Mary Ellen went to a conference last week in Chicago and left me at home. Alone. When she abandoned me last year, I realized I did not know how to run the dishwasher or operate the convection oven. I felt guilty about all the dirty dishes she came home to, but I am really good with the clothes washer, so to make up for the mess in the kitchen, I went through Mary Ellen’s laundry basket and washed everything.  I don’t know what she ate in Chicago, but when she got home two days later and took everything out of the dryer, nothing fit.

Before Mary Ellen left, she spent an entire evening showing me how to use all the television devices and explaining to me the difference between HDMI1 and HDMI2. It is still not clear to me what those initials actually stand for, although HD should be HELP DICK. I do know this: having the choice of HDMI1 and HDMI2 costs me 200 bucks a month.

Mary Ellen and I watch so many different programs that I can’t keep any of the story lines or characters straight. I really can’t miss an episode or I am lost. The one exception to this was the old TV series Lost, where even after I watched every episode, I was still lost.

When we watch shows together, I am continually asking Mary Ellen to hit the pause button so I can ask questions, like: Is that a good guy or a bad guy? Wasn’t she killed in the last episode? Is that his wife or sister?

The first night she was in Chicago, I checked out the DVR to see what I needed to get caught up on. There were shows like: Underground, Billions, Homeland, Feud, 24, Designated Survivor. There were also dozens of British dramas and mysteries in the queue, which Mary Ellen loves but I don’t watch because they are not always captioned. Why can’t these British people speak English like the rest of us?

I put on Billions, a great show about the world of high-stakes finance, starring Damian Lewis as cutthroat investor Bobby Axelrod.  Five minutes into it, I called Mary Ellen in her hotel room to help me understand what was going on…

“There’s only one reason you could be calling at this hour. You’re watching a TV show and you have questions.”

“Yes, I am very confused. This Bobby Axelrod character: wasn’t he killed a few episodes back?”

“No, Dick, you are thinking of Damian Lewis when he played Nicholas Brody in Homeland.”

“Is that the show where he beheaded two of his wives?”

“No, that was when he played Henry the VIII in Wolf Hall.”

“So that’s how he earned his reputation as a cutthroat?”

After a few more calls, Mary Ellen was getting impatient with me. “Dick, promise me you’ll quit watching TV so I can get some sleep.”

I searched under the couch and between the pillows. I looked under the coffee table and behind the lamp. I really did want to turn off the TV. But it wasn’t remotely possible.

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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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