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DAVE BARRY'S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE // All they want for Christmas . . .

Yes, the holiday season is upon us once again. But before you get out your credit card and become part of the desperate grasping holiday mob at the shopping mall, we'd like you to consider a modest proposal: This year, why not celebrate the holidays without gifts?

Think about it! The holidays are not supposed to be about material possessions; the holidays are supposed to be about beliefs, about traditions _ about people. And the one thing we know for sure about people is that they want material possessions. So our modest proposal was pretty stupid, now that we think about it. You'd better get out that credit card after all.

But before you do, you should take a gander at the amazing array of gift items described in our annual Holiday Gift Guide. We have scoured the planet in search of gift items that are sure to cause the lucky recipients to experience uncontrollable facial tics of delight.

The Gift Guide is now in its seventh consecutive year, and during that time it has achieved a loyal international following of leading consumers such as Martha Stewart, Warren Christopher and Queen Elizabeth II of England, none of whom would even think of purchasing a Power Pez Dispenser or artificial dog testicles without first consulting this guide.

Gift guide guarantee

Every item featured in this guide is a real product that we are not making up; you can actually purchase these items. The only exception is the Hootie Rake, which is no longer available for sale, but which we are including anyway because we like the name "Hootie Rake."

Consumer warranty

If you purchase any item featured in this gift guide, and you are for any reason not 100 percent satisfied with it, then you will have nobody to blame but yourself. We guarantee it in writing.

Power Pez dispenser

$5.95 plus shipping and handling from Archie McPhee & Co., P.O. Box 30852, Seattle, WA 98103-0852, phone (206) 745-0711. (e-mail: mcphee(at)mcphee.com) (World Wide Web: http://www.halcyon.com/mcphee/)

There can be no argument about the fact that, when we list the greatest inventions of the human race, the top two are:

1. The wheel.

2. Pez.

And not necessarily in that order, either. Yes, the wheel is a useful tool for transportation, but you can't carry it around in a dispenser and eat it when you need a snack. However, you can do this with Pez, the amazing foodlike substance that can be used as either candy or an ingredient for concrete.

The only problem is the effort involved in getting the Pez out of the standard dispenser. You constantly hear people say: "I would enjoy Pez more often, but I cannot be bothered with the chore of manually flipping open the dispenser top." If you have such a person on your holiday gift list, you need the Power Pez Dispenser. This is a battery-operated device that automatically rotates the Pez into position and ejects it in a semi-startling way (you have to be ready).

This automated action saves the user's precious time for more important activities, such as scratching. (The only flaw is that, to achieve this time-saving convenience, you have to manually insert the Pez, one at a time, into the dispenser, which takes quite a while. But we will not quibble about that.)

The Power Pez Dispenser makes a great gift for the business or political leader who needs to make a strong impression. More than one top sales professional has closed a big deal by whipping out the Power Pez Dispenser and ejecting, or threatening to eject, a unit of Pez at the client. This item can also be used for personal protection from street muggers ("UH-oh! She's got a Power Pez Dispenser!" "Let's scram!").

So this year, give the gift that says, "batteries included." And remember that, in any language, "Pez" means "love."

Cow manure clock

$40 plus shipping and handling from Donna Minor, 1720 13th Ave. SE, Medicine Hat, Alb. T1A 3P1, Canada, phone (403) 527-4879.

Sometimes, here at the Holiday Gift Guide Quality Testing Center, we get an item so unusual we can barely stay in the same room with it. That is definitely the case with this item, which is _ and we swear we are not making this up _ a clock made from cow droppings. And these are not just any cow droppings; these are Canadian cow droppings.

The cow-pie clock is the invention of a Canadian veterinarian, Tom Steele. His sister, Donna Minor, makes a limited number of the clocks each year by hand. According to an article in a newspaper called The Camrose Canadian, these clocks sell like hotcakes and have been featured on Canadian television. Steele is quoted as saying: "It's not hard to get into a conversation about them with people."

We bet it's not. We have found that, when people are near this clock, they soon start talking about it. "What's that smell?" they say.

Toilet paper hat

$19.95 plus shipping and handling from Brainstorms, 8221 Kimball, Skokie, IL 60076-2956, phone (800) 231-6000.

If you're like most people, you've spent much of your life in a fruitless search for a hat that both looks good AND can hold an entire roll of toilet paper.

Well, your search is over, because somebody _ and we frankly do not want to know why _ has combined a baseball cap and a toilet-paper holder into a uniquely functional headwear concept, one that makes the unmistakable fashion statement: "I have a roll of toilet paper on my head." A person wearing this hat can stride with confidence into any public restroom or guest bathroom, knowing that he or she is not going to get "caught short."

