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Let your Fingers do the Shopping

Weird, wonderful and just plain useless gifts

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Shopping competes with NASCAR and college basketball as Charlotte's favorite sport. Just witness the media feeding frenzy every time a major new mall opens -- and Nordstrom's opening next year has people doing backflips.

So what's the Charlotte couch potato to do? Catalogs and Internet shopping are one way to avoid, as a friend of mine puts it, "getting malled." And more people are doin' it, according to the Direct Marketing Association. Info from the DMA indicates that "47 percent of Americans have made online purchases, an increase from 36 percent one year ago." And "71 percent of Americans shop from home, buying from catalogs, over the Internet, over the phone or through the mail." Get those dialing and typing fingers ready and see what we've found for you and yours this year.

Zeroing in immediately on the silly, BrylaneHome has an inflatable light-up goose. Yep, you read that correctly. Martha Goose comes with no less than four seasonal outfits including Santa (with reindeer antlers?), a bunny for spring, a bumblebee for summer -- and silliest of them all, a turkey (complete with Pilgrim hat) for fall. Martha G stands 38 inches high and the kit includes ground stakes and wires to keep her stable, a foot pump, and a three-piece light set. She can be yours for only $49.99. (www.brylanehome.com or call 800-528-5150)

One of our favorite catalogs anytime of year is American Science & Surplus. Full of one-liners and the most imaginative descriptions of any catalog we've seen, this one will keep you occupied for hours! Here you can find real Silly Putty in an egg shaped container ($2) or a Scorpion Paperweight with a real scorpion encased in acrylic ($6.50). If you should need a stethoscope ($8.50), pocket binoculars ($2.50) or Sea Monkeys ($7.95), this is the place. Our favorite find this year is the Dissect-A-Frog kit. To wit: "Dissect-A-Frog is our convenient biology kit designed for home-schoolers." The blurb goes on to list what you get in the kit plus: "The frog -- real, but no longer alive -- has been carefully preserved and sealed in an individual poly bag. The color will vary. The body, not including several inches of leg, will be four or more inches long. The chances of it turning into a prince are minimal." All this for just $19.95. (www.sciplus.com or 847-647-0011)

Holy gift giving! Paging through the Marshall Field's catalog, we thought we were in a time warp, Batman. But there, in all their colorful glory, are the Dynamic Duo of the 1960s, Batman and Robin, in a nice colorful shot. Signed by stars Adam West and Burt Ward, the photo is matted and framed already and comes with a certificate of authenticity. It'll set you back $699.95 but what's that to an old fart, er, ah, fan.

On the same page, but for the Wizard of Oz fan in your life, especially since there are only so many pairs of original ruby slippers, here's a collectible alternative. You can buy a canceled check signed by actor Jack Haley who played the Tin Man in that classic film. It comes framed with a photo of the actor in his most famous role and is indeed a rare opportunity to obtain his autograph since he's been dead for a while now. For true fans, the $499.95 price tag shouldn't break your heart. (www.fields.com or 800-776-4444)

When the Despair, Inc. catalog came in the mail, we thought it was a joke. With their motto "Motivational posters don't work, but our Demotivational posters don't work even better," this catalog was made for the sarcastic soul hiding in one of those cubes in one of those downtown buildings. You can get note cards and desk-toppers as well with such slogans as "INEPTITUDE: If you can't learn to do something well, learn to enjoy doing it poorly" or "MEETINGS: None of us is as dumb as all of us." Notecard packs are $9.95 and the posters are $15.95 each. Sticky note pads are only $9.95. As it says on the back of the catalog, "Operators are waiting to take your money." (www.despair.com or 877-DESPAIR)

We didn't find anything outrageous in the Hammacher Schlemmer (www.hammacher.com) catalog -- at least, nothing like the personal submarine a few years back -- but HS has lots of other good stuff. But we had to wonder about this: you can get a pro quality portable massage table ($349.95), but what good is it without the masseuse?

But when the Design Toscano catalog arrived, we found on page three the perfect gift for your friend who has everything. Fit for a king -- especially, we suppose, a boy king -- is King Tutankhamen's Egyptian Throne Chair. Now, don't get upset about Toscano looting Egyptian antiquities or something. This is a full-scale replica that is lauded as a "substantial, reinforced designer resin work of decorative furniture art" and is "exquisitely gold leafed and hand painted in the rich palette of Egypt." And it weighs 84 pounds. You can get one chair for $895 or two for $1750. (www.DesignToscano.com or 800-525-0733)

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