Hark -- Do you hear that sound? It's the radio, playing Frosty the Snowman! For the eighth or ninth time today! And that thud in the yard? Why, that's dad, falling off the ladder while attempting to hang fake icicles from the roof. And if you listen really, really hard, you can hear, softly in the distance, the sounds of shoppers trading punches over parking spots at the mall.
No doubt about it: The holidays are here!
Yes, it's a busy, busy time. But no matter how hectic it gets, you need to remember what the holidays are really all about. So before you get too caught up in all the craziness and the commercialism, take a moment for quiet reflection, and ask yourself this question: Exactly how much can you charge on your credit cards without going to jail?
Because you need to buy things. A LOT of things. Even as you read these words, people are out there buying things for you, and you are legally required to give every single one of these people some kind of thing in retaliation. That is what the holiday season is all about. And that is why every year, in defiance of numerous court orders, we put out our Holiday Gift Guide.
This is not your ordinary gift guide, the kind that features gifts that somebody might actually want or use. The gifts in this guide were selected because they meet a very strict criterion, which is that when we saw the item advertised, we said to ourselves: ''Are they SERIOUS?'' The idea is, if you give one of these items to somebody on your list, that person will be much less likely to want to exchange gifts with you in the future.
Every item in the Holiday Gift Guide is a real product that is actually for sale. We have purchased all of these items and subjected them to our rigorous field-testing procedure, which consists of giving them to Raul the photographer and sending him out into the field to take funny pictures of them. After that, we don't know what happens to them, and we frankly don't care.
It is because of this rigorous procedure that we are able to offer you our Holiday Gift Guide Pledge of Guaranteed Quality Assurance:
We hereby pledge that if you buy an item featured in the Holiday Gift Guide, and you are for any reason not 100 percent completely satisfied with it, then don't say we didn't warn you.
OK, now that we've gotten the ''legal boilerplate'' out of the way, let's look at this year's crop of gift concepts, starting with:
$24.95 plus shipping and handling from The KISS Museum, 3140-B Tilghman St #305, Allentown, PA 18104, fax: 610-351-5348, www.kissmuseum.com (in the catalog section 'Dolls`)
Suggested by Lee Michalak of Medford, Ore.
Every once in a while, two entirely different things come together to form something new and wonderful. Peanut butter and jelly. Abbott and Costello. Ham and eggs. Peanut butter and Costello. The list goes on and on.
This gift concept is another example of this phenomenon. What probably happened was this:
Some marketing people were sitting around a conference table, trying to ''brainstorm'' an idea for a product, and they got into an argument. On one side was a guy saying, ''We need to put out a product that would appeal to fans of the legendary rock band Kiss.'' On the other side was a guy saying, ''No! We need to put out a product that can be used as a bath toy!'' And then, just when it looked as though they had reached a stalemate, a light bulb went on over their heads, and they decided to ingest powerful narcotics.
The result is the Kiss Celebriducks, a set of four rubber ducks shaped vaguely like the members of Kiss. They go with pretty much any bathroom decor, and make a fun and educational toy for anybody except children under the age of 21.
$12.95 plus shipping and handling from Sprayonmud Limited, York House, 20 Shoplatch, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 1HN, United Kingdom; www.sprayonmud.com;
U.S. orders: sprayonmud.us/index.html
Suggested by Betty Salwak of Indianapolis, Ind. and Mike Leone of Helena, Mont.
Millions of Americans own SUVs that have rugged ''off-road'' capabilities, as illustrated in TV commercials wherein these vehicles climb mountains, ford rivers, run down and kill wildebeests, etc. Unfortunately, most of these SUV-owning Americans live in the suburbs, which means that if they ever actually did drive off the road, they would be on somebody's lawn. What these people need is Spray-on Mud, which comes in a convenient can. Now, when you return home from an outing with your car all muddied up, your neighbors will think you were driving through rugged back country, even though you were actually parked at Mattress Outlet World. Or, if you're a married guy and you need to explain why you're getting home at 2 a.m., you can spray some mud on your clothes and tell your spouse that you were playing league softball. If your spouse asks why you're wearing your work clothes if you were playing softball, you should emulate the wildebeest, and run.