This is the hat that leading New York socialites wear to swank restaurants, cocktail parties and the opera. This hat is also worn by all participants in closed-door sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court. And it goes without saying that Ross Perot personally owns several dozen. By giving this hat to a special someone on your list, you are saying, "Here."

Giant electronic radar frog

$29.95 plus shipping and handling from S.A.M. Electronics, 2701 Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL 60618, phone (800) 684-1021.

(Suggested by Judith Haynes of Hudgins, Va., and Bernadette and Tom Price of Mahopac, N.Y.)

Just when you think that modern technology has gone just about as far as it possibly can to benefit the human race, along comes an amazing breakthrough like this. This is a large plastic battery-powered frog equipped with a sensor in its mouth. When somebody moves in front of the frog, a speaker in the frog's stomach says, and this is a direct quote, "Ribbet."

The most obvious use for this item, of course, is security. Violent criminals are not going to mess around with any building that is protected by a plastic frog. This is why, at the present time, all U.S. nuclear-missile installations are protected by these devices.

But security is only the beginning. The advertisement for the Giant Electronic Radar Frog also states that it can also be used for the following purposes:

"Home Conversation Pet"

"Companion to cats and dogs"

"Deskmate"

"Meeting or Party Delight"

We especially like the idea of using this item as a meeting delight. We are pretty sure that any person who brings a Giant Electronic Radar Frog to a meeting is going to catch the eye of those in authority. This is exactly how Lee Iacocca got started.

Doze alarm

$19.95 plus shipping and handling from The Safety Zone, Hanover, PA 17333-0019, phone (800) 999-3030.

Have you ever watched the president give a State of the Union address? If so, you've probably noticed that the president stands directly in front of the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives, who are clearly visible, which means they somehow have to stay awake for the WHOLE SPEECH. You cannot have the vice president dozing off and keeling over on national TV. If this happened to a political leader with the body stiffness of Al Gore, he might shatter.

The question is: What is the secret of these political professionals? How do they stay awake through speeches that could put hyperactive children into a coma? We are guessing that they use the Doze Alarm. This is a battery-powered device you hang over your ear; if you become drowsy and your head nods forward, an alarm goes off and wakes you up.

The Doze Alarm, made from quality plastic, makes a wonderful gift, not only for the political leader on your list, but also for anybody else who needs to stay awake on the job, such as airline pilots, brain surgeons and professional sky divers. The Doze Alarm is also perfect for anybody who works for a large corporation and must spend hours in meetings, fighting for consciousness while co-workers explain projects that nobody understands and have no conceivable chance of accomplishing anything.

The American Association of Psychiatrists endorses the Doze Alarm as "a proven means of staying awake when patients are droning away about their boring problems," although the association cautions that "sometimes you also have to take drugs."

Travel safe toilet seat

$19.95 plus shipping and handling from Travel Safe Products Inc., 5444 Mt. Jackson Ct., Virginia Beach, VA 23462, phone (757) 497-5213.

Do you use public restrooms? Have you noticed that some of them apparently are cleaned no more than once a century? Do you realize that a poorly cleaned public toilet is basically a stud farm for bacteria? Are you troubled by the thought that, by using such a facility, your personal body could come into contact with hostile microorganisms the size of hamsters?

If so, then you _ along with every concerned person on your holiday gift list _ need the Travel Safe Toilet Seat. This is a sturdy plastic portable toilet seat that fits over most standard toilet seats. The Travel Safe seat folds in half, like an attache case, and it has handles so that you can carry it with you everywhere you go _ to the mall, the office, the opera, the Vatican, etc.

It comes in white, which means it coordinates beautifully as a fashion accessory with virtually any outfit. More and more in this health-conscious era, you are seeing top business professionals carrying this item with them at all times. Bill Gates carries four.

Imagine the excitement your loved ones would feel if they came downstairs to behold your holiday tree festooned with enough Travel Safe Toilet Seats for the whole family. If that does not say "holiday spirit," we frankly do not know what does.

Hootie Rake

(Suggested by Bobbie Naughton of Houston, Texas.)

We regret to say that you can't buy this item. We have one, which was graciously donated to the Gift Guide by Bobbie Naughton, but tragically the Hootie Rake is no longer being manufactured. We are hoping that, by including it in this year's guide, we will create a widespread consumer demand for the Hootie Rake, and it will once again be made available to the public, which truly needs this extremely useful tool.

