PHOTOS BY RAUL RUBIERA / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
This year, for our Holiday Gift Guide, we thought we'd try something different.
Usually we just hurl together a bunch of stupid, useless items that no sane human would ever actually buy. But this year we thought, ''Why not, for once, do something positive? Why not do a REAL gift guide, with items that people might actually WANT to receive?''
But just then our medication wore off. So once again this year we have followed our standard Gift Guide formula. First, we scour the nation -- defined as ''several catalogs in our office'' -- for possible gifts. We're looking for items that meet our three Critical Gift Guide Criteria:
1. The item has to be cheap.
2. The item has to have a certain indefinable quality that makes you go, ''Huh?''
3. Or, not.
Once we have selected a certain number (14) of potential Gift Guide items, we purchase them, using money graciously provided by The Miami Herald. When the potential items arrive, we put them through the following rigorous Six Step Quality Control Testing Procedure:
STEP ONE: We remove the item from the package.
STEP TWO: We go, ''Huh?''
STEP THREE: We gently pound the item into a thin medallion, then sprinkle it with salt, pepper and paprika. No, wait, this is the recipe for veal scallopini. Please disregard this step.
STEP FOUR: We submit the item to the Department of Homeland Security to determine whether it is a suspected terrorist item, or what.
STEP FIVE: We give the item to our photographer, Raul Rubiera, and tell him to take a picture that illustrates the item, while at the same time, if at all possible, gratuitously featuring a hot babe.
STEP SIX: We run our spellchecker to find out exactly how to spell ''scallopini.''
Only when ALL these steps have been completed, except Step Three, do we include the item in the Gift Guide. It is because of this high level of quality control that we are able to offer you the following:
OFFICIAL HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE CONSUMER LIFETIME WARRANTY: If you purchase any item listed in this Gift Guide (You moron!) and you are for any reason whatsoever not 110 percent totally satisfied, simply place the item in a large heavy pan and sauté it in butter until lightly browned on both sides. Serves six.
BAKGLO CAMPFIRE BUTT WARMER
$14.95 plus shipping and handing from Lee Valley Tools, 814 Proctor Ave., Ogdensburg, N.Y. 13669-2204; 800-871-8158; www.leevalley.com
If we were asked to name the single worst problem plaguing humanity today, we would answer: ''The problem of uneven campfire heating.'' This is when you're sitting by a campfire, and the side of you facing the campfire is warm and toasty, but the side of you not facing the campfire is -- not unlike the side of the Moon away from the sun -- covered with craters.
Well you can say goodbye to this problem forever, thanks to the BakGlo brand campfire-heat-evening-out device, which uses the scientific principle of reflection. The way it works is, when heat rays leave the fire, they bounce off the BakGlo and go into your back, rather than continuing outward and striking the bear standing behind you. But don't worry about him! He won't hurt you! At least not until you're fully cooked.
$24 plus shipping and handling from The Preparedness Center, 311 E. Perkins St., Ukiah, CA 95482, 707-472-0280, www.preparednesscenter.com
Suggested by Ruth Eremin of East Amherst, N.Y.
If you are one of the estimated 83 percent of Americans who from time to time go to the bathroom, chances are that on more than one occasion you have remarked to yourself: I need a place to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW.
Unfortunately, in this modern world we often find ourselves in situations where we cannot immediately relieve ourselves, such as standing in a long stadium restroom line, riding in an elevator, delivering a State of the Union address, etc. It is for just these situations that the Inflate-a-Potty was invented. This is an actual inflatable toilet that you inflate by blowing it up. Yuck!
No, seriously, this a fabulous concept. Next time you absolutely have ''got to go,'' you just whip this baby out, inflate it, do your ''business,'' deflate the toilet, and get back to the matter at hand, starting with a brief apology to the various houses of Congress.
$10 plus shipping and handling from Make Life Easier, 19465 Brennan Ave., Perris, CA 92599, 800-522-0227
Suggested by John L. Nemeth of Tucson, Ariz.
