I’m Not Buying It: The Worst Hammacher Schlemmer Catalog Items [Guest Post]

Editor’s Note: Once upon a time, there was a renegade website called Randomtitle.com that featured a number of present ROTI contributors, and ruled a shady corner of the Internet until it was shut down by the Department of Homeland Security. One of the brave souls who toiled on that site was Vicious Rumors, whose best work for Randomtitle included a comprehensive takedown of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. Although his past work has passed into the digital ether, VR returns in 2012 to analyze the best and most ridiculous items sold by the venerable retailer.

The Hammacher Schlemmer Company is a well-regarded retailer with operations dating back to the mid-19th century. It has evolved over the years to become the world’s foremost dealer in eccentricities, high-priced curios, and unnecessary assemblages of plastic and LED lights. To be sure, their inventory does contain many useful items such as VHS-to-DVD converters and wearable tents — but for every brilliant construct of human ingenuity, you’ll discover a woefully misguided tchotchke permanently staining the company’s good name like vomit upon a fine Persian rug. For example, while they do sell a flying car – which none can deny is a must-have item — the awkwardly-named Traveler’s Bed Bug Thwarting Sleeping Cocoon stands as an embarrassing, unforgivable affront to good taste.

For precisely this reason, a trip to their online store yields delights and sorrows alike. You can marvel at the audacity of something like a $350,000 flying car being listed in a catalog, or wonder exactly why valuable textiles are being used to make legions of The 6 Foot Award Winning Ugly Doll when there is probably a homeless orphan in Haiti who needs a pillow. You can exult in the joys of watching a remote controlled bald eagle soar over purple mountains majesty to a Pure Moods soundtrack, or cry in disbelief when you discover someone has skinned an American buffalo to make a wallet.

And for those who enjoy a little color in their product descriptions, even a little history, many of the items are written with a highly-enjoyable, pedantic flair. Consider the following nuggets:

“Invented in 225 A.D. by mechanical engineer Ma Jun during the Three Kingdoms period, the chariot’s differential gearing system provided solitary cardinal direction centuries before the magnetic compass. Romantically known as the “South Pointing Chariot,” it is considered by antiquarians as one of Ancient China’s most complex inventions.”

“This is the recumbent bicycle born from the rich cycling tradition of the Netherlands, renowned for its country-wide network of cycling paths that spans from Maastricht to Friesland. Hand made in Dronten in the Flevoland province of the Netherlands from customized anodized aluminum parts, it is solidly constructed and precisely balanced, having endured adventurous ascents up to Switzerland’s famous Simplon Pass.”

“Celtic knots have decorated Irish art since the early middle ages, such as the Book of Kells, while the Scottish thistle is thought to have been adopted as the country’s national emblem in the 13th century after a misstep by a barefoot, invading Viking.”

If you dedicate yourself to studying this catalog, it is quite possible that in a single night you could both master World History and renounce your citizenship as an American consumer in utter shame. The homegoods of antiquity, the apparel of quaint Medieval fishing villages, the modern inessential bauble and the extravagant toys of the future are all for sale within the pages of Hamm Schlemm. Some are affordable to the average consumer, and some only to Richard Branson, but it’s doubtful even he would buy any of this stuff, and he owns a fleet of dirigibles, for God’s sake.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more egregious wares for sale.

The Pirate Ship Playhouse – $27,000

Own the town’s biggest eyesore for the price of two Kias. Can you imagine what your Homeowner’s Association would say if they saw this horrifying abomination in your back yard? Watch your spoiled kids scramble all over this monstrosity while praying the screws hold tight lest your daughter be smashed under six tons of cedar, redwood, and Douglas fir.

The ship stands nearly two stories high, affording your children and any roving perverts a perfect view of your bedroom from the safety of the crow’s nest. Ahoy, why is Mom straddling the postman?! The only people who ought to consider buying this are those who inhabit the Mississippi River Delta and might need a stylish escape-dinghy for the next flood.

The Power Nap Capsule – $25,000

Your bed isn’t good enough. Your couch isn’t good enough. Your hammock isn’t good enough. Simply put, you refuse to doze off in anything that costs less than a month-long luxury cruise through the Mediterranean.

“Inspired by NASA,” the Power Nap Capsule claims to be a “semi-enclosed sleeping environment ideal for recharging the mind and body.” If by semi-enclosed the catalog means completely, unequivocally open, save for a thin plastic canopy, then yes, it’s semi-enclosed. Hamm Schlemm builds on this half-truth by asserting that the bizarre design will “help you block out distracting sounds and sights,” but neglected to mention that it will only do so if you are both deaf and blind, and probably dumb for having bought it in the first place.

