Once again we are proud to present our annual Holiday Gift Guide--the gift guide that has been helping holiday shoppers find "just the right gift" for the past 2,000 consecutive years.

That is correct: This is the same Gift Guide that was consulted by the original Three Kings, who, following our recommendations, went to Bethlehem bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. All of these gifts were big hits, except for the frankincense and the myrrh, which turn out, when you look them up in the dictionary, to be gum resins. This is not really what people are looking for in a gift. People rarely say: "You know what I really hope to receive this holiday season? Gum resins!"

But despite that early setback, the Holiday Gift Guide has grown over the centuries to become what it is today: The world's leading source of unusual gift ideas that sane people would never think of on their own.

As always, every item in the Holiday Gift Guide is real. These are all gifts that you can actually buy or make yourself. We know this, because WE bought or made them all and have thoroughly tested them by letting them sit around our office for weeks. That is why we are able to offer you the traditional:

IRONCLAD REFUND GUARANTEE

If you purchase any of the items featured in this Gift Guide, and you are, for any reason whatsoever, such as sudden unexpected death, not 100 percent satisfied with the item, simply put the item into an ironclad box along with a threatening letter and send it to the Holiday Gift Guide Refund Office, c/o the White House, Washington, D.C., and we guarantee that within five working days, boy will YOU be in trouble.

Okay! Now that we have the "legal technicalities" out of the way, let's get to the 1999 Holiday Gift Guide!

Astral Projection Kit

This kit consists of a tape and a book that teach you how to travel to the "numerous dimensions of the Astral Plane." (For the benefit of those of you who are not spiritually minded, we should explain that the "Astral Plane" is this plane that is astral in nature and has numerous dimensions.)

According to the promotional literature, "This incredible kit will show you the secrets and step-by-step procedures for safely and easily leaving your body temporarily while exploring the dimensions beyond."

We have not tried this kit personally, but we're sure it does everything that it promises, because why else would it cost $24.95? We think it's a great idea: There are plenty of situations in which it would be very handy to be able to leave your body temporarily. During prostate examinations, for example. Or how about when you're at work, attending yet another incredibly boring and pointless meeting? Wouldn't it be cool if you could leave your body there, apparently listening with great interest to your droning idiot boss while you went out and caught a movie?

Or let's say you face this agonizing dilemma: You're watching an important football game on TV, AND your team is facing a critical third-down situation, AND you need a new beer. With astral projection, your body can continue to watch the game while your spiritual essence goes for the brewski! And while it's up, it could grab a bag of chips.

And that is just scratching the surface of what can be done with astral projection, as we see from the following actual simulated conversation between a police officer and a motorist:

OFFICER: Sir, your vehicle was traveling at 117 miles an hour when it entered the elementary school playground.

MOTORIST: Actually, officer, I wasn't driving. Through astral projection, I was exploring the dimensions beyond.

OFFICER: My mistake, then. Sorry to trouble you!

MOTORIST: No trouble. You're just doing your job.

OFFICER: Not really! Right now, I'm catching a movie!

We're sure that you can think of many more benefits that can be obtained through this amazing spiritual process. So this year, give the gift that says to your loved ones: "I wish you were somewhere else."

$24.95 plus shipping and handling from Pacific Spirit/Whole Life Products, 1334 Pacific Ave., Forest Grove, Ore. 97116. Phone 1-800-634-9057, fax 1-503-357-1669 or visit www.mystictrader.com

'Trail Boss' Western-Style Cowperson Hard Hat

This is the ultimate gift idea if you are thinking about giving somebody a hard hat this holiday season, yet you are not happy with the boring styles that have dominated the hard-hat fashion industry for far too long. This is a hat made of genuine high-impact plastic, yet styled to look exactly like the hats worn by such "rip-tootin' cowpokers" as "Hopalong" Cassidy, "Roy" Rogers, the "Lone" Ranger and former president Lyndon "Baines" Johnson.

Just imagine what would happen if the lucky construction worker on your list showed up at the job site wearing this hat, accessorized with a colorful neck bandanna, a fringed vest, a pair of steel-toed cowperson boots and perhaps a pair of "six-shooter" style holsters carrying manly power tools! We are sure the other construction workers would shout "Yippee-yi-o," among other remarks. And if there are any actual ranch hands on your holiday gift list, imagine how excited THEY would be to receive a cowperson hat! In fact, if you ask us, it's a darned shame that plastic hard hats were not available to law enforcement personnel back in the days of the "Wild West." Imagine the advantage that a sheriff would have if he wore this hat during a saloon fight with an outlaw:

SHERIFF: I suppose you're going to break a chair over my head! Go on and try it!

