In all the talk these days of new media, social media and reaching new audiences, it is sobering to note that one of the best-read publications in America is the catalog slipped into airlines' seat pockets, along with the airsickness bag.
SkyMall has a reported circulation of 19.5 million. That's nine times The New York Times. I'd wager almost every traveler has thumbed through SkyMall, seen the Automatic Grill Cleaning Robot ("Easy-to-use, fun to watch!") or the wine glass ("with no-spill sippy lid — Ingenious!"), or the Star Trek pajamas (for adults), Night Bunion Regulator or Magic Benefit Panty ("enhances bottom naturally!") and wondered, "Who'd ever buy that?"
Quickly followed by, "Why didn't I think of that?"
I sometimes thumb through the catalog and wonder what future anthropologists may deduce about life in our times by looking at SkyMall.
They'd find out that we hurt. There are pages of corrective braces, shiatsu leg massagers, reflexology foot massagers, all-day gel seats, while-you-sleep foot relief sleeves and back stretching aids.
They'd also find out that we don't want to look fat. There are scads of garments that promise to slim, insta-slim, and superslim, maybe while we try to digest the deep-fried pretzel we downed just before boarding.
Travel makes us long for home and pets. There are elevated dog beds — which, by the way, look like something Scarlett O'Hara might sleep in; pet gates — a term that sounds like a White House dog immersed in a scandal; and pet ramps and stairs.
I ordered upholstered pet stairs for our cat, after seeing cunning pictures of cats and dogs in the catalog, strolling on stairs as if touring the National Gallery. I rubbed my cheek on the steps to show our cat they were soft and friendly, but she seems to have now decided they were for me and still jumps on the sofa.
Travel can aggravate our deepest anxieties. Thumb through SkyMall and you'll see that we don't know where to store our shoes. We worry about holding on to our hair. We wish we had the money to order an 8-foot-tall silverback gorilla statue in fiberglass resin. We might not be able to imagine where we'd put the statue, but having the $5,000 to spend on it would be nice.
The current catalog shows a small, motorized gondola that moves around a pool while a 2-foot-tall gondolier named Luciano Pool-varotti sings.
You might wonder who would order such a thing? I'll let you know — delivery is guaranteed in seven to 10 days.
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