When American civilization as we know it is long gone and strictly the domain of historians and archaeologists, I hope to be spared the posthumous embarrassment of the inevitable discovery of the in-flight Sky Mall catalog. If every era has its own mail-order identity (Sears Roebuck for the post-war boomers, Whole Earth for the crunchy '60s and '70s, and Sharper Image for the shiny '80s), then we have inherited the craptacular, gluttonous kitsch-fest of Sky Mall.

Now that airplanes are the new buses, this glossy rag of epically extravagant amenities reaches millions of captive readers every year. To my knowledge, nobody I know has ever dialed 1-800-SKY-MALL to order an "ingenious pet booster seat, suitcase, and bed combo unit" or a "home pride hot dog rotisserie griller and bun warmer," but the catalog's omnipresence indicates that there is indeed a market.

The underlying theme of Sky Mall is that your life is too hard. Your shoes don't clean themselves (but the "Nifty Walkers" do), your pet door lets strays in (so get the "Electro-Magnetic Cat Door," with a magnetic key on Fluffy's collar), and you still have to cross the room to check the caller ID when the phone rings (but the "Talking Caller ID" loudly announces who's calling). Help Relieve Your Aggravating Muscle Pains! Have All the Buttons You Need Right At Your Fingertips! Sky Mall goes beyond luxurious, life-improving goods into the marketplace of frivolous (and undoubtedly poorly crafted) kitsch.

The catalog's photographs, however, rival the Weekly World News for the funniest images being disseminated to the American public. As if it wasn't corny enough to have a handsome couple lounging on the beach in an "instant screened-in room" and reaching high to complete the world's largest crossword puzzle, Sky Mall gets our furry friends in on the action, too. There's a place in kitty heaven for the Siamese who posed for the Lightweight Pet Stroller photo shoot, yet I have to admit that the golden retriever on page 55 looks pretty darn happy modeling the "Coolaroo Dog Bed." The summer catalog's crowning image, though, seems suspiciously like an homage to Ralph Wiggum. A nine or 10-year-old boy flexes his biceps to show off Sky Mall's temporary tattoos while a floating dialogue bubble proclaims "I'm a walking billboard!" Yes you are, little Timmy. And I bet your Sky Mall parents couldn't be prouder.

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