In these troubled economic times, when money is scarce for many people, it's important that we remind ourselves, and our loved ones, that the holiday season is not about buying things.
Then we and our loved ones can enjoy a hearty laugh, because, of COURSE the holiday season is about buying things. Now more than ever, the U.S. retail economy depends on consumers spending money they don't actually have on gifts that nobody actually needs. That is the thinking behind the federal government's recently passed $783-billion Emergency Holiday Retail Stimulus Act, which will be used to purchase, among other things, what the White House has described as ''a cheese log the size of the Chrysler Building.''
When it comes to gifts that nobody needs, you will not find a better source than our annual Holiday Gift Guide, which we have produced every single year without a break since the discovery of America. As you might imagine, it's a major effort. The process begins in early spring, when we contact leading lifestyle trendsetter celebrities such as Beyoncé, Bret Favre and Queen Elizabeth II to ask them what gift ideas they believe will be ``hot'' this holiday season. Within hours -- such is the prestige of this Gift Guide -- we get a personal response from every single one of these celebrities' legal representatives, informing us that we have violated our restraining order. Then we take eight months off.
Approximately two weeks before our deadline, we return to work, refreshed, and get on the Internet to order a batch of products that meet the three strict criteria for inclusion in the Holiday Gift Guide:
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
CRITERION ONE: The item is in stock.
CRITERION TWO: The item makes us wonder what kind of idiot, aside from us, would ever actually buy it.
CRITERION THREE: Now that we think about it, there really are just the two criteria.
As the gift items arrive at the Gift Guide Command Center, our trained professional staff, Judi, puts them through a rigorous testing procedure consisting of putting them on the floor next to her desk. When they have all arrived, we turn the items over to Bob the photographer, who takes pictures of them with models selected on the basis of being people Bob can talk into posing with embarrassing products in exchange for no money.
Yes, it's a lot of work, but it's work that we feel we must do if we are going to continue to avoid doing anything productive. And it is because of this rigorous procedure that we are able to offer you our exclusive:
HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE QUALITY ASSURANCE GUARANTEE WARRANTY
If you purchase any item featured in this Gift Guide, and you are, for any reason -- such as permanent disfigurement -- not 100 percent satisfied, simply place the item in a one-quart resealable clear plastic bag, take it to any municipal airport and put it on the moving belt going into the X-ray machine. Then give the ``thumbs-up'' signal to the TSA personnel operating the machine. They will know what to do.
Confident? You bet we are. And you'll understand why once you take a gander at this year's Gift Guide lineup:
Dave Barry's 2009 Gift Guide
Educational sperm snow globe
$19.95 plus shipping and handling from Teacher's Discovery, 2676 Paldan Dr., Auburn Hills, Mich. 48326, 888-977-2436;
Suggested by Laura Graze of Belleville, Ill.
Here's a gift that is both fun and educational for the youngster on your list. Basically, this is a snow globe, but when you shake it, instead of artificial snowflakes, there are artificial sperm cells swimming around. At least we hope they're artificial, because they're the size of tadpoles, so if they're real, we do not want to meet the man they came from.
In the middle of the globe is a model of an egg cell, which is being penetrated by one of the sperm cells, whom we will call Mr. Lucky. The manufacturer describes this as ''a great visual for you teachers trying to explain the reproductive process.'' We're sure it is! We can easily picture youngsters learning a lot from this and even discussing it with their parents.
FIRST PARENT: What did you learn in school today?
CHILD: Mr. Johnson taught us about sex.
SECOND PARENT: Really? How?
CHILD: He shook his sperm globe.
FIRST PARENT: I'm calling the police.
15.67 plus shipping and handling from The Brown Corporation, 52 Great Eastern St., London EC2A 3EP, United Kingdom;
Suggested by Cathy Connolly of Lake Worth.
Men, do you have a ''special lady'' on your holiday gift list? Somebody you want to impress with your style and taste? Sure, you could give her expensive perfume or jewelry, but let's face it, those gifts have become holiday clichés. If you really want to make an impression this year, give her this amazing product, which combines the timeless elegance of cardboard with the practical functionality of being a box into which you can relieve yourself.
That's right: This is a portable, foldable working commode. It's ideal for situations where regular bathrooms are overloaded or unavailable, such as camping trips, sporting events, concerts, airplanes, cars being driven by men who refuse to stop, elevators, the waiting line for Space Mountain, etc. The Poop Box comes with biodegradable plastic bags, which, after use, can be either thrown away or used for pranks.
This is one of those gifts that you can be virtually certain will come as a total surprise to the ''lucky lady'' on your holiday list. Just imagine her reaction when she tears off the wrapping! You might want to have some pepper spray handy.