This thing is essentially just a fancy memory-foam mattress slapped inside a shiny plastic comma. If you’re so eager to spend a quarter of a hundred thousand dollars for a place to take a nap, you’d get more bang for your buck buying the Pirate Ship Playhouse and throwing a tick mattress below deck.

The Googly Eyed Clock – $19.95

“This is the clock that eyes the current time in a cockeyed temporal display.” In other words, this is the clock that makes the easy task of telling time needlessly impossible. No wonder the price has been slashed from $39.95 to $19.95 — American consumers are speaking with their wallets! Determining the hour used to be an effortless piece of work, whether your tool be a fine Swiss watch or the digital display on your $8.00 Casio. But now Hammacher Schlemmer would have you tear your hair out in frustration as you try to make sense of this piece of shit.

With this one product they have set mankind back three-and-a-half millenia, all the way past Big Ben and the bell towers of Notre Dame, beyond Greece’s Tower of the Winds and the water clocks of Babylon, over the sundial obelisks of ancient Egypt and through the stars of the universe. The village idiot in the least intelligent Mayan city could have devised a better timepiece with a blade of grass and a corn kernel.

Why the world needs a clock inspired by a favorite ingredient of crafting enthusiasts is anyone’s guess. But I do suppose one of these things may be looking down on a tubby woman in a turquoise crewneck sweatshirt somewhere near Omaha, counting the hours as she bedazzles a denim handbag with a bottle of Elmer’s glue.

The Only Scootercase – $299.95

The Only Scootercase, and I hope they mean that literally. As in, there’s only one in existence.

I could possibly forgive an annoying child for using this suitcase-on-wheels to zip around the airport, but what self-respecting adult would ever be caught dead on such a thing? Yet the man in the photo has the gall to smile! If it’s not okay for a grown man or woman to scoot around the neighborhood via Razor — and let there be no doubt, it’s not — it’s not okay for them to do so at a highly-populated nexus of international transit.

It’s hard enough to walk through the terminal without having to zigzag your way through the crowds; now we must contend with a bunch of morons on mobile carry-ons? If we let these simple machines loose in our airports, the hurried rider might make his own flight, shooting through the gateway with gleeful abandon, but it will be at the expense of the innocents he ran down along the way. It’s not as if a scooter ever saved anyone much time, either. Hurtling down the concourse at 1 mph, you’ll get to your gate 10 seconds early instead of 10 seconds late, with the added bonus of disgracing your travel companions.

I would rather check my bag for $299.95 than be witnessed pedaling this grievous thingamajig.

The Personal Cooling Collar – $19.95

If you want to stay cool while looking like an escaped convict on a Martian prison colony, this item is for you.

I can’t quite figure out exactly how it works, but essentially, you fill this collar up with water and it blows cool breezes against the back of your neck. So for $19.95 you can effectively air-condition an area of about twenty square inches, for roughly a buck an inch. Or, for free, you could wave a fan or walk at a brisk pace, and avoid looking like a shiftless, helpless idiot.

The Brobdingnagian Sports Chair – $149.95

Perhaps the most useless piece of trash the catalog has ever tried to swindle us with, dressed up in a bogus academic reference poorly designed to distract and impress.

The ostentatious blowhard who writes these product descriptions has really outdone himself here. Given the assignment of somehow making this chair appealing, he reaches into his deep grab-bag of literary allusions and pulls out the lesser-known cousin of Jonathan Swift’s Lilliputian — the oversized Brobdingnagian of Isle Brobdingnag. While I have no doubt that the learned readers of this particular blog remember well the peoples and places of Gulliver’s Travels, I find it quite presumptuous of Hammacher Schlemmer to bank on the American public’s command of classic Irish satire when naming their goods. How many catalog shoppers can be expected to know what the hell Brobdingnagian means when they can’t even say it?

Whatever. The chair’s name may be pretentious, but the chair’s existence is just absurd. At 5 1/2′ tall, the chair is designed for absolutely no one. Andre the Giant is dead and the world is bereft of magic. Children might like to scamper up to the seat if only the chair came with a ladder. And Hamm Schlemm knows they have a flop on their hands, count on it. The description strains to find some crumb of credibility, championing the possibility for “full-body gesticulations.” Apparently, they have forgotten that all chairs allow for full-body gesticulations (except electric). Whether you’re sitting in a rocker, a Barcalounger or a stately Shaker ladderback, you have complete freedom to move your appendages — that’s what makes chairs so great. Praising such a trait is akin to celebrating a dog’s ability to take a dump.