OUTLAW: Okay, then! (Hits sheriff with the chair, which shatters harmlessly on the sheriff's hat.)

SHERIFF: Ha ha! I am unharmed!

OUTLAW: Okay, then! (Shoots the sheriff.)

So perhaps this hat would not be such an advantage after all. But we still think this is a terrific gift idea. Remember: Nothing says "Western wear" like genuine plastic.

$25 plus shipping and handling from Forestry Suppliers Inc., P.O. Box 8397, Jackson, Miss. 39284-8397. Phone 1-800-647-5368, fax 1-800-543-4203 or visit www.forestry-suppliers.com

Run-n-Chute

This item is a small parachute that is designed to be attached via a belt to a runner. This is a precaution in case the runner ever falls out of an airplane.

No, I am kidding. The real reason is to provide wind resistance, which, according to the Run-n-Chute manufacturer, will "improve your speed, acceleration and endurance." But we think the Run-n-Chute would also make an excellent gift idea for:

* Law enforcement personnel, who could attach it to criminals to make them easier to pursue if they escape.

* Parents, who could attach it to small children to slow them down in case they run off or fall out of an airplane.

* The Secret Service, whose agents could attach it to the president and deploy it via remote control in the event of a sudden lunge toward an intern.

$54.95 plus shipping and handling from Strength Systems Inc., P.O. Box 73190, Metairie, La. 70033-3190. Phone 1-800-451-JUMP or visit www.strength-systems.com

Swimming Tether

This device, designed to train people for swimming competitions, consists of a flexible rod with a tether that attaches to a harness on the swimmer's body. This setup prevents the swimmer from moving forward, so that if you keep at it, day after day, you will eventually decide to take up a less tedious sport. That's certainly what WE'D do.

But that doesn't mean we don't think this is an excellent gift idea. Let's say you're a mother and you go to the beach with a small child who is always running off. Imagine how handy it would be if you could attach this device! We mean attach it to your husband. That way, while you were following your child around, you'd have the security of knowing that your husband could not go more than a few feet in the direction of a hot bikini babe before being snapped back by the rod and tether ("Hey, there, darlin'! How about . . . GAACK").

We think this item would be a good acquisition for the Secret Service, for use during high levels of presidential hormone activity when the Run-n-Chute alone does not provide adequate restraining power.

$249 plus shipping and handling from Super Swim-Pro, 10711 Deer Run Farms Rd., Fort Myers, Fla. 33912. Phone 1-800-848-1222, fax 1-941-275-0606 or visit www.superswim.com

'Yukon'-Style Camo Hat With Flaps

Here is the ultimate gift for the person on your list who wants to wear "the latest" in fashionable headwear--the kind of headwear that combines the tasteful, always-in-style beauty of camouflage with the elegance of large ear flaps. These hats were designed by a leading European fashion designer whose name we are not permitted to reveal here for legal reasons relating to the fact that he or she does not technically exist. But we CAN tell you that this hat is this season's "must have" clothing item in the fashion centers of Paris, Rome, New York and the Yukon. Our advice is, if you're thinking of giving these hats as gifts, buy them NOW, before they're all snatched up by Cher.

$19.99-$22.99 plus shipping and handling from Herter's, P.O. Box 426, Greenville, N.C. 27835-0426. Phone 1-800-654-3825, fax 1-800-515-6791 or visit www.herters.com

'Toolbox Christmas' and 'Toolbox Classics'

Here are two ideas that are bound to make the music lover on your holiday gift list bend over and emit fluids of joy. These two CDs feature music performed on hand and power tools by Woody Phillips, a musician and woodworker.

On "Toolbox Christmas," Woody uses hammers, saws, drills, pipes, 50-gallon drums, ratchets, anvils, nailers and other items found in the workshop to perform such Christmas favorites as "Jingle Bells," "Joy to the World" and "Good King Wenceslas." This CD also features "Deck the Halls," which we imagine Woody could probably play while building an actual deck.