$14.99 plus shipping and handling from Cabela's, Inc., One Cabela Drive, Sidney, Neb., 69160, 800-237-4444;
Everybody appreciates jerky. It's one of the few substances that can be used as both weatherstripping and -- if you are truly desperate -- food.
Many people believe that the only way to get jerky is to buy it pre-manufactured from a store. But there's a better way: you can make your own jerky at home, using this handsome Jerky Pistol, which looks like a weapon from an early episode of Star Trek. All you do is fill the pistol with jerky ingredients such as . . . OK, such as whatever is in jerky. Then you pull the trigger and, as the French say, ''Voila!'' (Literally, ''Yuck!'')
This is a perfect gift for the person on your holiday list who needs to be more self-sufficient. As the philosopher Lao Tzu said: ''If you give a man some jerky, you feed him for a day. But if you give him a Jerky Pistol, he can use it to hold up a convenience store.''
Nose shower-gel dispenser
$14.95 plus shipping and handling from Amazon, www.amazon.com
Suggested by Jeff Berkowitz of Miami and Reshma Memon Yaqub of Bethesda, Md.
Here's the perfect item for the person who wants to give his or her shower a unique ''designer'' touch. This is a giant rubber nose that sticks to your shower with suction cups. When you squeeze the nose, green shower gel comes oozing out of the nostrils. We installed this nose in our personal shower at home, and although our wife initially hated it, we can truthfully report that, after six months, she still pretty much hates it. But we really like it and often greet visitors by asking, ''Do you want to see our shower?'' The only drawback to this dispenser is that, after you've showered using a green substance that came from nostrils, you feel as though you need to shower again.
This is the only nose-shaped shower-gel dispenser approved by both the National Institutes of Health and Martha Stewart.
$59.95 plus shipping and handling from Hammacher Schlemmer, 147 E. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10022, 800-321-1484;
Suggested by Sherrie Hood of Davenport, Iowa, and Sharon Fear of St. Charles, Ill.
When you walk on the beach or in a park, do you realize that right under your feet there could be valuable metal objects such as buried pirate treasure?
One way to find these objects is to use an old-fashioned metal detector, but these tend to be cumbersome things that make you look like a weirdo loser. That's why we here at the Gift Guide are so excited about these metal-detecting sandals. First of all, they look fabulous, combining the rugged good looks of cheap plastic sandals with the timeless elegance of a wire running up your leg from your sandals to an electronic device strapped to your calf.
But they're not just beautiful: They're functional. Because inside your right sandal is an electronic thing that uses -- and here we are quoting the manufacturer -- ''beat frequency oscillation technology'' to locate metal objects and cause your calf device to vibrate or buzz. So all you have to do is walk around until your calf tingles, telling you it's time to stop and dig (you'll need to carry a shovel) until you locate the pirate treasure or possibly even a United States government-issued penny. Not only could these sandals make you rich, but they are also a great way to start a conversation with attractive people on the beach. (''Check these out! They use beat frequency oscillation technology! Hey, where are you going?'')
Whoppair boxing gloves
$8.95 plus shipping and handling from The Lakeside Collection, PO Box 3088, Northbrook, Ill. 60065-3088, 847-444-3150;
www.lakeside.com(As of the Gift Guide publication date, this item was out of stock.)
Suggested by Terri Card of Corvallis, Ore.
The holiday season is a time when we feel great love for humanity in general. But it is also a time when we have the urge to punch out individual humans, especially when they snatch the last copy of the video game Resident Evil IV off the electronics-store shelf just as we get there, which means our child's innocent dream of spending the holidays killing virtual zombies is RUINED.
Yes, the holidays can cause us to feel tension and anger, which is why the annual Holiday Stress Advisory issued by the American Academy of Professional Psychologists recommends that, quote, ''everybody should drink a lot.''
Ha ha! That was just a nugget of holiday humor. What the Academy actually recommends is that you work off your holiday stress by ''punching people with giant inflatable boxing gloves.'' We here at the Gift Guide strongly recommend the Whoppair, a quality glove that has been lovingly machine-crafted from some kind of plastic. This is the only giant inflatable boxing glove that has the official endorsement of the Miss America Pageant.
NFL Garden Gnome
$16.95 plus shipping and handling from The Lakeside Collection, PO Box 3088, Northbrook, Ill. 60065-3088, 847-444-3150; www.lakeside.com
Suggested by Terri Card of Corvallis, Ore.