Literary entry: Switch Blades of Italy
$39.99 plus shipping and handling from Collector Bookstore, 913-651-0600,
Suggested by Dan Fuller of New Philadelphia, Ohio
Every year without fail, except those years when we forget, we include a literary selection in the Holiday Gift Guide. This year's selection is Switch Blades of Italy, a book that is guaranteed to be of great interest to anybody who is interested in the topic of Italian switchblades. According to the promotional material, Switch Blades of Italy contains ''never-before-published information which clears up and dispels many myths'' and reveals ''the major players shaping the switchblade industry.'' That's right: The switchblade industry has myths AND major players. It's a riveting story, we are certain. We will be surprised if this book does not become a major motion picture starring Keanu Reaves as a myth-dispelling major player who stabs his way to the top. If you're a guy, and you're looking for a romantic gift for that ''special lady'' on your list, this book is definitely it. Imagine the look on her face when she takes off the wrapping! You'll want to stand back, in case she's using scissors.
Musical Funky Toilet
$12.95 plus shipping and handling from Spilsbury, PO Box 873, Itasca, Ill. 60143-0873, 800-772-1760 or 800-285-8619, www.spilsbury.com
Note: This item is no long available at www.spilsbury.com but can be ordered here: http://www.thingsyouneverknew.com/website/store/product_detail.asp?UID=&item_no=26804&keyword=Gag&cat_keyword=&search_page_no=1
Suggested by Sue Doughtie of Buffalo, N.Y.
Ordinarily we do not include ''gag'' gifts in the Holiday Gift Guide, because most of them are, frankly, stupid. But every now and then we come across one that is different -- one that makes us sit up and remark: ''Wow! This one is REALLY stupid!''
Such is the case with the Musical Funky Toilet, which is a miniature toilet powered by three AA batteries that are not included, which may actually be a good thing, because when you put them in and open the toilet lid, the toilet contents -- yes, the toilet has contents, with little eyeballs -- perform a funky musical dance. Ha ha! The promotional material states that this gag is, quote, ''guaranteed to get a laugh every time.'' That is why this is the Official Presidential Novelty Gift presented to all dignitaries who visit the White House.
MEDICAL ADVISORY: All kidding aside, if you ever do happen to notice that your toilet contents have eyeballs, the Surgeon General recommends that you, quote, ''cut way down on the martinis.''
Sinking Titanic Ship Model
$39.95 plus shipping and handling from Transportation Hobby Collectibles Online/Singular Selections E-Stores, PMB 66, 6470 Freetown Road, Suite 200, Columbia, Md. 21044, 800-372-7299, www.thconline.com/index.html
Suggested by Alan King of Bologna, Italy
What is more fun for a youngster than playing with a toy ship in a bathtub or pool? We'll tell you what: playing with a toy ship that realistically simulates the sinking of an ocean liner resulting in more than a thousand deaths! And that's exactly what this amazing toy does. You touch a button, and a big iceberg gash opens up in the hull, and ... Down she goes! Ha ha! We bet the lucky youngster who gets this gift will play with it for hours, and ultimately need therapy. This ship comes with a 52-page illustrated book about the Titanic. Tragically, it does not come with a tiny non-floating replica of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Animated Stress Turtle
$18 plus shipping and handling from Handsome Rewards, 19465 Brennan Ave. Perris, Calif., 92599, 951-943-2023. NOTE: We just found out that this item has been discontinued. But trust us, you wouldn't have wanted it anyway.
Suggested by Luke Francisco of Crystal River
Remember a few years ago, when there was a big fad involving a fake trophy bass, mounted on a plaque, that would suddenly swing its head out toward you and start lip-syncing a song such as Take Me To the River? Remember how hilarious you thought it was the first time you saw it? Then remember how, one by one, every single residence in the United States, including probably the White House, got one of those things, and not only did you stop being amused by it, but you came to realize that it represented a low point in human civilization? Well guess what? We now have an even lower point. It's called the Animated Stress Turtle, and it crawls across your desk and sings ''You gotta slow down.'' It's a perfect gift for busy executives. If you're having a stressful day at the office, all you have to do is activate your stress turtle, and before you know it, one of your co-workers will smash it with a chair to make it stop. You might even be fired! That will definitely cut down on your work-related stress.
$5.95 per flavor plus shipping and handling from David Burke's Flavor Spray Diet, P.O. Box 298, Cliffside Park, NJ 07010, 718-793-SPRAY(7772), www.flavorspraydiet.com/
Suggested by Claire Martin of Denver, Colo.
Why do we eat fattening foods? Because they taste good. This is why we never, ever, while watching football on a Sunday afternoon, say: ''Let's call up Celery Hut and have a big bunch of celery delivered!''
No, we want pizza, because pizza is dripping with fat. And that's the problem: If you want flavor, you have to eat food that makes YOU fat. Until now! Because now you can get Flavor Spray, which contains no calories, no carbohydrates and no fat, and comes in many flavors, including chocolate fudge, bacon, marshmallow and teriyaki. The idea is, you spray this on some low-calorie food that does not have a lot of flavor, and enjoy a delicious-tasting, guilt-free treat. (''Wow! I never tasted chocolate fudge celery before!'')