On "Toolbox Classics," Woody performs the works of various great dead composers including Wagner, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. Tragically, power tools had not been invented when these men were alive, so they were never able to hear the kind of thing that Woody has done to their music. But perhaps they are listening now, up in Heaven. Perhaps this is why our weather has been so extreme.

$14.98 plus shipping and handling from Gourd Music, P.O. Box 585, Felton, Calif. 95018. Phone 1-831-425-4939, fax 1-831-459-7450 or visit www.gourd.com (also available from Amazon.com).

The Bumper Dumper

Ask any leading historian to name the two greatest inventions in human history, and he or she will instantly answer:

1. The trailer hitch.

2. The toilet seat.

And there is no doubt that these two fine inventions have served humanity well in their own separate ways. But it was only recently that someone had the very special genius required to see the beauty of combining these two concepts to create this amazing but true product--a toilet seat that attaches to your trailer hitch.

"Just plug the Bumper Dumper into your hitch receiver and the comfort of home is there when nature calls," states the manufacturer. "Take it hunting, fishing, camping, boating, on vacation, on the job, in the field, anywhere you may need to go."

We have a slight quibble with the word "anywhere." The Bumper Dumper does not offer a large amount of privacy. It would not be advisable to use this product while you were, say, stuck in traffic, unless you were really desperate.

Even then, you'd want to make sure that the driver of the vehicle was fully cognizant of the fact that the Bumper Dumper was occupied, because otherwise, if traffic cleared and the driver hit the accelerator, the Bumper Dumper occupant could find himself or herself whizzing (if you will pardon the expression) over the ground at an unsafe rate of speed. Perhaps the government should require seat belts on this item, just in case.

But that is a mere quibble. This is THE gift item for the sportsperson on your holiday gift list, as well as the automotive enthusiast. It is only a matter of time before every well-equipped Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes has one of these attractive units jutting out the rear as a proud symbol of class and refinement. It is our understanding that Queen Elizabeth II would not consider leaving the palace without this item firmly attached to her Rolls.

So this year, give the gift that reeks of class. At least that's what we assume that smell is.

$59.95 plus shipping and handling from Jungle Inc., 12896 Bradley Ave., Unit D, Sylmar, Calif. 91342. Phone 1-818-364-8242, fax 1-818-364-8241 or visit www.bumperdumper.com

Do-It-Yourself Pokemon Cards

Pokemon is, of course, the latest "craze" for youngsters. Pokemon--the name comes from the Japanese phrase meaning "huge profits through nagging"--is based on a cast of cute cartoon "monsters" whose images are featured on a wide variety of products, the hottest of which are trading cards. Walk into just about any store in America, and you'll hear a chorus of annoying voices whining "Please can I have some Pokemon trading cards c'mon please please PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE IF YOU DON'T GIVE ME SOME POKEMON CARDS NOW I'M GONNA LIE ON THE FLOOR AND SCREAM!!"

And those are the PARENTS. They're desperate for these cards, because their kids want them more than anything in the world. The trading is fierce: Certain rare cards are viewed as so valuable that kids are getting into fights over them at school. Lawsuits are being filed. It's only a matter of time before Al Gore proposes some kind of massive federal Pokemon program.

So what's a parent to do? We here at the Holiday Gift Guide have come up with what we think is the perfect solution: You can make your OWN Pokemon cards! It's simple and easy! Here's all you do:

1. Ask your child what Pokemon card he or she would really like to have. Your child will probably name a card featuring a character such as Charizard, which is very rare.

2. Get some shirt cardboard.

3. Cut out a rectangle the size of a Pokemon card.

4. Using a pen or marker, draw on the card a picture of what you think "Charizard" would look like. Also write the words "Official Pokemon Card" on the top, as shown in the photograph. (Note: We checked with the folks in our Legal Department about this, and they assured us that we do not have a Legal Department.)

5. Put the card in a big box, wrap it, and write "A VERY SPECIAL GIFT FOR A VERY SPECIAL POKEMON FAN" on the outside.

Imagine the look of surprise on your child's face when he or she opens the box and sees--instead of some impersonal product manufactured by strangers--a gift that was made by hand by a loving parent! Ha ha! This is bound to be a moment that both you and your child will remember always, no matter how many years you both spend in therapy.