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The top 8 catalogs to order from this X-Mas.

By Jessica English

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  'Tis the season of the catalog. And although I think Christmas shopping provides most of the fun during the holidays, there is a growing faction out there who loathe it, waiting until the last minute to even think about what they'll get. Rather than all the overdone droll you end up with on Christmas Eve, like Mallard Duck armchair remote control holders and Old Spice, ordering from catalogs--as late as Dec. 23 (!)--may be just the answer for one-of-a-kinds for everyone. Here are my favorite catalogs this year, along with my wish list from each (deliver to the address in staff block on page 5).

Hammacher Schlemmer
"Offering the Best, the Only and the Unexpected for Over 149 Years"

Most expensive item: Twin Seat Sirenetta Quadricycle Surrey ($4,495)
Least expensive item: Bath Mitt ($1.95)
What I want: a Swan-, Duck- or Flamingo-Shaped Pedal Boat ($2,999)
Express delivery: Yes, next day available
To order catalog: (800) 543-3366

This is where eccentric people with way too much money shop; God, I wish I had a million bucks. "Hammacher" is full of high-tech, high-class, high-priced gadgets like the Handmade Celestial Orrery, a working 18th century model of the solar system ($669), pictured on the cover. If you've got a lot of cash, you'll find unimaginably sophisticated but weird gifts galore, like the Sleep Sound Generator, the Self-Sustaining Ecosphere or the Most Accurate Atomic Radio-Controlled Watch plus many eclectic and rare Christmas items.

"Tools for Serious Readers"

Most expensive item: Aeron Chair ($979), the "World's Most Comfortable Task Chair"
Least expensive item: Tons of pens, pencils and inks ($3.95-4.95)
What I want: the Ultimate Journal ($129), leather-bound, classy, 382 cream linen pages; Sterling Silver Fountain Pen ($89.95)
Express delivery: Yes, two to four business days
To order catalog: (800) 544-0880 or www.levenger.com

"Levenger" is now my favorite catalog in the world: full of paper, pens, lap desks, journals, furniture and organizational tools for bookworms and writers.

The J. Peterman Company
"Owner's Manual No. 53"

Most expensive item: "A McQueen Thing" Double Breasted Leather Peacoat ($595)
Least expensive item: U.S. Navy Watch Cap ($10, pictured on the cover)
What I want: "At Risk" Vintage Velvet Evening Dress ($365); Luscious Leather Lace-up Gloves, "the kind of hand-to-hand combat men really like" ($80)
Express delivery: Yes, "guaranteed under the tree Christmas day if ordered by 12 noon Dec. 23"
To order catalog: (800) 231-7341

"J. Peterman" is entirely romantic and literary. I spent hours pouring over the capsules, which read like proems, descriptive vignettes of passing moments that somehow incorporate the product by embodying its character. Each product is also represented by very classy full-color illustrations. The description, titled "Breathing like a bagpipe," for the Australian Wool Shirt ($148) reads: "The sky is ready to drop more water. Puddles are full of leaves and weeds, floating. The branches of an oak groan. Everything he writes he just rolls into a ball and gives to the cat. He finishes one of only four cigarettes he allows himself daily. He stubs it out and puts it in his pocket. He could walk for miles and miles ..."

"J. Peterman" also offers a housewares catalog, available from the same phone number.

"A Catalog for Fans and Friends of Public Radio"

Most expensive item: Nothing over $99.95
Least expensive item: "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Sound Effects Keychain ($6.99)
What I want: Microbrew 12-Pack Beer Sampler ($39.95)
Express delivery: Yes
To order catalog: (800) 570-5003

I want pretty much everything in this catalog for myself or someone I know. Someday, I will have it all, by God. "Wireless" is full of intellectual kitsch, like a book and CD-ROM containing a collection of e-mail cartoons to send, funny mouse pads, clever sweatshirts, 3-D puzzles, music, videos, games and replicas of symbolic rings from other cultures and time periods. "Signals: A Catalog for Fans and Friends of Public Television" is basically the same as "Wireless" and equally cool (available by calling 800-669-9696). These two catalogs are the catch-alls for unusual gifts anytime.

Johnson Smith Company Catalog
"Things You Never Knew Existed ... and Other Items You Can't Possibly Live Without ..."

