Friday, September 5, 2008

The Best Blog Entry.

In the mail yesterday I received the "2008 Holiday Preview" catalogue from Hammacher Schlemmer. We'll set aside the whole notion of holiday shopping in early September and save it for a later post. And get this out of the way right off the bat: Hammacher Schlemmer. Hammacher Schlemmer. Hammacher Schlemmer! HammacherSchlemmerHammacherSchlemmer! Heh. So funny to say.

If you are not familiar with Hammacher Schlemmer, let me explain. This is a company that sells gadgets. These gadgets range from the reasonably cheap and useful (rechargeable wireless speakers for $30) to the outrageous (the world's only "complete" Swiss army knife, weighing 2 1/2lbs and going for $1,400). What all these gadgets have in common is that they are ridiculous. They fill gaps of need so specific as to be absurd.

For example, take the foot mat activated night light. The premise of this, in case it is not clear, is that you put this mat beside your bed, and when you get out of bed in the dark, you step on the mat and the night light lights up to show you the way to the bathroom.

Now, where I come from, if you get out of bed in the dark you take your life in your hands--and we liked it that way. Night lights are for sissies, as far as I'm concerned. And yet! Perhaps this is just a perspective problem--someone so deeply mired in their own paradigm of failure that they cannot see the way to a brighter (in this case, literally) future. Perhaps I think I am seeing the world, when really I am seeing the play of shadows on the wall of my cave.

And almost every product in this catalogue is like this: they speak of the possibility of a problem solved, a life made slightly more efficient or less uncomfortable. There is a tiny part of me--the problem-solving part, the perfectionist part--that thinks, hmm. maybe this would really make things better. That's how they get you! That little voice! The noblest human instincts--those that make us try to improve the world around us, to solve problems not because they are destroying us but simply because they are problems, and they are there--are also humanity's greatest weakness, as far as Hammacher Schlemmer are concerned. Before you know it, there is no room to move around in your apartment because of the dvd/cd labelling machines, the wireless blood pressure monitors, and the toothbrush sanitizers. But your nose hairs will be the best-groomed they have ever been, I suppose.

What I admire about Hammacher Schlemmer as a company, though, is their commitment. They are not content to sell just any LP-to-CD recording system, or the first telescope walking stick they happened to find. They are committed--nay, honour-bound!--to provide their customers with the best such device available. And this brings me to my point. How do they find out which products are the best? They test them. With science.

At the Hammacher Schlemmer Institute.

I know this sounds like something I would make up, but it's so much sweeter because it's true. They are talking about the Institute all the time in their product descriptions. They test everything there! As I'm scanning this catalogue, this Institute grows accordingly ever-more impressive and comprehensive in my imagination. So, based on the Holiday Preview catalogue, a list of facilities in the Hammacher Schlemmer Institute:

  • A wireless-telephone-testing range, with plenty of teenagers and Indian call centre employees staffing it
  • A nursery full of toddlers, insomniacs, and those with guilty consciences, each sleeping under a Queen Sized Electric Blanket
  • A giant machine that uses 1,000 AA batteries--just so they can be recharged using the Alkaline Battery Charger (It could have a tv or microwave or something built in to it, just to waste more power)
  • A swimming pool, hopefully Olympic size, for testing swim goggles
  • A Marble-Works-style construction of gutters of various sizes, all filled with rotting leaves and golf balls, in which the Gutter Cleaning Robots are pitted against each other
  • A model 1950's style beauty parlour, including a panel of judges who will help determine which are really The Best Hair Rollers--and also some sassy women with beehives, just for atmosphere
  • A wind tunnel in which Christmas trees, in a variety of stands, are subjected to climbing pets, gale-force winds, and uneven ornamentation to see which is the last standing
  • A 200-foot-tall tree, suspended over a deep pool, constantly being assaulted by a race of super-intelligent squirrels--for finding out which bird-feeder is really the most squirrel-proof
And that's just for starters. I could literally go on FOREVER.

All I want for Christmas is to visit the Hammacher Schlemmer institute, and help test the World's Best Book-Cataloguing Machine, or the Only 100% Accurate Barcode Scanner, or the Potato-Peeling iPod Charger. So, Santa, if you're reading this: Hammacher Schlemmer. Hammacher Schlemmer. Hammacher Schlemmer!

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