Some people have the erroneous idea that America is defined by what we make.

President Obama said in his jobs speech that he wanted to see “Made in America!’ stamped on more products. True, this could technically be achieved with a stamp and a lot of Chinese-made products, but we know what he meant. In the Republican debate on Wednesday, the candidates expressed the desire to get America working and building things again.

Perhaps what American made defined us, once.

And these days we make more than we used to — cars, cupcakes, airplanes. Everything, in fact, but sense. For that, we must look elsewhere: to Skymall.

Skymall? The airplane catalog?


America is best defined not by what we make, but by what we want. And who knows better what we want than Skymall?

We are Skymall Nation.

When we are going places on airplanes, when we have forgotten our reading material and shut off our electronic devices, when we are at our most vulnerable, Skymall comes to us from the pocket of the seat in front of us. It tempts us with our greatest weaknesses. It is confident that, should we but see the picture of this strangely coy inflatable snowman, we will go dashing out to buy one for our homes. And, often, it’s right.  

They say that what you want shows you who you are.

We want to wave a lightsaber-like wand over our vegetables to Save Our Children From Microbes Using UV Rays. No wonder so many of us support Ron Paul. Why let the FDA have all the fun?

We want expressive faces for our trees. When we walk past a stand of trees, this is the first thought that springs to mind. “Those trees are doing a pretty nice job with what they were given,” we think, “but they'd get more sympathy with noses. Maybe there’s a lesson in this for the EPA.”

We want a 3D Hologram Kit! “Hologram science took decades of research — now you can make your own 3D holograms in less than an hour.” NASA, schmasa! We can visit space in the comfort of our homes.

Hand-dipped gold roses? A branding iron for steaks? Easter Island Monolith statues? A personalized life preserver? Something called the Healthiest Deep Fryer, which I guess was only available because the Least Dangerous Guillotine was out ?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! 

And there are broader trends. We want to stop snoring. We want to store our shoes more efficiently.

 If there is one thing we love, it is slightly misspelled comfort objects. Slankets. Releaf Neck Rests. Camouflage Slankets, in case we ever find ourselves in the wild and don’t want to have to get out from under the wild to change the channel.

If there is one complaint we have, it is that our pillows are not always cool.

And over all this, we have the sense that most of our problems would be resolved if we could get our cats to use the toilet. Failing that, we will camouflage their litter boxes. (“What is this giant house in the middle of your family room?” our friends will ask. “We thought a litter box seemed tacky,” we explain. “So instead we have this 1 / 8 scale replica of, I think, Biltmore.”)

Whatever the trouble, Skymall can help.

This says a lot. It’s like going through the nation’s trash, except that unlike most trash, people are willing to pay good money to have Skymall products shipped to them.

A litter robot for your cat? A bark suppressant for your dog? A zombie that appears to be crawling out of the ground in your yard? RealRock plastic rocks for landscaping (“Our artificial rocks save you the expense, yet retain the look, of real boulders”)?

When it comes to finances, we retain the bizarre optimism that has kept lawmakers spinning for years. Need to save money? Pay $49.95 for the $5 A Day Automated Bank. For just $49.95, you can save $1,300! Just put away $5 every day after the Automated Bank arrives.

There might be a deeper meaning to all this. We want our dogs to stop barking. We want our pillows to stay cool. We want trees that will hug us back.

Forget herding cats. Our aspiration is to toilet-train them.

Everyone these days is talking about the radical center. There are supposed to be all these reasonable people out there, baying and waving pitchforks and demanding more rationality and compromise in government.

Maybe rational is a strong word.

After all, if there is one thing you realize after reading Skymall, it is that we believe that if we just ordered the correct kit, our cats would use the toilet indoors in a dignified fashion. It can’t be that hard! I saw it on YouTube.

It’s not that we’re unreasonable. We're reasonably unreasonable.

We have high standards, and we’re invariably disappointed when the wand that we were going to wave over our vegetables to solve our problems turns out not to be quite what we hoped.

But we get out the catalogue and start over again. Everything looks so glossy and cheerful. The copy is so optimistic. This time, it will be different. We are going to save a lot of money by using this $50 bank. Those plastic landscaping rocks will cover our unsightly septic systems. Our cats will learn to use the toilet.

No wonder our leaders are so unpopular. We demand the impossible — within six to eight business days.

Skymall would give it to us.