Most preposterously, they write: “The lofty seat elevates feet well above the ground, where they’re free to dangle and sway instead of merely floundering in dirt or sand.” Yes, for time immemorial the conundrum of floundering feet has plagued those poor souls who sit in chairs outside. Too long have we endured the pain and hardship of restless legs flailing helplessly upon the earth, writhing in fury like untamed fire hoses, stumbling about the ground looking for peace. What we need is a comically humongous, unseemly chair.

The Award Winning Learn To Walk Trainer – $59.95

This is ridiculous. I am genuinely angry that this has been invented. That anyone bestowed an award upon such a superfluous contraption is beyond comprehension.

Some hyper-sensitive, ultra-liberal single mom who wants to ban dodgeball in school definitely designed this thing. Why do we need this? No one has ever not learned to walk. Every kid in history has learned to walk. Even the most stupid children find a way to walk, and they do it without the aid of this happy-faced PVC pipe balloon animal. Have you ever met anyone over the age of two who was just lying on the floor in a stagnant heap, crying out, “Help me, somebody! I never learned how to walk and now I can’t go anywhere! I know it’s a basic motor skill that everyone else just grows into, but somehow the feat escaped me. It skipped a generation. If only my parents bought me the Award Winning Learn To Walk Trainer, I would be advancing my feet alternately right now, left right, left right, moving in a forward motion like a regular biped. But tragically, here I lie!”

If this device does anything at all, I wager it will create a whole generation of weak-spirited, bow-legged youths who are still breastfeeding at age eight. Burn these wholesale.

The Handheld Fireworks Light Show Projector – $39.95

Because words cannot do this blasphemy justice, I urge you to watch this informative video.

A child who learns to walk with the Award Winning Learn To Walk Trainer will be given this terrible toy on his 9th birthday, right after his mom weans him off the teat. Mother will be too afraid to bring him outside for a real Independence Day fireworks show because he might get bitten by a mosquito, so she’ll make him go watch a sad, depressing facsimile in his room.

He and his loser friends — all of whom were raised by similarly self-righteous parents, and all of whom own the same sickly, pale complexion — will congregate on the floor and sit Indian-style, pointing this shitty flashlight at the wall and feigning amazement at the dim, blurry colors and tinny sound effects.

After seven minutes of this tragedy, the three AA batteries will drain and the lights will slowly fade, accented by the speaker’s death rattle. Then the kids will sit in darkness for a moment, listening to the booming echoes of the real fireworks show reverberate through the neighborhood, and they will contemplate the lost childhoods they will never, ever get back.

The Personal Submarine – $2,000,000

A two-person submersible is surely a useful thing. Mankind definitely needs a vessel to explore the deepest reaches of the final frontier, and I believe this vehicle just may be the one to do it.

What the hell it’s doing in an online catalog, however, alongside the likes of bathrobes and Googly Eyed Clocks, I will never understand. What person in the market for a submarine would choose to buy it from an internet retailer? I’m sure it qualifies for free shipping, especially if you buy it in tandem with the flying car, but why buy such an essential item sight unseen? I wouldn’t even buy a bicycle if I didn’t get to go down to the bike shop and take it for a spin first.

With my luck, if I bought this thing with that 2 mil I’ve got laying around the house somewhere, it would show up on my doorstep with a nice scratch in the acrylic pressure sphere or, worse, missing a hygrometer or fluxgate compass. F that noise, if I’m buying a submarine I’m going to the submarine store! Or at least buying it used off James Cameron.

Honorable Mention: 

The 20 Foot Animatronic Triceratops – $350,000

Do yourself a favor and pay off your mortgage instead. You’ll thank me later.

The Elliptical Machine Office Desk - $8,000

“Designed to be pedaled at slower cadences that won’t break one’s concentration (or cause one to break a sweat).” What’s the point of working out if you ain’t gonna break a sweat? No pain, no gain. Can’t have it both ways, you idiots.

The Canine Treadmill - $549.95

Potentially forgivable, if it weren’t for the fact that the conveyor belt will deposit all of Fido’s poop on the floor.

The Hands Free Hair Rejuvenator – $699.95

If you buy this, you don’t deserve to have any hair.

The Canine Calming Wrap – $39.95

As if this item could ever compare to a real, honest-to-God hug.

Vicious Rumors peruses catalogues and makes people laugh in Los Angeles.

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

One Response to I’m Not Buying It: The Worst Hammacher Schlemmer Catalog Items [Guest Post]

  1. Dr. Leonhard says:

    Regarding the “no pain no gain” issue you raised about LifeBalance Station, the “Elliptical Machine Office Desk”.

    There are volumes of medical studies that show that considerable health benefit can be obtained from low impact, low effort physical activity, such as walking or gardening especially if you keep it up for longer periods of time. Google “NEAT” (non-exercise activity thermogenisis) or read up on the Okinawa and Santorini longevity studies and you’ll know what I mean.

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