Most expensive item: Nova Dreamer Set ($219), "Wireless Nova Dreamer is worn while sleeping and detects when you are dreaming by sensing the movements of your eyes. You are given a light or sound cue to enter your dream without awakening. With your new lucidity, you are free to embark on unlimited adventures."
Least expensive item: Surprise Package, "first-quality samples ... from all over the world, surplus factory stock, ... excess, etc." ($1.25)
What I want: Face Food Mold ($10.95), "Give your 'sweetie' a chocolate face ..."
Express delivery: Yes, four to five business days
To order catalog: (941) 747-2356

This is truly, truly weird stuff. And I want it all. My favorite is the Deluxe Fart Detector ($39.98), "Industrial quality gas detector really detects many common gases, including 'noxious human emissions.' Produces loud warning and siren!" Johnson Smith has everything: from fog machines to body gadgets to make you thinner, attractant cologne for men and women that contains pheromones and the Alien Autopsy game, a version of good ol' Operation. Plus funny T-shirts, gags, magic tricks, cool masks, spy gadgetry and plain old kitsch.

Cat Claws Inc.
"Where Cats & Caring Come Together"

Most expensive item: Cat Tree ($108.95)
Least expensive item: Shrimply the Best Shrimp Cat Treats ($3.95)
What I want: Catnip Blowing Bubbles ($4.95)
Express delivery: Yes, three-day rush delivery
To order catalog: (800) 783-0977 or www.catclaws.com

I consider myself a "cat person," and this catalog still gives me the willies. See, I love my cat. But I don't love my cat. Of course, our feline friends deserve a Christmas, too! And surely you know someone who'd dig all this crazy crap for Fluffy. Stuff Fluffy will hate--like the Hairball Remedystick ($7.95), a lik-em-stik flavored like barley and shaped like stick deodorant, or the Laser Tease toy ($49.95).

Museum Replicas Limited
"Battle-Ready Swords, Daggers, Axes, Shields & Helmets Plus Period Clothing, Jewelry, Sculpture, Books & More"

Most expensive item: Duke of Burgundy Hand-Forged Suit of Armor ($2,495)
Least expensive item: The Book of the Sword by Richard F. Burton ($9.95)
What I want: Shrunken Head ($84)
Express delivery: Yes, next day
To order catalog: (800) 883-8838

Witness one-stop shopping for Society of Creative Anachronism members. But everyone loves to play dress up and loves rapiers. The cape ($94) and cloak ($89) are timeless but still out of the ordinary. And who doesn't feel manly in mail? I absolutely love the Poison Ring ($23.50); the concealed hollow beneath the top stone would allow me to slip poison into my enemy's drink--how very Shakespearean!

Delta Press Ltd.
Most expensive item: Miniature State Highway Patrol Badges (all 50, $249)

Least expensive item: Warning Signs & Stickers (60 cents), examples: "If you come through this door you will be killed/Si vienes por esta puerta te mato" or "I § Killing Communists"
What I want: The Executive Ice Scraper ($4.95); the capsule reads "Caution: Under no circumstances should you ever strike someone with this ice scraper. It will produce a particularly nasty cut requiring about 20 stitches to close." (yeah--wink, wink)
Express delivery: Yes
To order catalog: (800) 852-4445

You may have one of those hard-to-shop for folks who believes consumerism--especially during the Christmas season--is a plot by Big Brother. If so, any normal Christmas present you give would most likely be summarily smashed for suspicion of thought control. "Delta Press" is the perfect place to find a gift for those paranoid folks (or any sociopath or serial killer type). Basically, it's a survival catalog, full of books on booby traps, revenge, surveillance, changing your identity, doomsday theories and making your own bombs, guns and poisons. They also offer videos, Vietnam ID cards and patches, dog tags, T-shirts (one with the image of a mushroom cloud reads: "Made in America, Tested in Japan"), self-defense devices and posters. Among my favorite titles are Screw the Bitch: Divorce Tactics for Men; The Predatory Female; Sharing the Road with Idiots, and Screw Unto Others. You can also order a custom photo ID claiming you are a mercenary, firearms dealer, member of the American News Service, a special investigator and more. Scary but original gift material.

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