Nov 27, 2019–When I earned my first income as a paperboy, I decided to buy Christmas gifts for everyone in my family. I perused the Sunset Gift Catalog, filled out my order, and eagerly awaited the wonders promised within.

It was a painful introduction to the realities of the marketplace. That “giant weather satellite” was an 18-inch rubber balloon that popped at first inflation. That “bronze American eagle plaque” was made of Styrofoam and gold spray paint that broke while unpacking it.

Amazingly, those holiday catalogs still come and still seduce. While the quality may be higher, the utility of what they offer causes pause. The Video Projecting 10’ Frosty The Snowman? How can your neighborhood live without it?

I always leaf through the slick magazines with the “why didn’t I think of that” attitude. Then upon reflection, I realize every new gadget is really just a bread maker.

Remember those? The promise of fresh, hot homemade bread ready and waiting to warm you up on those cold mornings. Yeah, we all did it for a while, then grew careless about mixing up the dough the night before. Soon used bread makers showed up at every garage sale, proudly perched next to the juicer, the vacuum sealer, and the Flowbie hair trimmer you swore you couldn’t live without.

But humans continue to seek the appliance that will make meal prep a dream or the goofy gewgaw you just know will make you slimmer, fitter, or happier. Here are this year’s versions:

  • Flat candles. That’s it. A candle, that is flat. I have no joke here.
  • Shoehorns. Tell me, have you ever needed to use a shoehorn more than 3 times in your life, other than after hip replacement? And if so, is it ever within reach when you need it? Yet every catalog has a copious selection of shoehorns, in gleaming metal, rich wood, and telescoping handles, at up to $50.
  • Drinking glasses with–get this–your Latitude and Longitude sandblasted on them! Handy if you happen to carry them to your next holiday party and can’t find your way home.
  • Rocks. The latest incarnation of the un-killable pet rock fad is The Thinking Egg, a polished, egg-shaped stone you hold in your pocket to fondle when stressed. They start at $24.95. I’ve got 12 acres of them. I can step out my door and turn my ankle on any of a thousand shapes, sizes, and colors of rocks.
  • Chrome-plated rare-earth super magnet with knob and “soft high-friction disk to prevent marring of the surface of your refrigerator.” As if you can even find the surface of your refrigerator under the three layers of existing magnets.
  • The Image Replicating Food/Beverage Printer, for printing designs on your cupcake or latte. Seriously. Yours for only $1800.
  • All sorts of self-massaging gizmos, rollers, and bumpy balls that you stick in the freezer or boil in the microwave. I learned long ago that the satisfaction of self-massage doesn’t approach an actual massage. I also found that no one will give you a massage without paying them. And they don’t use bumpy rollers.

The list is endless: automatic needle threaders, monitor screen cleaners (as if anyone actually cleans their screens), bean sprouters, and The 25 Pair Shoe Turntower. There is actually a brush for cleaning brushes.

So go ahead and order those Rechargeable Heated Ear Warmers. Because at least society has now provided the perfect vehicle to get rid of everything you buy late at night when both your favorite beverage and your credit card are within reach–The White Elephant Gift Exchange.

But that is another column.

Note: Every gadget mentioned in this column actually exists. I was going to make some up, but discovered I didn’t need to.