With Flavor Spray, you can make anything taste good! You could have a meal consisting entirely of cardboard! (Not recommended.) You can even eat nothing at all, and simply spray flavor directly into your mouth. Raul the Official Gift Guide Photographer tried this, and, weeks later, his mouth STILL tastes like bacon.
Electric Marshmallow Toaster
$19.95 plus shipping and handling from Wishingfish.com, Inc., 1014 Pico Blvd., Suite #3, Santa Monica, CA 90405, 877-785-3914,
Roasted marshmallows are a fun treat and an important nutritional source of sugar. The problem is the backbreaking labor involved. To roast your marshmallow evenly, you have to manually rotate your stick, which means that by the time you have roasted and consumed three or four dozen marshmallows, you are exhausted. You barely have enough strength to raise your Hershey bar to your lips.
But not any more. Not when you have this automatic marshmallow roasting device, which harnesses the amazing power of AA batteries (not included) to power an electric motor that actually turns your marshmallows for you. That's right, we said ''marshmallows,'' plural, because this baby can rotate THREE marshmallows at a time. Also we are pretty sure it could be used to kill a bear, although this is not explicitly stated in the instructions.
Scrolling LED Belt Buckle
$29.99 plus shipping and handling from Brain Buster Enterprises LLC, 349 Broadway, 9th floor, New York, N.Y. 10013; available online only at www.scrollingbuckle.com
Suggested by Bryce Donovan of Charleston, S.C.
Men, ask yourself this question: How does actor Brad Pitt manage to get hooked up with so many fine ladies? What does he have that YOU don't have? The answer is: A scrolling electronic belt buckle. Ask any woman on the planet Earth what is the first thing she notices in a man, and she will answer, ''Why, his belt buckle, of course!'' That is why Brad, and so many other guys who ''score'' with the babes, would not go anywhere, including the beach, without first strapping on this product. This is an amazing hunk of wearable technology that can be programmed to display a scrolling message of up to 256 characters, such as ''CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT KIND OF PATHETIC LOSER WOULD ACTUALLY WEAR THIS?''
Pajamas for Dogs
$18.99-$24.99 plus shipping and handling from Care-A-Lot Pet Supply, 1617 Diamond Springs Rd., Virginia Beach, Va. 23455, 800-343-7680,
Suggested by Martin Tracey of Miami
For years now, thoughtful dog owners have been putting sweaters and their coats on their dogs for outdoor wear. But what about indoor wear? What about BEDTIME wear? It is a sad but true fact that every night, all over this so-called ''caring'' nation, literally millions of dogs go to bed naked. For these unfortunate animals, there is no more thoughtful gift that we can think of this holiday season than a pair of these quality dog pajamas, which come in a variety of ''fun'' prints. We guarantee that when you put these PJs on your dog, it's going to give you a very special look -- a look that says, ''Some night, when you least expect it, I will rip out your throat.''
$9.85 plus shipping and handling from PetVetDirect, 888-738-8383, www.petvetdirect.com
Suggested by Julie Luther of Madison, Wis.
It's a problem every dog owner faces: What do you do when your dog deposits a massive steaming pile of dog emissions on the sidewalk?
The right thing to do -- and, in most municipalities, the legally required thing to do -- is of course to look around in a furtive manner, then sprint away.
No! Sorry! The right thing to do is clean up after your dog. And here's a product designed to help. Poop-Freeze, according to the manufacturer, is ''a specially formulated aerosol freeze spray that, upon contact, forms a frosty film on dog poop (or cat poop) to harden the surface for easy pick-up.''
Easy ... and fun! In fact, if you have an especially productive dog, you could celebrate the holidays by making your own special version of Frosty the Snowman!
OK, just forget that we said that.
Bodyperks Fake Nipples
$19.95 plus shipping and handling from Bodyperks, Inc., P.O. Box 652, Wayzata, Minn. 55391, fax: 952-401-9054, www.bodyperks.com
Suggested by Debra Donham Barr of Onalaska, Texas
Ladies, let's talk about your nipples. Men think about them a lot. You know how, when you ask a man what he's thinking, he often answers, ''nothing,'' but you're pretty sure he really is thinking about something? You're right. He's thinking about your nipples. He can't tell YOU that, of course, but trust us, he is. This means that your nipples are a valuable asset for keeping men focused on you. Unfortunately, there may be times when men are NOT thinking about your nipples, such as during a terrorist attack, or when you are wearing garments that do not permit nipple pokage. During such times, you need a way to get their attention back where it belongs. You need Bodyperks brand artificial nipples, which can poke out through just about anything, including body armor. So this is the perfect holiday gift for the gal who wants to really ''stand out.'' We understand that Madonna buys these things by the gross.