What is a Hootie Rake, you ask? Okay, we'll tell you. You know how, when you crack an egg into a bowl or frying pan, there is sometimes a gross little thing attached to the yolk via a cord? That thing, according to the literature that accompanied our Hootie Rake "is known in many parts of the world by many interesting names, i.e., Egg Hootie, Yolk Hinge, Wooger, Chinese Creeper, Egg Oyster, String Gloober, The Blob, The Abominable Clod Worm, Snow Booger, etc."

Whatever you call it, the Hootie Rake is designed to get rid of it; using your rake, you just pick the hootie off and throw it away, or save it for pranks. According to the literature, the Hootie Rake can also remove eggshells from the yolk, and help you get olives and small onions out of jars.

We cannot believe that a device this useful is no longer on the market. We yearn for the day when Hootie Rakes are once again in abundant supply, and brides register their Hootie Rake patterns with department stores. Is that so much to ask? Maybe Congress should get involved.

Legal note: To the best of our knowledge, the Hootie Rake is not in any way affiliated with Hootie & the Blowfish, or, for that matter, Madonna.

Slimming insoles

$19.95 (two pair $29.95) plus shipping and handling from Intermed Laboratories, 433 41st St., Miami Beach, FL 33140, (888) 863-3462.

(Suggested by Blase and Brenda Weisensel of Watertown, Wis.)

What is the secret to losing weight?

If you answered: "Eat less and exercise more," please do not be offended when we point out that you are an idiot. Because it turns out that the secret to losing weight is _ pay close attention here _ applying pressure to certain areas of your feet.

Yes. This is called "acupressure," and it is an ancient art invented 5,000 years ago by the Chinese, who discovered that every organ in the body has a "reflex zone" in the feet, and that by applying pressure to the specific zone associated with the digestive organs, they could get people to mail them actual money in exchange for seemingly worthless pieces of plastic.

That is the scientific theory behind these Slimming Insoles, a "massage insole" developed by Robert Metz, who according to his literature is "a European doctor and nutritionist." You simply wear these insoles in your shoes, and, shazam, you lose weight, as is scientifically proven by photographs of thin women in Dr. Metz's sales literature.

When you purchase these insoles, you also get a set of directions in which Dr. Metz recommends that you eat less and exercise more. But we're sure that the key factor is foot pressure.

This is the perfect holiday "stocking stuffer" for all the people on your list who have too much stuffing in their stockings. This is the only slimming insole that is endorsed by the American Dental Association and Charles Barkley.

"Instant gold" replating solution

$19.98 plus shipping and handling from Harriet Carter, Dept. 36, North Wales, PA 19455, phone (215) 361-5151.

Here is an easy and quick way to transform a piece of dull jewelry into a piece of dull jewelry covered with a thin layer of stuff that is clearly not gold. As you can see in the actual unretouched photographs on this page, the effect is almost magical. That is why Elizabeth Taylor, to name just one star, goes through thousands of gallons of this product every year.

You men out there will definitely want to buy this gift item for that "special lady" in your life. It's a way for you to say, "I thought about buying you some actual jewelry, but I decided to give you this replating solution instead, thereby saving me enough money to buy myself those new golf clubs that I know you wanted me to have." Trust us when we tell you that she will be blown away by this classy gesture on your part. She might even tell her attorney about it.

Roofing songs and stories tape

$10 plus shipping and handling from Don Ohman's Roofing Tunes, Box 327, Pasco, WA 99301, fax (509) 545-4324.

(Suggested by Peter Jefferson of Highlands, N.C.)

If you have a friend or loved one _ and who doesn't? _ who enjoys listening to songs and stories about roofing, this is the gift for that person.

Please Pass the Asphalt ("as advertised in Roofer Magazine") is a cassette tape performed by roofer Don Ohman Sr. and other professional roofers, some of whom sound as if they are pounding on actual roofing implements. As the promotional brochure states, "this 30-minute audio tape of remarkable, unusual roofing songs and stories deals with the trials and tribulations of the average roofer and roofing contractor." Here are some actual lyrics from one of the songs:

"Oh a roof's the most important part of your building

If it leaks it can create a real hell

But us roofers, we're here to solve that nasty problem

So go ahead and place us high upon a pedestal."

We here at the Gift Guide listened to this tape with our own personal ears, and we are not ashamed to say that we found our toe tapping to certain parts. We urge you to purchase this tape for anybody on your list who is tired of listening to the same old overplayed songs about roofers and roofing contractors.

Computerized electronic cat litter box

$199, (Waste Container Refills, 4 for $11), plus shipping and handling from Comtrad Industries, 2820 Waterford Lake Drive, Suite 102, Midlothian, VA 23113, phone (800) 992-2966.

