And so it was that I obtained the oddest souvenir of my Hawaii vacation: the SkyMall catalog from the plane.
For anyone who has either never been on a plane, or who has never looked in that pouch in front of their seat, SkyMall is a catalog full of things you can buy- via credit card, of course- during the flight (or during the 48 hours post-flight, at least if you'd like bonus miles or discounts).
It is also some very fine in-flight entertainment.
Founded in 1990, SkyMall was created when Robert M. Worsley, flying to Seattle to Phoenix in 1989, thumbed through a Giftmaster catalog on the plane and was "startled by the poor merchandise". He set out to replace it with expensive and oddball merchandise which initially sold so poorly that SkyMall was forced to cover the cost of the extra fuel required to carry the catalogs. On top of all that, Wolsley had a heart attack in the middle of the 1991 company Christmas party. The company nearly died, being saved only when they started charging vendors by the page to appear in the catalog, and ceasing to carry inventory themselves, instead having merchandise directly sent to consumers (an initial plan was to have them order on the plane and have the purchases waiting for them at their destination). Since then, things have slowly, steadily improved for SkyMall.
When looking through the Holiday 2010 SkyMall catalog, the ridiculousness hits hard and heavy. In no particular order, and remember that all of these are actual products, linked to prove it:
"The water squirting remote controlled car." That's right, for those times when a Super Soaker just won't do, now there's an RC car you can fill with 8.5 ounces of water that can then shoot a target from 15 feet away. It's the Predator Drone of water gun battles! Amaze and piss off your friends by hiding in the living room while you get everyone wet in a manner where they can't get you back! Then gaze in awe, or actually, don't gaze, as the second the car's out of your line of sight, you accidentally run it into a wall, and then your friends stomp on it until it's a little pile of scrap! Only $99.95!
"The touchscreen video poker game." You know those little handheld poker games you can get at just about any store of sufficient size for around $15? Well, now you can get one with "touch-sensitive, color LCD with crystal-clear resolution" and seven kinds of poker included, all for the low, low, not actually low price of $99.95!
"The remote controlled tarantula. This remote-controlled tarantula scurries across flat surfaces like an actual arachnid, moving forwards and backwards on command. The spider's thorax and abdomen conceal two motors: one that drives a set of wheels that provide directional movement and one that enables the eight legs to twitch, allowing you to frighten unsuspecting arachnophobes day or night from 25' away. It has a hairy exterior, similar to the urticating hairs that cover a tarantula's abdomen, and its chelicerae suggest two hidden fangs." And you too can be an incredible dick to anyone you know who's scared of spiders for only $29.95!
"The "Keep Your Distance" bug vacuum." It's a two-foot vacuum, for bugs, that sucks them up and then zaps them. And if YOU'RE too lazy to swing a fly swatter, this can all be yours for $59.95!
"The marshmallow shooter." It's a toy gun. It shoots marshmallows 30 feet. It can also shoot foam pellets, but those aren't included. That's $24.95, BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! Are you just not sure what to shoot your marshmallows at? Then get the Marshmallow Target, which "plays one of four different sounds when hit. Requires two AA batteries", for only $19.95 more!
"The voice-interactive alarm clock." Knows 12 phrases, none of which are "Shut the hell up, I'm trying to sleep." $49.95.
"The Brobdingnagian sports chair." It's one of those fold-up fabric chairs, but 5 and a half feet tall. Sure to irritate any poor schmucks behind you, but the back serves as an ideal shield for any beer they wish to throw at you! Unless they stand up and are over 5 feet, 6 inches tall. This golden shower comes for only $149.95!
"These little helmets are guaranteed to be a big hit with true NFL fans." Namely, miniature helmets of all 32 NFL teams. I have a set of these helmets myself. They did not come with a wooden display case, but then, I don't need a wooden display case. And in any event, the helmets cost me far, far less than $99.99.
Speaking of, let's move on to the coasters. The SkyMall catalog provides for eight teams, five baseball, three football: the Cubs, Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, Cowboys, Jets, and New York Giants. The rest of Major League Baseball, though, is available through the website, along with the Alabama Crimson Tide. You get a set of four per team for the low, low, price of $39.99. That's only $10 per coaster. But really, what's the cost compared with the unthinkable scenario of that little tiny bit of wetness on your table?