Poopsadaisy Feces-Toting Backpack for Dogs
$18.95 plus shipping and handling from Clever Pet Products, 1601 Penfield Rd., Suite 750-400, Rochester, NY 14625, www.cleverpetproducts.com
If you have a dog, and you live in a populated area, you know you're supposed to pick up the dog's poop. This is only right. The problem is, you then have to carry the dog's poop. Until now, that is. Because now, thanks to this incredible invention, you can make the DOG carry the poop, in a little rucksack strapped around the dog's neck. Hey, it's the dog's poop, right? Why shouldn't the dog carry it? One reason, of course, is that the dog might want to kill you, so if you're going to be buying this product AND the dog pajamas, we strongly recommend that you first talk to an estate planner.
Musical entry: Songs to Make Dogs Happy!
$13.99 plus shipping and handling from Amazon, www.amazon.com
Suggested by Brenda Bain of Memphis, Tenn. and Drew Harchick of Pittsburgh, Pa.
This is a CD of songs for dogs. According to the advertisement on the Internet -- and if we cannot trust advertisements on the Internet, what CAN we trust? -- this CD is, quote, 'the first qualitatively and quantitatively researched musical CD, based upon 200 canine participants' decisions as to what THEY would like to hear in songs!''
You read that correctly: This musical CD has been researched qualitatively AND quantitatively. Just TRY to find another selection of songs for dogs that can make that claim.
We here at the gift guide are not, personally, a dog, but we did listen to several of the songs on this CD, including Squeaky Deaky, in which a man sings about a squeaky toy, which can be heard squeaking rhythmically. ''Squeaky Deaky,'' sings the man. ''I love my squeaky toy! It makes me jump for joy!''
We also listened to You're a Good Dog and My Beautiful Bed. We concluded that, if you had to describe in a single word the kind of music that dogs like, based on this collection of qualitatively and quantitatively researched songs, that word would be: ''bad.''
But this is not about us. This is about what musical gift to give to that special dog on your holiday list. We recommend Ray Charles.
$129.95 plus shipping and handling from Hammacher Schlemmer, 147 E. 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022, 800-321-1484, www.hammacher.com
Suggested by Virginia Hullen of Hialeah.
Cats and small dogs make wonderful pets, but they are not so great at walking. They mostly want to lie around and have things brought to them. That's why this pet stroller is such a terrific idea. Instead of forcing your pet to perform the tiresome chore of walking on its own personal feet, you put it inside the stroller and push it where it needs to go. For example, you can push your small dog to the park, and if it sees a squirrel and wishes to pursue it, you can do the actual running, while the dog barks at the squirrel from the safety and comfort of the stroller. Come to think of it, you could just leave the dog home, and go chase squirrels on your own; if you catch one, you could bring it home to your pet.
This stroller is also a good way to walk pets that otherwise might be housebound, such as squid.
$12.99 - $19.99 plus shipping and handling, from Merrifield Garden Center, 8132 Lee Highway (PO Box 848), Merrifield, VA 22116, 877-560-6222, www.merrifieldgardencenter.com
Suggested by someone who would prefer to remain anonymous because he or she received one of these as a gift
Trees are nice, as far as they go. But the problem with trees, as the late Ronald Reagan once said when he was alive, is that if you've seen one, you've seen them all. Or possibly it was not the late Ronald Reagan who said that. But whoever it was, he or she had a point. That's why we're so excited about Forest Faces. Each Forest Face is a set of facial features that you attach to a tree, thus transforming it from a boring, stiff, lifeless lump of wood like Al Gore into a tree with a vibrant personality, like the ones that threw apples at Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Do you have neighbors who think they are just so ''cool'' because they have gnomes on their lawn? Those neighbors will literally die of envy when they see what you have done to your trees. And that, after all, is the entire point of the holiday season.
Many thanks to everyone who helped make this year's Gift Guide possible.
Todd Sazera, Veronica Sazera, Costello Sazera, Carmela Sazera, Fetcher Sazera, Judi Smith, José Iglesias, Max ''the Mutt'' Garcia, Kamla Purcell, Michael Marko, Fred Karrenberg, Liz Chifari, Valory Greenfield, Beasley ''the sub-standard poodle'', Jorge Rubiera, Raul F. Rubiera, Katrina Rubiera, Angus ''the Jack Russell'', Jaime Fabrizio, Daniel Portnoy, Tara, Omar Mendez, Ivylise Simones, Charlie Trainor, Ann Stemer, Werner Stemer, Edward Pabon, Raul Rubiera.