Plane And Too Fancy Shopping catalogs found on airlines are stuffed with flighty gifts for the sports-minded

May 30, 1999

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 ad for a handheld 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.)

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)