It's always difficult to find the right gift for the person on your holiday list who has experienced a tragic loss. That's why we were so happy to discover this item, which we absolutely swear we are not making up.
This is a specially formulated headstone-cleaner in a handy spray bottle. According to the manufacturer, in just 60 seconds this product ''deep cleans and renews luster as it quickly and easily lifts dirt, moss, mold and grime.'' Not only that, but this incredible product ''leaves behind a protective Teflon finish.''
Isn't that wonderful? No more scrubbing with old-fashioned headstone cleaners! AND a Teflon finish! A person could eat off a headstone cleaned by this amazing product! We were going to make a little joke here about a lifetime guarantee, but we frankly feel that would be in poor taste.
$19.99 plus shipping and handling from Potty Training Solutions, 2682 S. Highland Dr. #104, Salt Lake City, UT 84106, 866-34-POTTY, www.pottytrainingsolutions.com
Suggested by Beverly White of Tampa, Fla.
Most of us are horrified by the thought of having ourselves, or our children's selves, make direct buttular contact with a public toilet seat. That is why we're so excited by the concept of the Potty Poncho, which is a washable, re-usable sanitary protective plastic barrier. It was originally designed for smallish children whose feet don't reach the floor, and thus tend to grip the toilet seat (YUCK!!!) so they won't fall off.
But this product will work for anybody. You carry it in your purse or pocket, and when you need to use the bathroom, you just place the Potty Poncho over the toilet seat. When you're done, you simply fold up the Potty Poncho and put it back into your purse or pocket, along with an estimated 473,000,000,000,000,000 toilet-seat bacteria. Try not to think about it.
STORM DEFENDER CAPE AND MEAT-FLAVORED WATER FOR DOGS
Storm Defender Cape
$55-$65 from Storm Defender, PO Box 18598, Fairfield, OH 45098-0598; www.stormdefender.com
Suggested by Jocelyn and Robert Brokamp of Fredericksburg, Va.
$5.97 plus shipping and handling from Nutri-vet Nutritionals, Boise, ID; www.BestPetHealth.com
Suggested by Pam Spencer of Klamath Falls, Ore.
We Americans really love our dogs. Why? Because dogs ask so little, and give us so much. All you have to do for a dog is feed it, and provide it with a place to live, and walk it every morning even when you're really tired and it's raining, and regularly take it to the veterinarian for shots and de-wormings and various other procedures that can run you into the thousands of dollars if for example the dog has -- and this is not out of the question -- swallowed a toaster-oven. And for doing these things for your dog, you get, in return, an animal that really and truly and sincerely loves you, or anybody else who happens to feed it.
You cannot put a price on that kind of loyalty, although the dog-product industry is doing its darnedest. Today you can buy every kind of merchandise and service for your dog -- dog spas, dog massages, dog apparel, gourmet dog food -- all the things that make it possible for a dog owner to say to a dog: ''I have absolutely no sense of perspective.''
In that spirit, this year we present two fine gifts for the special dog on your holiday list. One is the Storm Defender cape, which, according to the manufacturer, ''gives relief to dogs who are excessively afraid of thunderstorms.'' This cape is for indoor use only. You put it on (on the dog, we mean) ''when the dog first begins to get agitated due to an oncoming electrical thunderstorm. . . . The cape reduces the dog's sensitivity to the static charge that precedes and accompanies a thunderstorm.''
We don't know whether this cape works or not. But we DO know that it makes the dog look phenomenally stupid. And that is enough for us.
Our other recommended canine gift this year is a highly scientific nutritional water specifically formulated for dogs. It comes not only in bacon flavor, but also chicken and beef. These flavors entice the dog to drink the water, which contains, according to the manufacturer, ''a proprietary blend of vitamins, antioxidants and electrolytes.'' Of course if they REALLY wanted the dog to drink this water, they would give it the flavoring that dogs love most of all: toilet.
