Opinion: It’s Hammacher Schlemmer season

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It’s always fun to write about quirky stuff. Like the giant ball of string war between a Minnesota farmer, whose ball of twine is 12 feet high and weighs 17,000 pounds, and a challenger in Kansas, whose ball is eight feet and 5,000 pounds and is reportedly growing rapidly.

That’s why it’s such a celebration each year when the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog arrives in the mail. The company, which began in 1848 as a New York City hardware store, takes pride in offering the unusual and extreme in marginally useful things.

This year’s offerings include three different inflatable characters for your front yard. Start with a two-story black cat for $299. After Halloween you can slide into the Christmas season with a 15-foot Rudolph – also for $299 – and a giant Grinch at $399.

Another Christmas item is a “Nightmare Before Christmas” cuckoo clock for $199.

LED lights have caught on, and Hammacher Schlemmer offers several that promise valuable healthy benefits. There’s a waist-reducing body slimmer that uses 175 LED lights that emit “600nm wave length red light that penetrates the epidermis to reach fat-storing adipose tissue.” Yours for $395.

There are also a few labor-savers in this year’s book. An air-powered toilet plunger, for example, for $49.95. Buy extra CO2 cartridges for $8.95. They also have a suitcase billed as the “world’s lightest carry-on.” Actual weight, of course, would still be determined by how much stuff you crammed into it.

There are some practical items and some others that are questionable. One very useful item is a bathroom vanity that fits around a pedestal sink. Another is an Icelandic sheep wool blanket. Perfect for chilly nights. On the iffy side is an electric haircut machine. Just turn it on and run it over your head.

You also might consider a password vault. Keep all your passwords secure in this electronic gizmo. Of course, you need a password to open it, and if you hit a wrong key, it automatically shuts down for 30 minutes.

If you’ve ever wondered how Mongolian herdsmen fare in their hide-covered tents, this year’s catalog offers a luxury yurt that sleeps six. Complete with air conditioning for $2,900. Great if a vacation in Siberia is in the offing.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, consider these items: A jet engine that is also an espresso machine for $15,000. And for guys who scream at the TV, a Temper Temperer mask that muffles the outbursts.

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