For those indispensable Yak needs

By Deborah Salomon

Catalogs are a plague of modern living, dinosaurs that somehow survived the asteroid, little more than pricey landfill. I dump ’em. But somehow, hidden under a pile of New Yorkers (talk about strange bedfellows), I found old friend Harriet Carter.

How’s that for a retro name?

Harriet and I have been round the barn a few times. Her stuff just begs roasting. But, in the hoopla over Amazon taking over not just Whole Foods but the world, I had sort of forgotten “Harriet Carter’s Distinctive Gifts Since 1958.” Finally, a last chance to own Rodent Sheriff and a Heavy Sleeper Alarm Clock. Like, breathes there a man who doesn’t jolt awake with a regular buzzer? Of course not, because he’s dead.

The real reason I’m addicted to Harriet is for a commentary on life. Her ring-bound paper Internet Address & Password Logbook (regular and large print, $7.95) screams of technology’s failure to thwart hackers/identity thieves. Change your passwords often, we’re told. Make them complicated combinations of numbers and hieroglyphs to challenge the memory of an M.I.T. grad. This means writing them down . . . somewhere. Unfortunately, Harriet’s little address book is itself ripe for stealing, especially with title printed on cover. “Shakespeare’s Complete Works” might be a better camouflage. Either way, lose it and you’re finished.

Harriet finally got herself a website which offers a company history, how she began (in her kitchen, kids helping) with an item or two splashed across the back pages of women’s magazines — along with a photo of a cute blonde, certainly not Harriet, who, if my big-button calculator is correct, must be in her mid-90s.

Anyway, the catalog/website specializes in “useful” items. Were I teaching sociology I’d find an alternate use: Give a catalog to each student, tell him/her to select three items and explore how they illustrate the human condition, circa 2018.

For example:

Stuffy nose?  OTC remedies don’t work? You need a Himalayan salt inhaler, called, what else, the Inhealer, to relieve nasal congestion like the Tibetans do at 15,000 feet. Warning: The Inhealer was “as seen on Dr. Oz.” Several of this doc’s recommendations failed the smell test, especially with a stuffy nose.

Ice storm? You need YakTrax, cleats attached to an elastic web that slips over shoes. Not sure about the yak connection except they also live in Tibet.

I’m fascinated by HairPlus, “clinically proven to increase hair growth up to 123 percent in just 28 days!” Wonder what clinic proved that? Trust me, if it worked, Prince William would have a mullet. I voice similar doubt over 24K Gold Firming Face Mask containing a serum “infused with real 24K gold,” for only $9.98.  No wonder those Egyptian sarcophagi were so well-preserved.

On the serious side, to illustrate how technology serves faith, Harriet offers teddy bears that recite the Lord’s Prayer when a tummy button is pushed. Of the same genre, consider Wonder Bible, a “compact audio player” containing complete texts of Old and New Testaments, with automatic chapter and verse finder. Ear buds extra, so not much help aloft, during turbulence.

For dental perfectionists there’s Miracle Teeth Whitener made from activated coconut charcoal powder. Actually, I prefer my coconut in cake and charcoal red-hot under steaks.

All is not laughable — or suspicious. The electric foot warmer (looks like an envelope) works well after peeling off those YakTrax. “The Book of Useless Information” might get you on “Jeopardy!” “3 Second Lash” attaches to natural eyelashes with tiny magnets. That’s right, magnets. Gel Toe Straighteners fix overlappers and outliers while you sleep.

However, I have mixed feelings about the “Information My Family Needs to Know” kit, with 24 pages to list bank records, insurance policies, notifications, where the family jewels are stashed, other valuables the kids can fight over after your demise. How about “Information My Family Doesn’t Need to Know” as a companion?

At times like this I think of the archeologists who reconstructed life (and the dinner menu) in Pompeii from artifacts preserved by lava. Two thousand years hence, what will diggers think of us upon finding a Sock Slider, battery-operated nail file, Pro RX Disc Pill Cutter, a (horrors!) talking scale, electronic dictionary bookmark and, Harriet’s pièce de résistance, the gift every 12-year-old boy craves — a Fanny Bank: This tushy-shaped, flesh-colored receptacle breaks wind (choose from six audio flatulents) with every coin inserted.

J. Jill, J.Crew and L.L.Bean, take note. Cashmere mufflers aren’t everything.

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at

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