PICKUP HOOPS TRUCK-MOUNTED BASKETBALL BACKBOARD
$975 per unit, or patent rights for $10 million, from Pickup Hoops, P.O. Box 251322, West Bloomfield, MI 48325, www.pickup-hoops.net
Here's the perfect stress reliever for the commuter. It's a folding basketball pole and backboard that can be mounted in the bed of a pickup truck. So if you get stuck in traffic, you can set this thing up right there on the highway and shoot some hoops, thus turning wasted time into a fun and healthy workout, at least until traffic starts moving again and the motorists behind you deliberately run you over.
We think this item could also be used in a potentially huge new sport called Extreme Basketball. Players would stand in the backs of pickup trucks racing at high speed toward each other, jousting style, and each team would try to shoot the ball through the opposing team's basket. Of course there would be the risk of a horrible catastrophe. That's why this sport would be huge.
TALKING GOLLUM DOLL
$22.98 plus shipping and handling from Things You Never Knew Existed, 4514 19th St. Court E., Bradenton, FL 34203-3799, 800-843-0762, www.johnsonsmith.com
Here's a very thoughtful gift for the impressionable youngster on your holiday gift list. It's a highly realistic talking plush doll depicting Gollum, the fun, heartwarmingly lovable character from the Lord of the Rings movies. When you squeeze him, Gollum hisses one of four phrases from the soundtrack.
Picture this: It's night, and the child is in his or her bed. The room is dark. The child is having trouble sleeping; perhaps he or she is worried that there's a monster under the bed. Finally the child dozes off, and rolls over onto Gollum, who hisses ''My precious,'' causing the child to wake up, face-to-face with Gollum, thus forming a memory that will be seared into the child's brain for a lifetime of therapy.
BEER BELT AND DIP CLIP
$17.99 plus shipping and handling from BeWild.com, 2357 Bedford Ave., Bellmore, N.Y. 11710, 516-221-4700, www.bewild.com
Suggested by Susan Thomas of Syracuse, N.Y.
Available only in bulk. $2.49 each plus shipping and handling from Market Link Industries Inc., 790 Glenridge Road, Spartanburg, S.C. 29301; Fax 864-580-5463
Suggested by Mary Jo David of Plymouth, Mich.
When we attend a party, one of our ''pet peeves'' is that, when we need to replenish our beer or get more dip, we are often forced to manually walk a distance of several feet, sometimes into an entirely different room.
That's why when we saw these two items -- the Beer Belt and the Dip Clip (sold separately) -- our reaction was, quote: ''It's about (burp) time!''
The Beer Belt, as its name would suggest, is a strip of land stretching from Milwaukee to Chicago and then east to Cleveland.
No, seriously, it's a device that you wear around your waist, enabling you to carry six beers -- enough to last a typical beer drinker nearly 25 minutes in actual laboratory tests conducted by Consumer Reports.
The Dip Clip, according to the manufacturer, was actually designed to hold tobacco snuff, which is so disgusting that we don't want to even think about it. But we believe the Dip Clip would work perfectly for holding chip dip, pretzels, peanuts, candies, small rodents -- whatever you like to keep handy at parties.
Either of these items, taken alone, is an important advance in snacking technology. Together, they are guaranteed to make you, or some lucky person on your holiday list, the ''center of attraction'' at any gathering, not to mention the first name that comes up when people are planning a party (''Hey, let's invite that loser!'').
Suggested by Brad Nelson of Midlothian, Va.
When you're talking about an invention you never would have thought of in a million years, you're talking about Smittens. This is a unique joint mitten that two people stick their hands into simultaneously, so they can walk together, hand in hand, until one person needs to let go to scratch or fight off a mugger or whatever, leaving the other person wearing this weirdo mitten.
Besides being romantic, Smittens are of great value in law-enforcement situations where an officer has to be handcuffed to a suspect in a cold climate. In fact, this product is the Official Cold-Weather Custody Mitten of a top federal anti-crime agency that we can identify here only by the initials ''F.B.I.''
