Holiday gift-giving is a tradition that dates back roughly 2,006 years, to when the Three Wise Men went to Bethlehem with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Baby Jesus. Of course the next day the Virgin Mary returned these items for store credit, because she was a low-income mother with a newborn, and as the old saying goes, ''You can't diaper a baby with frankincense.''
But it was too late: The Three Wise Men had started a tradition. And in keeping with that tradition, this holiday season millions of people will spend billions of dollars to buy gifts that their friends and loved ones do not need.
For example, one holiday season seven or eight years ago, we here at the Holiday Gift Guide bought our wife a 75-pound coffee-table book on impressionist art. It may actually have been closer to 80 pounds. Whatever the actual weight, our wife definitely did not want or need it. We seriously doubt she has looked at it, or even tried to lift it, since the day we gave it to her. It is probably the least necessary thing she owns.
Why did we give this book to our wife? For the same reason that inspires most holiday gift-giving: desperation. That particular year we did not start our holiday shopping until Christmas Eve at approximately 7:30 p.m. (Usually we start earlier, around 6 p.m.) We found a store that was open, and we did nearly all of our holiday shopping there. We selected the impressionist book because it was rectangular, which is the easiest shape to wrap.
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You may laugh, but you probably are no better. We bet you have bought all KINDS of comically unnecessary holiday gifts for people, to reciprocate for the comically unnecessary gifts that you know they're going to give to you. That is the spirit of the holiday season.
And that is what the Annual Holiday Gift Guide is all about. Our mission, here at Gift Guide Strategic Holiday Command Center, is to assemble a roster of gift concepts that no actual human being could possibly need; gift concepts that not only surprise the recipients, but sometimes cause them to sprint to the bathroom.
We find these items through an exhausting and highly demanding process that we call ''reading our e-mail.'' Throughout the year, people from all over the earth and beyond send us gift suggestions. We pore over these for several minutes until we have found the items that meet our exacting Gift Guide standards, which are:
STANDARD ONE: The item has to, physically, exist. All of the items in the Holiday Gift Guide are real. We have touched these items with our bare hands, and we have the skin grafts to prove it.
STANDARD TWO: The item has to be something that we can talk The Miami Herald into paying for. This rules out buying anything nice, because The Herald, like most newspapers these days, is cutting costs in every way possible. For example, we're considering reducing our ink costs by eliminating most vowels. Cn u rd ths? Gd!
STANDARD THREE: We do not walk around all day wearing one of those blinking cellphone earpieces, because those things look stupid, especially if you are not talking to anybody. (This standard has nothing to do with the Holiday Gift Guide, but we believe it is important.)
STANDARD FOUR: Standard Four has been eliminated for cost-cutting reasons.
Except in some cases, every single one of the items in this year's Holiday Gift Guide meets all of these exacting standards. That is why we are able to give you, the consumer, our
PLEDGE OF QUALITY ASSURANCE GUARANTEE WARRANTY
If you purchase any of the items featured in this Gift Guide, and you are not totally 110 percent satisfied for any reason such as a malfunction or instantaneous death by beheading, simply file a formal complaint to the United Nations Security Council. A customer-service representative will get back to you shortly. Your call is important to us.
But enough of the ''legal boilerplate.'' Let's get to our first Gift Guide item, which is the:
$349 and up, plus shipping and handling, from Yachtsee.com, 16458 Bolsa Chica St., #404, Huntington Beach, Calif. 92649, 888-774-7372;
Suggested by Tom Snyder and Margaret A. Bogie of Chantilly, Va.
There can be no question that the three greatest inventions in the history of mankind are:
1. The wheel.
2. The motor.
3. The cooler.
For far too long, mankind was able to combine only the first two of these inventions. Finally that has changed with the invention, by guys, of the Cruzin Cooler, which is a working cooler outfitted with wheels and a motor. Here at the Gift Guide we ordered one of these babies several months ago, and we can honestly say that we have never driven a vehicle that has caused more people to go, quote, ``What the heck is THAT?''
We don't care. We love zipping down the street on this thing, which goes a lot faster than you might think. Also it can turn on a dime, which is not necessarily a good thing, inasmuch as it is about as stable as Mel Gibson. So you want to turn it carefully, lest you tip over and injure yourself or -- God forbid -- spill your beverage.
