a single VIP, Sakowitz will provide a replica of the Trevi Fountain for less than half that price.
Too rich for your budget? Land's End is offering $1,000 worth of British gifts for $20,000 -- because they come " 'Gift Wrapped' in an authentic London Taxi."
Obviously, there's a Neiman-Marcus method to all this madness: a shrewd bid for publicity and "word-of-mouth advertising."
But what boggles me are some of the goods that are presumably stocked in quantity with serious sales expectations.
I began perusing a lot of current catalogues with the idea of providing gift suggestions -- either humorous or serious -- for readers who have little time to shop. Instead I wound up mystified by this whole area of business . . . and with a series of awards that is unlikely to solve your gift-list problems.
The Trendy Chocolate Award: Pieces of chocolate shaped like computer chips -- one of the better novelties I saw, but $24 for four 2-oz. chips is a heavy price for cute.
The Cosmic Problem-Solver Award: "Personalized Executive Pencils . . . Unique square shape is handsome and practical, won't roll off the desk." These beat out a floating bathtub thermometer ("no more elbow guesswork in your bathtub") and a battery-operated letter opener.
The Tech Amok Award: A three-way tie between an umbrella with an AM radio in the handle, a teak stickshift knob with a clock in it, and a musical toothbrush -- all of which show that miniaturization may have reached the brain as well as the marketplace.
The L. L. Bean Parody Award: Nobody does it like the original, as evidenced by Bean's Lobster Trap Tables.
The Humanitarian Insult Award: You might save a life and you're sure to lose a friend with either of these award winners: a digital alcohol-level checker, and a combination pill box/travel clock for reminding the absent-minded to take their medicine.
The Madison Avenue Tongue-in-Chic Award: An executive paper-airplane kit may be a tired idea, but I gave high marks for copywriting to the one attributed to "Pettigrew and Blenkinsoppe, the Royal Paper Aeroplane Folders." (In sticking to catalogues, I had to rule out another deft bit of snobbery, the Galway Irish Crystal ad for a crystal baby bottle, headlined: "For the baby not born in a cabbage patch.")
The Brass Tacky Award: "It looks like a golden bullet but it's not something left behind by a masked cowbody! It is really a silver-tipped toothpick which retracts into a brass housing when not in use. A thoughtful personal accessory for pocket or desk."
The Incredible Edibles Award: A 10-lb. box of sweet potatoes for $14.95.
The Macho Award (Digital Division): "The Official Book of Thumb Wrestling," with gameboards, rules and instructions.
The Pentagon-Style Purchase Award: A power clipper that "replaces paper clips with heavy-duty spring steel clips that are stronger than staples yet reusable like paper clips . . . It's particularly handy when several people in the office use them, as the clips recycle themselves between people." (Even the description has a Pentagon aura.)
Who would actually buy any of these items? I have no idea. But I don't want to leave you with the impression that all catalogue merchandise is silly or extravagant or both.
I certainly hope my wife notices the space-age rubberband shooter in the Eddie Bauer catalogue. It's the sporting person's fly and hornet swatter -- a test of nerves and skill that belongs on your Christmas list, too. "Even as you read this, hordes of stinging insects are winging their way towards YOUR loved ones."