Hilarity Note:
Major Yuk
22 April 2019

It has been so long since my last bout of helpless, gasping laughter that I began to think that I had outgrown such delirious breakdowns, that I had encountered all the stupefyingly funny things in the world.

Hammacher Schlemmer to the rescue.

The cover of the current Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue features — disappointingly — a wind chime on the cover. True, it’s a wind chime that is forty inches in length, with a resonance that approaches that of tolling church bells. But it won’t set you back a thousand bucks, much less a hundred thousand. The first things that I look for in any new HS catalogue are the items with six-figure prices. Motorized submersibles (submarines) for your swimming pool. Other dangerously high-powered vehicles that, according to mild suggestions from the accompanying text, you had better not plan on operating off your own property. Levitating golf courses. (I know they haven’t, but give them time!) I thrill to the very idea of paying small fortunes for preposterously unnecessary novelties, sight unseen.

You can’t ask, Who buys these things?, because the whole catalogue stinks of the probability that these astronomically expensive quasi-armaments and science-fantasy toys, crafted to terrify and delight children of all ages, don’t really exist at all, but have been dreamed up solely for the delectation of the enviable staff of copy writers who toil away at company headquarters on Le Saint Drive, somewhere in deepest Ohio (undoubtedly a nuclear bunker), as periodic relief from the tedium of writing pitches for more banale offerings, such as The Germ And Mold Destroying Air Purifier.* On the evidence of the new catalogue, however, management has clamped down on such frolics. The most expensive item that I could find (to describe it might open me to charges of picking on guileless customers) goes for $3700.  

Each offering in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue exists in two modes. First, there is the photograph, which often shows the item in use. On page 3, for example, a man is shown wearing The Cold Lipolysis Body Shaping Belt and The Sun Blocking UPF 50+ Panama Hat. (Not in the same picture, and possibly not the same man.) Second, there is the copy, which takes the task of describing the item as a point of departure for flights of prosody that, while unlikely to be chosen for the Norton Anthologies, reward an oenophile-like appreciation. “Available only from Hammacher Schlemmer” — a startling number of write-ups do not begin with this claim — “this is the air airconditioner that delivers powerful cool air while producing a gentle hum equivalent to a rain shower…” Isn’t that clever? It’s not silent, but it’s not noisy, either — it’s a summer’s day! Or, consider The Authentic Sleep Sound Machine. The copy never repeats the claim of authenticity, nor cites a source of authentication — an uncommonly brazen stroke for this band of slyly bold men and women! The secret of Hammachler Schlemmer connoisseurship is to read a paragraph or two from every page until cognitive giddiness sets in. The reader giggles, like a baby catching on to a game of peek-a-boo. Giggles lead to chuckles, and chuckles, eventually, to outright weeping. Thus the Major Yuk — a seizure that might be mistaken for hysterical sobbing (Fossil Darling’s term; I have never asked how he spells it) — is attained.

I thought that The Star Wars Imperial Tent — half of a Death Star, looking rather as if George Lucas were letting the air out of a special effect; “sleeps three stormtroopers” — finished me off. I could neither see nor hold the catalogue through my convulsive tears. But I was wrong. Hours later, staring at the ceiling, I was overcome by reflections on the plethora of health-aids that Hammachler Schlemmer peddles, two of which (for example) promise to get rid of unwanted fat by alternative adaptations of a convenient, specially-designed belt, one of which freezes the fat (cryolipolysis, according to Wikepedia, although, as we have seen, HS omits the “cryo” part in its handling of the Cold Lypolysys Body Shaping Belt) while the other deploys “600 nm wavelength red light” to do the job. Thinking what the medieval-looking Cervical Traction Back Stretcher could do to you if you didn’t follow the instructions very carefully, I quipped to Kathleen, “Doctors must tear their hair out when they get a patient who’s been trying out these miracle cures.” Or at least I meant to. I was already shaking with laughter, and it took no few than nine tries to articulate the words “miracle cures” so that Kathleen could understand me. 

Time was when the late Veronica Geng used to induce such fits with every new issue of The New Yorker.

* But they do exist, and you can see them, sometimes, in Hammacher Schlemmer’s showroom on East 57th Street. 

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