Sunday, June 10, 2007

Flying Alarm Clock meets E.B. White

So here I am leafing idly through the most recent Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue, a point of entry into the minds of those who think they have everything but are about to find out that they don’t.

For instance, they don’t have:

“THE WORLD’S SMALLEST INDOOR REMOTE-CONTROL HELICOPTER.” For what? Reconnaissance of those hard-to-see cobwebs perhaps.

“THE 75-MILE RANGE THUNDERSTORM DETECTOR.” A must-have for the deaf who can’t hear thunder beyond five miles and feel a real need to know. Then again, they could go on-line to check out the local weather, but that’s not nearly so much fun as one of these little cherry-red detectors, with, mind you, an AC adapter and hard carrying case. A mere $429.95. Cheap at the price.

“THE FLYING ALARM CLOCK.” Turns out the clock doesn’t actually fly; it just launches an honest-to-God rotor when the alarm goes off. Again, very useful if you are deaf (I know of what I speak, but can’t hear). Next? For the really unresponsive, thick-skinned sleeper, expect HS to come out with a clock that launches an inter-bedroom ballistic missile. And next, an anti-inter-bedroom-missile missile.

Related item, “THE RUNAWAY ALARM CLOCK.” Let the catalog tell the story: “This alarm clock rolls away and hides from you when you hit its snooze button, yet it still emits a random pattern of beeps and flashes….”

And finally, “THE LOST ITEM HOMING LOCATOR.” I can relate. With this one, the “memory challenged” attach a special receiver tag to keys, glasses, hearing aides and the handheld transmitter searches them out when they are, ahem, misplaced. Problem: what happens when you lose the handheld transmitter? It happens. Coming soon in the next Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue — “THE LOST HOMING LOCATOR LOCATOR.”

There’s a lot more. Eighty pages of a lot more.

And now the strange part. Stunned by the very weirdness of it all, I put down the catalogue and stagger off to bed, where I pick up E.B. White’s “The Second Tree from the Corner,” a 1954 compilation of his writings. This particular bed-side volume is a 1984 republication with a new introduction by White. Still, he’s writing his introduction 23 years ago, at the age of 84.

On page two of the introduction, White is writing about a woman who was arrested by a game warden for living in a pup tent pitched in the Maine woods. The authorities, here I quote White, “turned her over to a mental health institution, presumably because the tiny tent contained nothing much to suggest civilized life, not even a Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue in whose pages she would have learned of the many conveniences that are available today to any right-minded woman — a portable dry-ice maker, an ultra-sonic cool-mist humidifier, an English heated towel stand, an electronic wine guide, a digital alarm pillbox, an electric kitty litter box, an oversized electric heating pad, and a cordless electric peppermill. To the wardens the tent must have seemed bare indeed.”

White’s list left me doubly stunned.

And doubly perplexed. What happened to the woman? Do I need a Flying Alarm Clock?

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