AQUARIUM TOILET TANK
$1,200 from Elseware, 97 Wyckoff Ave., #4, Brooklyn, NY 11237, 917-805-2588 www.elseware.to
Every single one of us has spent literally years agonizing over the question of how to make our commode tanks more visually appealing. At last we have an answer, thanks to modern technology and space-age plastics. Also we suspect drugs were involved.
This is a working aquarium that also functions as a toilet tank. While you're ''doing your business,'' you can enjoy actual, living fish darting around in a playful manner, until of course you flush, at which point they are sucked, screaming tiny underwater Nemo screams, down the Hole of Death.
No, seriously, the fish are not flushed down, as far as we can tell. They continue to swim around in there, in plain view, watching you as you use the commode. Even when your back is turned you can feel their eyes on you, watching, watching. Try not to think about it.
TRAVEL HOT-DOG COOKER
$39.98 plus shipping and handling from Clever Gear, 5414 19th St. Court E., PO Box 25600, Bradenton, FL 34206-5600, 800-853-7131, www.clevergear.com (At press time, this item was temporarily unavailable.)
Suggested by Lynn Bagley of Mobile, Ala. and Etta Beckner of Westernport, Md.
What happens when you're on a road trip and you suddenly get the ''munchies?'' All too often, your only choice is to pull into a gas station, convenience store or fast-food joint and buy some crappy junk food. Wouldn't it be great if you could prepare your own crappy junk food right in your motor vehicle?
Well now you can, thanks to this innovative product, which plugs into your car's cigarette lighter and can, in just minutes, turn cold tubes of chemically enhanced compressed meat byproducts into piping hot taste treats capable of inflicting third-degree burns if you drop one on your thighs attempting to cook while driving, which may not be totally 100 percent legal in some areas. (''I'm sorry officer! I didn't see the stop sign, because I was trying to retrieve this hot dog from my thighs! Care for a bite?'')
SPORTY ELECTRONIC BUG-ZAPPING RACKET
$12.99 from Chateau Drug in Ketchum, Idaho; also available online through www.companion-group.com
Here's the ideal gift for the person on your holiday gift list who enjoys playing sports AND killing flying insects. This is a tennis-racket-shaped device that, thanks to the scientific miracle of batteries, has electricity in it, so that when you swat a flying insect, the insect is instantly electrocuted!
OK, maybe not instantly. We tested this device extensively last summer while on vacation, and we found that, if you managed to make contact with a flying insect, the zapper tended to stun it, rather than kill it, so it wound up sort of flopping around on the floor.
The bad news was, this meant that you had to then kneel down and finish the insect off with more zapping. The good news was, we were with a 7-year-old boy who really enjoyed doing this.
Be advised that this device is capable of delivering a mildly painful shock to a human. Be further advised that this feature is especially popular with 7-year-old boys.
We would like to thank the following for their cooperation in the making of the 2004 Gift Guide:
Club I/O, Aramis Lorie, Paula Milan, Jyll K. Derek Cole, Leandro Fernandez, Barbara Fernandez , Ana Maria , Seth Carpenter, Andy Diaz, Rebecca Dellagloria, Joselle Galis-Menendez, Liza Hearon, Susy Mast, Alex (brave dog), Chester (surprised dog), Donna Natale Planas, Sandy Rubiera, Jon O'Neill, Judi Smith, Jose Iglesias, Nuri Vallbona, Kelly Kaufhold, Vicente Kaufhold, Kachelle Kaufhold, Mario , Chuck Fadely, Alex Kolyer, Richard Patterson, Jessica Sick, Nancy Maxwell, Mirage Crystal Gallery, Octopus by Tim Jerman, Florida International, University, Gloria O'Connell, Saul McClintock, FIU Fire Prevention Officer Johnny Suggs, Michael Upright, Marimer Codina, ABC Costumes.