I have a confession to make. Until very recently, I did not understand the true nature of holiday gift-giving. Not at all.

Then I saw

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Beyond the Fruitcake

Cataloging the random treasures of the season.

I have a confession to make. Until very recently, I did not understand the true nature of holiday gift-giving. Not at all.

Then I saw the object whose image graces this page. I do not exaggerate in saying that my brain reeled at the sight. I wanted to rip it from the hands of its possessor, return home to devour it with my eyes, and gloat.

I have thought deeply about this, learning several things. First, almost immediately, I realized my craving had nothing to do with possession. If I want a bottle of vintage Piper-Heidsieck champagne, I want it chastely robed in glass, not tarted up in a corselet of tumescent red vinyl and black lacing. It took a little longer to be sure that, though the object might be intended as a fetish, my own fascination did not derive from such dark compartments of the mind. Fetishists surely want to keep the objects of their adoration to themselves; I, by contrast, couldn't wait to share my discovery with someone, to watch the waves of disbelief, astonishment, and finally submission sweep across their face. Suddenly, I understood the secret meaning of the phrase "It's the thought that counts." Not the giver's thought but the recipient's, as in "What on earth was he thinking when he bought this?"

Most of my life I had goggled at the items in the Sharper Image catalog and never realized their true function in the world scheme, never suspected why the mere word "catalog" affects some people like a sweetly tolling distant bell. Through the kindness of a catalogaholic friend, I have recently spent hour upon hour in those realms of objectified fancy and learned that psychic gold is buried everywhere, even in seemingly infertile and spartan ground.

Take as an example the modestly produced Vermont Country Store catalog. Though devoted for the most part to a wide range of unfashionable fragrances from Gran's day and items to keep ears and toes toasty on long, cold New England nights, the mask still slips from time to time. "Struggling with heavy mattresses every time you need to straighten or wash your dust ruffle is no fun for anyone." No, indeed—and with VCS's elastic-loaded solution (in solid or lace, white or ecru), you'll never suffer the embarrassment of a houseguest spotting a crooked dust ruffle ever again. But beauty also gets its innings with a silicone-padded eyelash curler ("only the pad heats up, making this completely safe") and a rather terrifying device promising "flawlessly smooth skin without shaving or waxing," thanks to a system of gold-plated tweezers rotating 600 times a second.

After 153 years, the venerable firm of Hammacher Schlemmer must know its audience. On the very first page we find a miniature bicycle, until now "available exclusively to professional circus clowns." Turn the page, and it's the toaster-style pop-up hot dog cooker. For less than $500, there's an electronic pants presser with tray for loose change. For $90, there's a remote-controlled helium blimp (at 40 bucks a refill, perhaps not suitable for little ones). The abundance of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog defies cataloging. From the levitating cubic picture frame to the child-sized ATM-shaped savings bank, there's a wonder on nearly every page.

The beat goes on: Strike back at pollution with a personal air purifier from Norm Thompson, worn round the neck like an ankh; avoid holiday carpal tunnel with Personal Creations' giant winter-village snow globe—every 30 seconds it shakes itself; get your own water buffalo from Heifer International for just $250. (Oh, I see now, you don't get the beast, rather some needy family in Malaysia. How disappointing. It makes me feel spiteful.)

Days have passed, and the stack of catalogs grows faster than I can read them. I no longer even glance through those featuring food, fruit, and candy; I am beyond fruitcake now. An item like Title Nine's extreme sports bra ("It's almost like not having breasts at all!") can leave me musing by the fire for hours.

My standards rise with every discovery. After sighting Art & Architect's chinoiso-phallic Second Empire tulipi貥, with its 12 separate snubby little snouts (one for each tulip), FLAX's 5-inch-high glass Leaning Tower of Pisa tree ornament ($34) leaves me cold. If it were also edible, now, or repelled insects with inaudible high- frequency waves. . . .

I can't take much more of this. Things are starting to blur, merge. Crisp poplin elephant slipcovers . . . Kama Sutra figures made of 100 percent organic tofu . . . classic fountain pen doubling as vibrator . . . no, that one's real, from redENVELOPE. I can't go on. I can't stop. My head spins. My hand shakes. But it turns the page. . . .

rdowney@seattleweekly.com

The research assistance of Brenda Cooke is gratefully acknowledged.

Get It?

GAULTIER CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE: $90 at fine wine stores everywhere.

VERMONT COUNTRY STORE: www.vermontcountrystore.com

HAMMACHER SCHLEMMER: 800-543-3366

NORM THOMPSON: 800-547-1160

PERSONAL CREATIONS: 800-326-6626

HEIFER INTERNATIONAL: 800-422-0755

TITLE NINE: 800-609-0092

ART & ARCHITECT: 800-231-6766

FLAX: 888-352-9278

REDENVELOPE: 877-733-3683

 
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