If you're like most fans of the National Football League, you have long been troubled by the fact that you have no way to express your loyalty to your team through yard statuary. Be advised that your nightmare is over, because you can now, at last, purchase official NFL-licensed garden gnomes. These gnomes, which come in a variety of team uniforms, truly embody everything the NFL stands for: toughness, commitment, hustle, heart, courage and a desire to make as much money as humanly possible through licensing fees. When you put your team's gnome in your garden, you are sending the proud and unmistakable message to all who pass by: ''Do NOT mess with my zucchini.''
$19.95 plus shipping and handling from Amazon, www.amazon.com
Suggested by Steve Pietrowicz of Mahomet, Ill.
How many times has this happened to you? You're at a party where you have enjoyed a number of refreshing beverages in the form of beer. At some point you set your beer down so you can have both hands free to go to the bathroom, or punch somebody, or simply grab something to avoid falling. A few minutes later, you go to retrieve your beer and . . . you can't find it! What the HECK happened to your beer? Also, where are your pants?
If this sounds like you or somebody on your holiday gift list, you need the Beer Pager. This ''high-tech'' device comes in two parts: (1) A cooler that you put your beer in, and (2) a remote that activates the cooler somehow (we suspect electricity). When you need to locate your beer, all you have to do is click the remote, and your beer cooler flashes AND makes a burping sound. It's foolproof! Unless you left the remote in your pants.
Stink-finder ultraviolet light
$16.95 plus shipping and handling from Stink Free Direct, 3233 NW 21st St., Oklahoma City, Okla. 73107, 866-803-3800;
Suggested by Andy Wenzel of Miami.
Here's a gift that sends the cheerful holiday message: ''You are surrounded by disgusting fluids you cannot see.'' This is a special ''ultra-violet'' light that, when you shine it around on surfaces such as carpets, bedspreads, your spouse, etc., reveals traces of -- and here we are quoting the official website -- ''urine, vomit, feces, saliva, semen and blood.'' The site further states that this light can (we are not making this up):
-- ''Fluoresce many types of ringworm and make it easier to see and diagnose.''
-- ''Help locate scorpions around pools, walkways, in basements and other areas.''
No, we don't know how the Stink-Finder light does these things. Maybe the scorpions and ringworms emit urine, vomit, feces, saliva, semen or blood. If so, that is all the more reason why you and the people on your holiday gift list need this product. It is also why Mr. Donald Trump keeps three of these babies on his person at all times.
Golf club drink dispenser
$24.95 plus shipping and handling from The Lakeside Collection, PO Box 3088, Northbrook, Ill. 60065-3088, 847-444-3150; www.lakeside.com
Suggested by Terri Card of Corvallis, Ore.
You may recall that in last year's Gift Guide, we featured the UroClub, which looks like a regular golf club but is actually a cleverly disguised hollow tube that a male golfer can relieve himself into while out on the golf course. This year, we have the ideal companion for the UroClub: The Golf Club Drink Dispenser. This also looks like a golf club, but it, too, is actually a hollow tube; it holds 48 ounces of liquid and has a pump dispenser on top. So now you can enjoy a refreshing beverage while you're playing golf, and when you feel the ''call of nature,'' you can relieve yourself into your UroClub!
Just make sure that you don't have so many refreshing beverages that you become confused and start relieving yourself into your Golf Club Drink Dispenser and drinking from your UroClub. This is exactly what happened to Tiger Woods at the Masters.
Wine glass holder necklace (set of two)
$24.95 (set of two) plus shipping and handling from Wine Enthusiast, 333 N. Bedford Rd., Mount Kisco, N,Y., 10549, 800-356-8466
Suggested by Ken Bauermeister of Boulder Creek, Calif.
This is the perfect gift for the wine lover, or ''winophile,'' on your holiday gift list. It's a sling that allows you to hang your wine glass around your neck. Not only does this look really classy, but it leaves your hands free to do all those things you need to do when you're carrying a glass of wine around, such as:
- -- Make gestures;
- -- Grope people;
- -- Punch people;
- -- Scratch yourself and, of course,
- -- Locate your driver's license so you can show it to the police officer.
Truly, this is a gift that sends the holiday message: ''You have a serious drinking problem.''
Dave Barry Holiday Gift Guide 2009 Thank-you list: Ted Alderman, Alisa Bert, Nancy Foster, Kim Friedlander, Benjamin Friedlander, Ilene Gerson, Eddie Greene, Carlos Guerrero, Kristy Haffer, Bob Harksel, Ken Herringer, Matt Hughes, Randy McCafferty, Lexford McNish, Sondra Perkins, Adee Shekar, Benjamin Shekar, Felice Shekar, Kari Sickles, Mary Lynn Swartz, Christian Valle, Lynda Waldron, Troy Weekley, Zach Williams
Photos by Bob Eighmie for the Miami Herald