We would not be surprised if Cruzin Coolers became popular with famous celebrities, and you started seeing them being valet-parked at swank nightclubs. We also would not be surprised if it turned out that spiders understand Morse code. We are just plain hard to surprise.
Custom-Printed Toilet paper
$12 per roll (minimum of 4) and up, from Carlberg Design, Inc., 1215 E. Clary St., Petersburg, Ill. 62675, 866-337-4441 (fax 217-632-0124);
Suggested by Gary Usleaman of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Whether you like it or not, your toilet paper makes a statement about you. If you purchase ordinary supermarket toilet paper, it is making the statement that you don't care if you or your guests have a commode experience that lacks individuality and -- yes -- class.
This is why more and more celebrity entertainers such as Martha Stewart and the late Duke of Windsor have their toilet paper custom-printed. And now, thanks to the Internet, you can do the same thing. Here at the Gift Guide we ordered a set of rolls imprinted with a photograph of multitalented international superstar Paris Hilton, and we can state in all honesty that we have not been contacted by her attorney so far that we are aware of. And if that is not the true meaning of the holiday season, we don't know what is.
$12.98 plus shipping and handling from The Lighter Side, P.O. Box 25600, Bradenton, Fla. 34206-5600, 800-232-0963;
Suggested by Virginia Hullen of Hialeah, Fla.
If you know somebody who would like to play a competitive sport, but is not good at traditional sports and does not mind looking like a total goober, then this is the gift item for that person. This is a game that consists of two hats with sticky strips, and some foam balls. You put on a hat, and your opponent puts on the other hat, then you try to get your balls stuck on your opponent's head. Please get your mind out of the gutter. This game is a boatload of fun for the whole family, except the kids, who will put themselves up for adoption if you make them wear these hats.
This game has also been chosen ''The Official Ice-Breaker Activity of the Middle East Peace Talks.''
Camo Cough Silencer
$24.99 plus shipping and handling from Cabela's, 115 Cabela Dr., Sidney, Neb. 69160, 800-237-8888 (fax 308-254-6745); www.cabelas.com
Suggested by Jennifer Karulski of Tucson, Ariz.
It's a question we have all asked ourselves: ''If we can have silencers for our pistols, why can't we have silencers for our throats?''
The answer is: At last, we can! This cough silencer was developed by leading researchers in the hunting community to enable outdoorspersons to cough silently and thus avoid scaring away a woodland creature before the outdoorsperson has the opportunity to blow it into tiny furred smithereens.
The beauty of this silencer is that it is -- like pretty much everything your serious outdoorsperson owns, including his dentures -- painted in camouflage, which means it is completely invisible to the naked eye, making it ideal for use in movie theaters, libraries, funerals, etc. Many top male ballet dancers carry this cough silencer when they perform. That is the bulge you are seeing.
$15.89 plus shipping and handling from Prank Place, 600 Four Rod Rd., Berlin, Conn. 06037, 800-901-1163; www.PrankPlace.com
Suggested by Dan Sauberlich of Rockford, Ill. and Layla Bohm of Lodi, Calif.
This is just the decor accessory to spice up a ''ho-hum'' bathroom. This is a rubber monster with suction cups that attach to the underside of the toilet lid. When the unsuspecting guest lifts the lid, up pops the monster, and the unsuspecting guest keels over, dead. You were never all that fond of this particular guest anyway.
This is the Toilet Monster preferred by all leading hotel chains, as well as Buckingham Palace.
Disguised Nasal Hair Trimming Finger
$9.98 plus shipping and handling from Harriet Carter, Dept. 36, North Wales, Pa. 19455, 800-377-7878; www.harrietcarter.com
Suggested by Judy Brown of Jamesville, N.Y. and Andrea Higgins of Mount Pocono, Pa.
No doubt you have noted that many men go around with unsightly hair sprouting from their ears and nostrils, to the point where they look as though they have tropical caterpillars emerging from their facial orifices. You wonder: Why don't these men trim this hair?
The answer is fear of embarrassment. These men are afraid that somebody might see them trimming their ear and nose hair, and think they are vain and unmanly. That's why we're so excited about this gift concept, which is a motorized battery-powered trimmer cleverly disguised to look exactly like a human finger taken from a really large human. A man can use this device anywhere without worrying that people will think he is trimming hair. They will simply think he is sticking a finger into his nose, which is a perfectly normal thing that men do all the time. The only problem is that this finger will be buzzing, so to deflect suspicion, we recommend that men hum loudly while using this device. Is anybody still reading this? No? Good.