(Suggested by many alert readers.)

If you're a cat owner, we'd like to ask you a question: Suppose you were in the home furnishings section of a major department store, and you saw a product called "The Big Open Box of Poop 'n' Weewee." Would you buy such a product? Would you place it in your home?

Of course you wouldn't. Yet the odds are that you have this very thing in your home right now, in the form of a cat litter box, which is giving off odor vapors pungent enough to bring tears to a glass eyeball. Perhaps YOU have grown used to the aroma, but trust us, your visitors have not, which is why they generally do not stay in your home longer than 15 seconds before they start coming up with reasons to leave. ("Darn! I just remembered that I have to . . . ummm . . . I have to . . . leave!")

Litter-box odor is a serious national problem. Ever since the Clintons brought "Socks" to Washington, the White House has been smelling like a Dumpster outside a day-care facility. This is why you so often see the president talking with visiting dignitaries outside, even in January. Many overnight visitors _ including Yasser Arafat who, trust us, does not exactly smell like a floral bouquet _ insist upon sleeping on the lawn.

What the White House needs _ and what you and your cat-owning friends need _ is the amazing LitterMaid computerized litter box. To our knowledge, this is the only litter box on the market that has an actual microprocessor "brain." When the cat goes into the box to "do its business," the brain senses the cat's presence and, through the miracle of microcircuitry, activates a powerful catapult, which launches the cat through the window out into the yard, where the cat should have been doing its business in the first place.

No! Just kidding! Please do not deluge us with angry-cat-lover letters! In fact, according to the sales literature, the LitterMaid brain waits until the cat has been gone for several minutes, then activates a motorized sifting comb, which sweeps through the litter, collects what the cat left, and dumps it into a sealed waste container.

Granted, this is not a cheap item. But we feel that it was more than worth the price we paid for it, because we did not use our own personal money. We did, however, conduct a Field Test of the LitterMaid system by placing it in the home of some friends of ours, Steve and Ivy Kaufman, who have a cat named Max.

A few days later, Steve called with a report. He said there were several drawbacks to the LitterMaid. For example, it requires a special type of litter called "clumping" litter.

"Basically," Steve said, "clumping litter is sand. Because it's sand, Max likes to play in it, and because the walls of the box are really low, he can kick the sand out. He loves to do this: Our kitchen floor looks like a beach. We're constantly sweeping in there."

Another problem, Steve reported, is that for some reason the LitterMaid activated itself every 10 minutes, whether Max was in it or not. Steve said that when Max did deposit something in there, the LitterMaid, as promised, swept it into the plastic box. The problem, Steve said, was that the LitterMaid kept re-opening the box, which meant "you keep having this waft of aroma coming out, so it reeks."

The result, he said, was that he and Ivy had to manually empty the box every time Max used it.

"It's SO much more work," Steve noted. "And it stinks."

So to summarize the results of the Field Test: In addition to costing way more than an old-fashioned manual litter box, the LitterMaid _ at least our test model _ was messier, smellier and more work. But on the plus side, Max really liked it. So we think this would be a great gift for any cat on your holiday gift list.

For the cat owner, however, we have a much better gift suggestion: a dog.

Cow brassiere

$40 plus shipping and handling from Nasco, 901 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson, WI 53538-0901, phone (800) 558-9595.

Did you ever see an item for sale that was so unusual you just had to purchase it? This is one of those items. This is the "Let-Up" brand cow udder supporter, which according to the catalog description "eliminates congestion and caking, which causes broken down udders." The catalog further states: "With Let-Up, there are no smashed teats, self-sucking, or need of ointment."

We don't know about you, but here at the Holiday Gift Guide we happen to believe, as Americans, that this would be a far better nation in which to live if there were less caking, self-sucking and need of ointment. That is why we think you should seriously consider purchasing the "Let-Up" udder supporter for everybody on your gift list who might have a use for it.

And we do not believe that a person necessarily has to own a cow to benefit from this product. We think the "Let-Up" can also be used as a small hammock, as well as a mechanism for suspending potted plants. It has all kinds of straps coming out of it, so you could probably also use it as a restraining device, or for practical jokes involving people who have had a few too many and fallen asleep in parties or bars. Imagine the fun of watching a friend of yours, late at night, on the street, trying to explain to police officers why he was wearing nothing except an udder supporter! Ha ha!

So you definitely need this item. Please note that, because of the kind of high-class Gift Guide that we are, we managed to get all the way through this product discussion without once mentioning Dolly Parton. Thank you.

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