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Passing an idle hour on a runway recently, waiting for ground personnel to de-ice the flight attendants, I opened the complimentary in-flight magazine. It was, as ever, a wonderment of half-finished crossword puzzles, route maps mottled with yesterday's egg and advertisements for products so breathtakingly ridiculous—nostril-hair-grooming implements, barbecue forks with built-in "doneness" probes, the Electric Tongue Cleaner—as to answer the question, What do you get for the man who has everything (but good taste)?
You get him anything on offer in the pages of those magazines, or in SkyMall or The American Voyager's Collection or one of the other sports-addled shopping catalogs found in the proverbial seat pocket in front of you on any airline. With one toll-free call from the Airphone—and $39.99—you can own an alarm clock with a likeness of Seattle Mariners slugger Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey will, the ad copy promises, wake your son or daughter each morning with "lots of real baseball phrases!" Take it from someone who has heard lots of real baseball phrases, in lots of real baseball locker rooms: You'll also need the Electric Tongue Cleaner ($24.95).
Consisting of 12 Velcro-covered Wiffle golf balls, a buoyant foam putting surface and a mat from which to chip, The Only Floating Practice Green ($69.95) will "transform any pool into a challenging golf shot." Which explains why SkyMall, more than any publication I can think of, knows the innermost desires of Americans—a people aspiring to both boundless leisure and absurdist opulence, a people, in short, who want to golf in the pool.
Until that dream is realized, SkyMall recognizes that its go-go readership of frequent-flying business magnates has too little time. Too little time to play catch with little Timmy, despite the lure of a Rawlings baseball with a digital liquid crystal display that shows the speed of the ball as it is thrown ($39.95). ("For throwing practice only. Should not be hit with a bat.")
As I marveled at an ail for a hand-held electronic gadget called the Lunker Bass Fishing Game ($24.95) while stiffly seated, bored beyond words, staring blankly, it occurred to me: I was, at that very moment, simulating bass fishing.
But I see the game's purpose. SkyMall is filled with labor-saving devices and multitasking gizmos, like the desk-and-filing-cabinet system that fits into the shotgun seat of your car ("Not for use while driving") or the Executive Book Summaries series, which condenses business books into eight-page digests. Executive Book Summaries: Because who has time to read every page of What Losing Taught Me About Winning by Fran Tarkenton?
SkyMall's sporting goods are decadent enough to embarrass Hammacher and Schlemmer. The Ultimate Putting Challenge ($1,495), a 90-by-30-inch artificial putting green, "features 72 electronically changing green contours" and fits easily behind your desk. Unless your desk is in the shotgun seat of your car. The Golfer's Swing Improver ($120)—a golf ball attached to a rotating tether—turns any office into a driving range. I am sure, somewhere in this catalog is a desk-and-filing-cabinet system that will turn any driving range into your office.
Even with Father's Day imminent, I resisted the impulse to order from SkyMall. My father only receives two gifts, no matter the occasion: after-shave and Scotch, in brands so cheap as to be scarcely distinguishable, so that he often swigs Skin Bracer and slaps on Vat 69 while gamely telling his children they shouldn't have splurged on anything so—to use his word—fancy. A Waterman British Links Rollerball Pen (imported from France, $69.00) would be an affront to his sensibilities, and for that I applaud the old man.
I don't know who's responsible for turning every captive moment of American life—the dinner hour, the transcontinental flight—into a sales call, but I would love to get my hands on him. (For throwing practice only. Should not be hit with a bat.)