Monday, February 22, 2010

Shop until you (or the cabin pressure) drop(s): window shopping at the Sky Mall

Not that I know anyone who's actually bought anything there, but haven't we all thumbed through a Sky Mall catalog at least once?You know the moment when you pick it up. You've just had a fitful nap, and your face is coated with that special airplane sweaty sheen that comes when the cabin is too darned hot. You have to pee, but you really don't want to wake the person next to you for the ramble back to the fetid toilet with a big soggy wad of toilet paper stuck in the bottom of the bright blue swirl-pool. You've just decided that the book you brought for the trip is dreadful, you've exhausted Vanity Fair, eating another Mento takes only so much time. And the crossword puzzles and sudokus in the inflight mag were all partially filled in by an innumerate who doesn't know that Qum is a holy city in Iran, even when spotted two letters.

So, with an hour left in your flight, you reach for Sky Mall, which Ground Hog Day-like, hasn't changed all that much from the last time you picked it up.

First off: too many watches, too much golf.  That must be because flights - despite the recession - are still filled with golf-minded business travelers who haven't gotten the IM that nobody wears a watch anymore. (What do you think your phone is for, buddy?)

But once you get through the watches and golf-related sections, there is all sorts of interesting stuff I'd never buy (like key chains with dirt from Yankee Stadium).

Much of the merch on offer is high-tech gadgetry - "discreetly monitor home or office with this hidden video camera" (glad I don't work in that company); the Nano-UV Wand that you wave over food to kill salmonella, and over your bedding to kill dust mites; a mini voice-activated R2D2.

Much of it is house-hold-y (all kinds of shoe-racks to help you stow all the shoes you're no doubt buying from SkyMall; and something that will help you keep your Silestone countertops cleaner 24/7 - I just hate when germs build up when I'm not watching!). Or pet-tish - potty training seems a particular focus, and in one case, we're actually talking true potty training - Remember to flush, Princess.

There's lots of luggage; tons of comfy foot stuff; and quit a bit of jewelry. (Now, I like a good Mobius strip as much as the next guy, but enough is enough. Can't you make a bracelet, ring or pendant that's just a plain old pre-Mobius circle?

But enough is never enough in the Sky Mall catalog.

In truth, there's not much here that you haven't seen already, since most of it comes from catalogs you've probably thumbed through at home (Signals), and brick and mortars you've strolled through (Brookstone).

What's so gloriously goofy about the Sky Mall catalog is that vendors only take a couple of pages, so you're checking out the cute little monogrammed kiddie scrubs, and you flip the page to find the self-watering trellis or the skullcap that cures migraines.

For whatever reason, a few products jumped out at me.

That Ski-Z, that helps you push your skis along, rather than carry them awkwardly over your shoulder. Now, the pictures show you rolling along on pavement which, at least in the olden days when I used to ski, wasn't where I was generally lugging my skis. Mostly, if I had my Heads on my shoulder, the ground crunching beneath my ski boots was snow covered. Which makes me wonder just how well that Ski-Z would do in snow and ice. Perhaps there's a version where runners can be swapped in for the wheels.

I probably shouldn't pick on the Treasury of Storybook Classics for $99.95. Except that they're narrated versions read by "Sarah Jessica Parker, James Earl Jones, and other celebrities."  Say what? Isn't Grandma enough of a celebrity to narrate Curious George? And then there's the claim that "these exceptional programs make books come alive." Am I missing something, or isn't it reading that makes a book come alive? (Oh, what an aging crank I have become.)

Then there were the Vegas souvenirs. Don't you buy souvenirs when you actually go someplace? Or is this for those who were too bleary eyed to pick up an extra-large Vegas-style shot glass at the airport.  Or those who lost their shirt, so they didn't have the scratch to buy those cool "Do Vegas Right" boxer shorts in the hotel gift store.

I was completely unsure what to make of the copy that accompanied the Vegas flip-flops.  Personally, even though I come from the era when you never paid more than 99 cents for a pair, I'm all in favor of pricey tourist flip flops. Last April in Paris, my nieces both bought pink and green Mona Lisa flip-flops at the Louvre. But the copy read "Let help you leave your mark on parking structure ceilings everywhere."

Am I missing something? What is the connection between parking lot roofs and flip-flops (which, by the way, in a more innocent time and place, we called thongs, something pronounced "tongs").

Anyway, the Sky Mall catalog was an entirely and thoroughly satisfying read. But it does make me wonder what we're going to do with all these warehouses full of no-one-needs-it-crap when we become the post-consumer society. Will the Chinese and Indians, once more of them have started grabbing their share of the brass ring in earnest, be willing to fork over $299.00 for next-gen laser hair therapy? For traveling humidors (only $99 for the 12 cigar-version)? For "magical lingerie" (called Squeem) that trims the waist for $72.99?

Oh, what a world we live in.


A tip of the uCrown Head Massager ($199.95 - batteries not included) to my sister Kath, who on a recent flight from Florida, handed me the Sky Mall catalog and said "blog fodder."

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