The Birds-Away Attack Spider
$15 plus shipping and handling from Sophron Marketing, 11094 Mt. Brow Rd., Sonora, Calif. 95370, 888-767-4766; www.attackspider.com
Suggested by Heather Bergevin of West Columbia, S.C.
Ask the average American citizen, ''What is the biggest problem facing our nation today?'' Chances are that citizen will reply: ''Woodpeckers.''
That is why we are so pleased to include the Birds-Away Attack Spider Woodpecker Deterrent in this year's Gift Guide. This is a large hairy battery-operated pretend spider that hangs on a string. According to the manufacturer, when a woodpecker starts pecking wood, the spider drops down on its string making a noise, which scares away the woodpecker. Of course in real life, spiders don't eat woodpeckers, but woodpeckers are way too stupid to figure that out. Their brains are mush from pecking wood all the time. They can't even remember why they do it.
But the point is that this is an excellent product, which would enhance any home, even one where woodpeckers are not a problem. You could hang one of these babies over your front door, just out of sight, and when a visitor knocked . . . AIEEEEEEEEE!!!!!
If that doesn't work, deploy your Toilet Monster.
Marie Antoinette Action Figure
$8.95 plus postage and handling from Archie McPhee, P.O. Box 30852, Seattle, Wash. 98113, 425-349-3009 (fax 425-349-5188); www.mcphee.com
Suggested by Nicole Chiodo of San Jose, Calif.
Who says a toy can't be fun AND educational? Not us, here at the Holiday Gift Guide. That's why we're pleased to present this Marie Antoinette doll, with the exclusive ''Ejector Head'' feature. She looks like a regular doll until you press a secret button and . . . there goes her head! Sure, you can get a similar effect with a machete and a Barbie doll, but that's more of a one-time deal. The Marie Antoinette action figure can be used over and over, providing hours of quality entertainment for some lucky little girl on your holiday gift list. Followed by years of therapy.
Motorized Ice Cream Cone
$8.95 plus shipping and handling from Ouray Toys, Inc., P.O. Box 1029, Ouray, Colo. 81427, 866-869-4800; www.ouraytoys.com
Suggested by many inert readers.
If you're like most people, you would like to eat more ice cream, but you just can't handle the physical strain. That is why you and everyone on your holiday gift list will want to own this motorized ice-cream cone. This amazing invention harnesses the power of an electric motor to turn your scoop of ice cream automatically, so all you have to do is stick your tongue out. Of course that can get tiring, so you might want to hire somebody to stick your tongue out for you. No sense killing yourself.
The Great Big World of Nematodes Coloring Book
By Dr. John Chitambar. Distributed free to students at California's State Scientists' Day by The California Dept. of Food and Agriculture's Plant Pest Diagnostics Laboratory, 3294 Meadowview Rd., Sacramento, Calif. 95832.
Suggested by Tim Tidwell of Sacramento, Calif.
What's the biggest problem with young people today? Ask any leading educational psychologist that question, and he or she will answer, ''The problem is that young people today are stupid.''
This is not their fault. Today's young people spend far too much time on useless non-intellectual activities such as watching TV, ''surfing'' the Internet, instant-messaging their congresspersons, etc., and far too little time perusing academic materials. Why? Because academic materials are boring. That is why you and I stopped perusing them the instant we could get away with it.
Well, that has changed, thanks in no small part to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, where somebody finally had the courage to stand up and say, ''Darn it, why CAN'T nematodes be interesting?'' The result is this exciting coloring book, THE GREAT BIG WORLD OF NEMATODES.
Nematodes, in case you forgot, are these tiny worms that you can't see, thank God. According to the coloring book, there are a LOT of them. As the main character in the book, a worm named ''Nema,'' states: ''there are billions and billions like me that live on this planet.'' Apparently this is a good thing, although we personally here at the Gift Guide do not see why.
But the point is this: This year, instead of giving your child some useless ''high tech'' toy such as an ''X-Box'' or ''Nintendo'' that will entertain the child for, at most, several years, give the gift of nematode knowledge -- a gift that could change your child's entire life. Especially if he or she runs away from home.