Or dirt? On second thought, scratch that: you can buy the dirt! Authentic dirt! The baseball coasters come with a small bit of actual dirt included (the football ones with authentic FieldTurf)! You can also buy dirt in paperweight form, coming from either the inaugural season of the Minnesota Twins' Target Field, the final season of Old Yankee Stadium, or any old dirt from Fenway Park! Again, it's authentic; we're not screwing you with that garbage you've got in your front yard. It will, however, run you $49.99.
Or-- OR-- if you're a Twins fan and don't want your dirt authenticated from the inaugural season of Target Field, you can get your dirt alongside a picture of Joe Mauer! It's an extra $10, making it $59.99, but... Joe Mauer! A picture of him! You can also get Phillies dirt with a picture of Roy Halladay, Giants dirt with a picture of Tim Lincecum, Rockies dirt with a picture of Troy Tulowitski, Nationals dirt with a picture of Stephen Strasburg, or Yankees dirt with a picture of Derek Jeter getting his 2,722nd career hit! (That was the one where he passed Lou Gehrig for the Yankees team record, which everyone will immediately forget about the second he reaches 3,000.)
Or, if you're on a budget, you can get stupid old Wrigley Field dirt for $29.99. You cheap bastard.
Yankees fans can also have sod from Old Yankee Stadium- dirt with freeze-dried grass attached- for $99.99, a brick from Monument Park for $179.99, an even older brick from Old Yankee Stadium for $349.99, an autographed picture of Alex Rodriguez for $499.99, or a seat from Old Yankee Stadium for $799.99, which I hope you're buying for the historic value, because the seat itself is about as comfortable as you'd expect a baseball stadium seat to be.
"Take your favorite car for a spin every time you work on your computer." These are Road Mice, miniatures of various cars that function as computer mice. They're basically computer mice, but with turning circles. Wired for $34.99, wireless for $44.99, or you can have 'premium' computer-mice models of fancier cars for only $64.99!
"Give a gift of money or a gift card inside one of these games- they'll have to win the game to get their prize." For $14.99, you can force your friend to play pinball to claim their gift. For only $12.99, you can make them shuffle a little ball through a cubic maze difficult enough to where there's a chance they will never claim their gift at all and proceed to hate you even more than if you hadn't given them a damn thing! So much more thoughtful than doing something silly like tacking the cost of the game onto the value of the gift and just giving that to the friend, and so much more exciting than the utter predictability of still having a friend at the end of the night!
You know those inflatable floppy dancing guys you see outside car dealerships? Why, from the comfort of an airplane, you can buy your very own for $499! Or a hot air balloon for $1,895 (catalog includes inflatable Godzilla)! Or a giant inflatable panda with a shirt on for $2,295!
"Personalized New York Times birthday book." This is a book consisting of a reprint of the New York Times from the day you were born- a complete reprint, with the ads, the personals, everything. Perfect for anyone in your family who doesn't know enough to Google the same exact thing. Only $99.95!
"Irrational numbers wall clock." Are your clocks usable by normal human beings? You can fix that problem for only $34.95 by replacing the numbers 1-12 with a series of irrational numbers, such as pi, or the square root of 2! It's always 3.14159-o'clock somewhere! And if you're too embarrassed by your hometown to say it outright, why not get a personalized latitude/longitude welcome mat for $32.95? It says "WELCOME TO" and then the coordinates of your hometown.
For four dollars more, it's also available as a watch.
Is your garden just too tasteful? Why not mar the entire neighborhood with with a statue of a naked peeing child? "This classic image will bring timeless art to your home or garden." As well as many interesting visitors! A replica of Brussels' Mannekinpis can be had, complete with a "recirculating pump to create a fountain display" for a mere $198!
"Lightsaber Chopsticks." For the Star Wars fan who has everything! Everything. A disturbing amount of things. Quick, shuffle through any random catalog you can find and look for something he might not have yet. Aside from a girlfriend. Only $21.99. Or you can get a Jawa garden gnome for $34.99, a Darth Vader toaster for $54.99 (burns an image of Darth Vader into the toast!), or a Death Star cookie jar for $49.99.
And, of course, if you don't have the skill to hit a golf ball 200 feet with a golf club- that's 67 yards- you can purchase a trebuchet to do the job for you for $149.
Get moving. Black Friday's tomorrow.