Arriving in my mailbox today was the mid-spring edition of the Hammacher Schlemmer gift catalog, packed with previously advertised items they still can’t unload (which I have probably made fun of in past columns), along with some brand new items I am about to skewer.

On the cover is what HS calls a Hypnotic Jellyfish Aquarium. It contains “two synthetic jellyfish that provide mesmerizing ambience.” Hmmm, that does not seem like it would be soothing, to me. According to Wikipedia, “Jellyfish use their tentacles to capture prey or defend against predators by emitting deadly toxins in a very painful sting.”  Maybe HS used leftover copy for last year’s flop, The Teddy Bear Aquarium.

Inside the cover is the customary introductory letter from their current chairman, John McArthur, welcoming you to his world of unique and unusual products.  In the past, I chided him for opening remarks that were poorly expressed.  Although Mr. McArthur does not have a gift for writing, he makes up for it with about 200 gifts in other areas, like inside the catalog. In his letter, Mr. McArthur reveals his favorite items: The Mosquito Zapping Light Bulb (page 10) and the Flameless Candle Lighter (page 55), but those nifty products are not on those pages. If HS can’t get their stuff on the right page, how, in two weeks, can they deliver your stuff on the right doorstep?

Speaking of the Mosquito Zapping Light Bulb, what really bugs me is Hammacher’s obsession with these insects. In this latest catalog, there are seven items specifically for the purpose of avoiding mosquito bites (an understandable concern), but do we really need the Natural Attractant Mosquito Trap (195.95); the Hooded Zip Up Mosquito Jacket ($39.95); the Solar Mosquito Zapper ($99.95); the Mosquito Decimator $299.95); the Mosquito Zapping Light Bulb ( $29.95) and finally, the Mosquito Defeating Sports Chair ($79.95)?

That last one portrays an attractive couple sitting next to each other in their respective chairs, enclosed head to toe in netting. HS apparently got this sexy marketing idea from Cialis commercials. It’s not nearly as romantic as side-by-side outdoor bathtubs, but it does make a lot more sense than two outdoor bathtubs. On a positive note, wearing protection always sets a good example.

Ants are also a concern for the folks at HS. For the dog that has everything, they offer the Anti Ant Moated Bowl, which was designed to stop invasions of “kibble-craving ants.” The bowl has a moat surrounding the food. Just add water.  Since ants can’t swim, they will instead head for the sugar bowl or the Fruit Loops. Exactly what you were hoping for, right? Of course, at $59.95, it is a huge waste of money. From the time you put your dog’s food in the bowl until he’s inhaled the last morsel, it’s usually less than 60 seconds. Even if ants had cell phones, they couldn’t spread the word that fast.

Also offered in this season’s lineup is the Suction-Powered Sinus Decongestor. “It removes congestion by pulling a saline rinse from its upper tank in through one nostril, then out the other.” It’s the perfect gift for a person with breathing problems. It could also be used to drown ants.

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Since my wife and I are semi-retired, we are taking more frequent vacations.  When we travel, our favorite activities are parasailing, hang gliding, and whitewater rafting. But watching other people risk their lives has become a little stressful. We knew it was time for a change.

We spent this past week in New Orleans with our friends John and Jane Murphy. We decided to forgo the extreme spectator sports and opt for some more intellectual and culinary activities. By the way, we did not go during Mardi Gras. As Yogi Berra once aptly noted in another context, “No one goes there that time of year: it’s way too crowded.” We did go to a Mardi Gras museum. Mary Ellen and I don’t usually like the same kinds of exhibits, but this museum was filled with the kind of stuff both  men and women can both enjoy. Ironic, because in the thousands of photos displayed, you can’t even tell the difference between the men and the women.

If you have any plans to visit the Crescent City, I submit the following warnings regarding the French Quarter, the hub of all tourist activity.

Cover charges: During one dinner, a three-piece combo played jazz. The restaurant tacked on a six-dollar cover charge per person for the music.  “Wait a second,” I said to the server, “we came here to eat and talk. We didn’t even know about the music.”

“You were in the same room as the music,” said the waiter, impatiently.

“I’m also in the same room as a seven-hundred-dollar bottle of Lafite Rothschild at the next table.  But I’m just paying for my Diet Pepsi.”

Bread plates: We went to two places that served awesome rolls, and in one case, I mentioned to the waiter we were missing our bread plates. “We don’t provide those,” he informed us. “We encourage you to enjoy the bread. We’ll tidy up your mess.”

“Are you saying this because you know we’re from Indiana?” I asked sarcastically.

“Don’t feel bad,” said the couple next to us. “We’re from Kentucky and we didn’t even get utensils.”

Mary Ellen is a stickler for table manners and watches me like a hawk to prevent any transgressions. During that dinner, she was clearly uncomfortable watching me tearing into the warm rolls and leaving evidence of my sloppiness all over the table and floor. I remembered once back in Indy chomping on some croissants before the bread plates arrived. I quickly hid the butter knife before she could insert it into my thigh.

The check: In busy restaurants, we learned that there is no check-splitting allowed. “No matter how many in the group, just one bill,” said the waitress. “No exceptions!”

Just for fun, John and I wanted to see if we could outwit the system. At lunch, I told the server even though we were sharing a table, we had just met this other couple out on the sidewalk, and therefore we required two separate checks. The waitress didn’t fall for it. Now John and I were even more determined to circumvent this bizarre policy.

The next night, the food at Café Amelie was outstanding, and this time the Wolfsies got our own check.

“Well, I must admit, your plan worked,” said Mary Ellen, sarcastically. “But I wonder where the Murphys are having dinner?”












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