$14 plus shipping and handling from Uncommon Goods, 303 W. 10th St., 2nd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10014, 888-365-0056 (fax 212-462-0090); www.uncommongoods.com
Suggested by Barbara Price of Washington, D.C.
Do you have anyone on your gift list who's the parent of a baby boy? If so, here's a nice way to express the thoughtful holiday message: ''Don't get sprayed with urine.'' This is a little cone that you place over the little boy's strategic region during diaper-changing to protect you in case he chooses that moment -- as little boys so often do -- to demonstrate his range and accuracy. In a pinch, this product also makes a fun party hat for people with very small heads, although before you use it for that purpose you should make sure it has not been used previously by a baby boy.
Electronic Message Brassiere
$500 plus shipping and handling from Enlighted Designs Inc., P.O. Box 231548, Encinitas, Calif. 92023-1548, 760-505-3343 (US Pacific Time Zone) (fax 208-723-7139),
If you are a woman who possesses a pair of bosoms, you are probably aware that men look at them from time to time (defined as ''once every .000000000003 seconds''). This is NOT because men are lowlife sex-addict hound dogs. It is a vital instinct that Nature has ''hard-wired'' into males because, back when primitive humans were roaming around being primitive, the very survival of the species depended upon the male's ability to accurately determine, when he entered a group, which group members were females, and which ones were other males, and which ones were trees. That's right, ladies: Next time a guy is taking a gander at your goods, do not be critical of him, because he is only trying to save humanity from destruction, which is also why he is buying you a mojito.
So if men have no genetic CHOICE but to look at women's bazoomage, the logical question is: Can you, as a woman turn this instinct into a means of improved inter-gender communication? The answer is, yes you can. You can wear this electronic message brassiere, which uses an exciting new technology called ''electric lights'' to flash actual letters on your cleavage region, thus forming actual words. Granted, these have to be very short words, such as ''HEY'' and ''WOW.'' But the important thing is, you will be communicating, and without communication, we are nothing more than primitive savages, enslaved by base physical wants. Let us buy you a mojito.
$89.99 plus shipping and handling from Improvements, Hanover, Pa. 17333-0084, 800-642-2112; ImprovementsCatalog.com
Suggested by Connie King of Beavercreek, Ohio.
This is the ideal gift for the outdoorsperson on your holiday gift list. It's an amazing invention that corrects the biggest single flaw in the outdoors, namely, that it is located out of doors. This is basically a personal little room that you can walk around in, to protect yourself from the elements -- snow, sleet, argon, etc. It was originally designed for use with snow throwers, but we see no reason why you can't wear this baby anywhere that you're likely to encounter weather. Football games, for example. Why should you get rained or snowed on? You can root in comfort inside your cab while the losers in the seats around you get soaked. Ha ha! Better keep some mace handy.
Cost and availability unknown. Purchased at a dollar store near the Key Largo public library.
Suggested by Barbara Hampson-Keller of Homestead
Ask any leading medical authority what is the single most important thing you can do for your health, and that authority will answer: ''Protect your ears from the sun.'' Unfortunately, too few of us heed this advice, which is why, every year, the tragedy of earburn afflicts more Americans than any other single affliction you will see mentioned in this particular sentence.
What can you do about this, both for yourself and for your loved ones? Nothing. We were going to tell you to buy Earshadze, which are these plastic things that you clip onto your hat so they stick out over your ears, thus transforming yourself, with very little effort, into the world's biggest dork. But it turns out that you can't buy Earshadze any more. We apparently own the only pair in existence, sent to us by Barbara Hampson-Keller. We're putting them in the Holiday Gift Guide solely to make you eat your heart out. Ha ha! See you in the Earburn Unit, loser!
THANK YOU TO:
Bob Harskel, Adee Sheckar, Kevin Vagi, Lauren Sabatino, Dylan Sabatino, Nicole Nelson, Caroline Lazarus, Eddie Greene, Brian Sedgeley, Jim DeFede, Jerry Stala, Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin Donuts of North Miami, Gino Jensen, Judit Valls, Rocky Gillis, Marsha Gibson, The School Board of Broward County, Dillard High School cheerleaders, Stranahan High School cheerleaders, Pete Harris, Bob Romeo, Dorothy Romeo, Scott Hutchinson, Brooks Sickles
Special thanks to: , Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale