GIFT GUIDE PHOTOS BY JOSHUA PREZANT/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD
The holiday season is a time when we should ponder the message of the classic tale A Christmas Carol by the great English writer whatshishame. In this story, the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who cares about nothing but money, is visited in his house on Christmas Eve by three ghosts -- the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Vice President Dick Cheney. They make Scrooge see the error of his ways by showing him what the town of Bedford Falls would have been like if James Stewart had never been born.
We can never watch that movie without crying. This is mainly because of our eggnog recipe (one egg, one quart rum). But it's also because the story of Scrooge reminds us what truly matters during the holiday season. Too often, all we think about at this time of year is presents -- shopping for them, giving them, getting them, opening them, trying to find eight double-A batteries for them, etc. But the lesson of A Christmas Carol is clear: We must not think only about presents. We must also think about securing our house from intruders, so they can't come in and steal our presents.
Yes, the sad truth is that there are bad people out there -- people who see the holiday season as an opportunity to perpetrate crimes and cruel scams on innocent victims. A good example is this Annual Holiday Gift Guide, which we publish every year in lieu of something that might actually be useful. This year is no exception. We have assembled a collection of gift concepts so unusual, so distinctive, that you will say: ``You made those up, right?''
No. There is not enough eggnog in the world. All of the Holiday Gift Guide items are actual products that you can buy (except for one that might be imaginary, which is just as well). We know this because we purchased them ourselves, taking care not to use our own personal money. After we received the items, we subjected each of them to our rigorous Two Step Quality Assurance Test:
Step One: We examine the item to see if it has the words ''MADE IN CHINA'' on it.
Step Two: If it does, we drop it like a diseased rodent.
It is because of the rigorousness of this test that we are able to offer you our exclusive Holiday Gift Guide ''No Excuses'' Warranty, which states: ''If you purchase any item from this Gift Guide, you basically have no excuses.''
But enough legal boilerplate. Let's take a look at this year's crop of gift ideas, starting with:
$11.88 per pair, plus shipping and handling, from PrankPlace.com, LLC., 206 Murphy Road, Hartford, Conn. 06114, 800-901-1163; www.prankplace.com/ tattoo.htm
Suggested by Stephanie Pluess of London, U.K.
Not long ago, people with tattoos were considered to be low-class sleazeballs. But today, millions of Americans have tattoos. What does this tell us? It tells us that millions of Americans are low-class sleazeballs.
Just kidding! It tells us that tattoos are now considered ''body art'' and have become fashionable with people from all walks of life.
FACT: All nine U.S. Supreme Court justices have the Bill of Rights tattooed on their buttocks.
Perhaps you'd like to get a tattoo, but you've been holding back for some reason, such as that you're not drunk. Or you're worried that when you get old and saggy your tattoo will stretch, so instead of having, say, an arty little butterfly on your shoulder, it will look like you're being attacked by a giant mutant bat.
That's why you need Tattoo Sleeves. These are sleeves that make you look as though you have tattoos all over your arms. Think of the pranks you can play! Like, say you're a non-tattooed college student with strict parents. Imagine how they'll react when you take off your jacket and they see your tattoo sleeves. They'll react by having coronary failure. So make sure your tuition is paid in advance.
Tattoo sleeves fit everyone. They cannot, however, be removed. (Ha ha!)
Suggested by Gretchen DeJarnett of Davison, Mich. and many other alert readers
Ask yourself how many times you have made the following statement after killing a bird with a shotgun: ''Gosh darn it, now I have to painstakingly remove the pellets from this bird, and THEN, in a completely separate step, I have to season the bird so I can eat it! There must be an easier way!''
If that sounds like you or somebody on your holiday gift list, then you need Season Shot. It's a brilliant concept: shotgun pellets that are actually made from seasoning, so that you season the bird when you kill it! It's a great timesaver for sportspersons, but it could also come in handy if you, for whatever reason, take your shotgun with you when you dine at fine restaurants:
WAITER: How is your pheasant, sir?
YOU: To be honest, its a little under-seasoned.
WAITER: Would you like me to take it back to the kitchen?
YOU: No need for that.
According to the product website, Season Shot is accurate ''up to 45 yards.'' This is the ONLY season shot recommended by both Vice President Cheney and his elderly Texas lawyer friend.
Flying Alarm Clock
$19.99 plus shipping and handling from iKitchen, 256 West 36th Street, New York, N.Y. 10018; www.ekitchengadgets.com/
Suggested by Mary and Peter Sandberg of Minneapolis, Minn.
This brilliant technological innovation is the ultimate gift for anybody who has trouble getting out of bed in the morning. This is an alarm clock with a propeller on top. When the alarm sounds, the propeller takes off and flies around the room. The only way to make the alarm go off is to get out of bed, find the propeller, and put it back into the clock. It's brilliant! And it's foolproof! Unless of course the sleeper happens to be a sportsperson.
Fake Breathing Puppy
$19.99 plus shipping and handling from Casual Living, 5401 Hangar Court, Tampa, Fla. 33634, 800-652-2948; www.casuallivingusa.com
Suggested by Barbara Brown of Portage, Ind.
Americans are crazy mad for dogs. These days people take their ''canine companions'' with them everywhere -- on airplanes, into restaurants, to the movies, into the shower, etc. They talk to their dogs all time, buy expensive merchandise for their dogs, hire psychologists for their dogs, and just generally treat their dogs like humans, only better. It is only a matter of time before dogs have the right to vote, at least in California. (They will support Sen. Barbara Boxer. Ha ha!)
Perhaps you, or somebody on your gift list, would like to participate in the dog craze, but you have been unable to get past the fact that dogs -- even really nice dogs with psychologists -- are basically animals with the IQ of rust who are always barking and pooping and attempting to mate with inappropriate objects and making the weewee of joy on your feet.
That is the beauty of this gift item, ''Almost a Real Pup,'' which is a semi-realistic puppy made -- according to the product website -- of ''handcrafted polyester.'' It doesn't engage in any annoying dog behavior. It just lies there and -- thanks to the miracle of ''D'' cell batteries -- appears to breathe. You can talk to it just as you would talk to a real dog, and it will exhibit pretty much the same level of comprehension. If robbers come to your house, you can throw ''Almost a Real Pup'' at them, and it will still love you just as much as before.
$49.95 (Canadian), plus shipping and handling from Bra(g), www.bra-g.com/products.asp
Suggested by Jeff Meyerson of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Without question one of the biggest problems facing humanity today is how to carry spare brassieres. Finally, somebody has come up with a solution: The Bra Bag, or Bra(g). According to the product website, the Bra Bag will hold up to six ''C'' cup brassieres (or 'some 'D' cups''). The site also says that the Bra Bag is ''so chic, you're sure to turn a few heads when carrying it!'' You surely are. People notice a woman who takes brassiere transport seriously. And according to the manufacturer, this item is ''so fun and funky with such a cute handle -- you may even want to use the Bra(g) as a purse!'' In that case, you could use your purse to carry your spare brassieres. This is an exciting time to be a lingerie-owner.
$218 for trailer hitch and one chair from CSN Stores Inc., 800 Boylston Street, Suite 1600, Boston, Mass. 02199, 800-593-5251; http://www.csnstores.com/ Hammaka-3004-HMKA-YT1009.html
Here is the ultimate gift for the sports fan or complete raving lunatic, not that there is any great difference. This is a hammock-style chair that is suspended from the trailer hitch of a vehicle. So when you're tailgating at a sporting event, instead of having to sit on a regular boring chair placed on the ground, you can dangle from the back of your vehicle, making you the envy of all the other tailgaters, especially if they have been hitting the Bloody Marys since dawn. In fact, we see no reason, other than local, state and federal law, why you shouldn't just stay in your Tailgater chair and let somebody else drive you home, while you dangle in luxury. If the police stop your vehicle, just show them this newspaper article. You will surely get a reaction.
$14 plus shipping and handling (har) from foliage, http://foliage.myshopify.com/
Suggested by Jim Gilboy of Hales Corners, Wis.
Is there a woman on your gift list, with ''woman'' defined as 'a person who puts 'decorative hand soaps' in the bathroom that guests are supposed to use, so that the actual guests are afraid to wash their hands with the soap because they don't want to mess it up, so they end up either not washing at all or just wetting their hands and then drying them on their pants, because they are also afraid to use the 'decorative towels'?''
If so, then you will want to give that woman these decorative hand soaps, which are actually shaped like hands, reaching up at you in a truly creepy decorative way. No guest would dream of actually using these soaps. They will last for centuries, grasping upward in the guest-bathroom gloom.
Psycho Shower Curtain
$24.89 plus shipping and handling from PrankPlace.com, LLC., 206 Murphy Road, Hartford, Conn. 06114, 800-901-1163, www.prankplace.com/ psychoshowercurtain.htm
Suggested by Peter Metrinko of Chantilly, Va.
This is the perfect companion to the scary grasping hand soap: a shower curtain with a shadow of the crazy Psycho stabbing lady (played by Martha Stewart). With these two products in place, no guest will even enter the guest bathroom. It's a hostess's dream come true!
Bunny Car Kit
$19.89 plus shipping and handling from PrankPlace.com, LLC., 206 Murphy Road, Hartford, Conn. 06114, 800-901-1163; www.prankplace.com/
Suggested by Barbara Brown of Portage, Ind.
Do you have a masculine male man on your holiday gift list who proudly owns and drives a manly car? Then no doubt that man would want to accessorize that car with this gift concept. As the manufacturer says, ''Why drive around town in a boring car when you can dress it up as a rabbit?'' Why indeed? Many leading celebrities such as actor Mel Gibson and ''rap'' artist ''Fifty Cents'' have used this product to customized their ''rides.'' The Pope has also expressed interest.
Watermelon-flavored Freud-head Lollipops
$27.95 plus shipping and handling from Archie McPhee and Company, P.O. Box 30852, Seattle, Wash. 98113, 425-349-3009; www.mcphee.com/
Suggested by Russell McGilvray of McAllen, Texas
This is one of those products that cause you to smack your forehead and ask, ''Why didn't I think of that moments before taking powerful and much-needed medication?'' This product, as the headline strongly suggests, is a watermelon-flavored lollipop shaped like the head of Sigmund Freud, also known as ''The Father of Modern Psychoanalytic Quackery.'' What a wonderful way to send somebody on your gift list the message: ''Happy holidays! Here's a weird thing to put in your mouth!'' You will definitely want to snap these up quickly, because they will be in short supply once whoever is making them is subdued and placed in restraints.
Ten Plagues Bowling Set
$20 plus shipping and handling from Hamakor Judaica, 7777 N. Merrimac Ave., Niles, Ill. 60714; 800-426-2567; www.jewishsource.com/
Suggested by Sharon Rae Pettigrew of Alexandria, Va.
Here's a fun item for the Jewish person on your holiday gift list. This is a bowling set with wooden pins representing the 10 plagues of Egypt. Some of the plagues are a little hard to figure out, because as any artist will tell you, it's not easy to represent plagues, especially lice and boils, in the bowling-pin medium. Nevertheless, in our opinion this may be the best plague-themed bowling game on the market. Certainly it's in the top three.
$19.95 (for set of two) plus shipping and handling, from Golden West Enterprises, P.O. Box 1390, Magalia, Calif. 95954, http://pillow-pal.net/
Suggested by Gretchen Schmidt of Coral Gables
How often have you said to yourself: ''I need to shoot an intruder, but where the heck did I put my handgun?!'' If you buy this item, you or the armed person on your holiday gift list will always know the answer: It's in your Pillow Pal!
The Pillow Pal is a ''handy holster holder'' that hangs next to your bed. The manufacturer says that it ''might be used to hold your handgun, your stun gun, or a can of aerosol chemical agent. Or maybe you'd hang a flashlight on a belt-loop flashlight holder. Cordless/cellphones. TV or stereo remotes. Baby monitors. There are myriad possibilities with Pillow Pal.''
There surely are! In fact, you might want to get more than one Pillow Pal, so that you can have quick access to both your handgun AND your remote control. But make sure you know which one you're grabbing! You wouldn't want to be pointing your remote control at a burglar, or your handgun at your TV set! Unless you're watching American Idol.