The holiday season is a good time to ponder the lesson of A Christmas Carol, the heartwarming classic story by the beloved dead English writer Charles Dickens. The story begins on Christmas Eve with mean old miser Ebenezer Scrooge being mean to his lowly clerk, Bob Cratchit, who is a good and humble man despite having a last name that sounds like an intestinal mishap, as in "The dog made cratchit on the rug."
Scrooge then goes home, and during the night he is visited by a series of ghosts, including the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Stranded in a Motel 6 in Albany, N.Y. Horrified, Scrooge rushes to the Cratchit home the next morning to atone for his meanness by giving the Cratchits a goose, and everybody rejoices except Tiny Tim, who was hoping for an Xbox 360, so his Christmas is ruined.
The lesson we learn from this timeless story is that it's important to get the right gift. All too often we give people gifts that they don't want, or can't use.
The Holiday Gift Guide is a collection of unique gift items that you will not see anywhere else, at least not anywhere with a drug policy. We did not make any of these items up: They are all real products that people are actually selling. We know this because we bought all of them and subjected them to rigorous field-testing in the form of giving them to our official Gift Guide photographer, Bob Eighmie, who somehow talked people into posing with them for free.
Never miss a local story.
It is because of the rigor of this testing procedure that we are able to offer you our exclusive Holiday Gift Guide "total satisfaction" guarantee, as follows:
If you purchase any item featured in this year's guide, and you are for any reason not totally satisfied with it, simply send it, in the original packaging, backward in time to the year 1957. Then wait by your phone for further instructions.
OK, now that the "legalese" is out of the way, let's look at this year's lineup of gift items, starting with:
Flair Hair visor
$19.99 plus shipping and handling from Kotula's, 1850 Banks Road, Fort Mill, S.C., 800-685-4845; www.kotulas.com
Here's the perfect gift for the balding man on your holiday list who wants to keep the sun out of his eyes while at the same time appearing to have developed some kind of giant carnivorous scalp fungus. This is a sun visor that, instead of being open on the top, has been fitted with a swatch of what appears to be shag carpeting from a motel room that has not been cleaned since 1987. You simply put this item on your head, and suddenly, instead of looking like an ordinary bald guy, you look like a bald guy who does not own a mirror. The "Flair Hair" visor comes in a variety of hair shades, none of them human. This is the only hair visor endorsed by Mr. Donald Trump.
Bark4Beer dog-collar bottle opener
$19.95 plus shipping and handling from Bark4Beer LLC, 7660 Fay Ave., No. H321, La Jolla, Calif.; www.bark4beer.com
Suggested by Dick Hess of Denver, Colo.
How many times have you wanted to open a beer, but you didn't have a bottle opener handy, and you couldn't go find one for some reason, such as you were unable to stand up? If that happens a lot, then the Bark4Beer dog collar is the answer. This is a dog collar that has a bottle opener attached to it on a retractable cable. When you need an opener, all you have to do is call your dog, and, boom, just like that, nothing will happen. At least that's what would happen to us, because our dog does not come when called. But if your dog is actually obedient, the Bark4Beer collar would be a great accessory. If you could train your dog to bring you beer, you'd never have to move again.
$24.99 plus shipping and handling from ThinkGeek Inc., 11216 Waples Mill Road, Suite 100, Fairfax, Va.; 888-854-4335 or 888-GEEKSTUFF; www.thinkgeek.com
Suggested by Bill Hudgins of Nashville
These days, almost everybody carries a lot of gadgets -- cellphones, iPads, iPods, electric nostril trimmers, Tasers, etc. Women can carry these gadgets in their purses, but men cannot carry purses unless they are willing to run the risk of appearing -- not that there is anything wrong with it -- French.
That's why the gadget-owning man on your holiday list will love this gadget holster, which is extremely masculine while at the same time being very manly.
It's made of rugged, studly black military/espionage/kung fu/Jedi Knight material.
It has two straps, so you can strap it to your waist AND your thigh, which means that you will not lose your gadgets even in hand-to-hand combat.
Remote-controlled Shocking Tanks
$59.95 plus shipping and handling from Edmund Scientific, 60 Pearce Ave., Tonawanda, N.Y.; 800-728-6999; scientificsonline.com
Suggested by Deb Rowley of Davenport, Iowa
The trouble with most games is that even when you win, you cannot inflict physical pain on your opponent. Take Monopoly. You spend all that time throwing dice and moving your little board piece around, and you finally win, and what do you have to show for it? A hotel on Ventnor Avenue? That's not enough! You want your opponent to suffer.
And now that dream can come true, thanks to this fine product manufactured in some foreign nation where life is cheap. This is a set of two remote-controlled tanks, each equipped with a cannon that shoots little wads of light called "infrareds." If you hit your opponent's tank, your opponent gets a shock, which according to Internet reports can be pretty strong. The manufacturer says you should not use this product "if you have epilepsy, a heart condition or related illness." It's also a bad idea to play Shocking Tanks against your children, because they will use their vastly superior manual dexterity to convert you into a human circuit breaker.
This year, give the most precious gift of all: voltage.
Electronic Drum Kit Shirt
$29.99 plus shipping and handling from ThinkGeek Inc.; 888-854-4335 or 888-GEEKSTUFF; www.thinkgeek.com
Do you have any musical people on your holiday gift list? We're talking about the kind of people who are always humming, whistling or drumming on their desks, to the point where their co-workers want to beat them to death with their office chairs.
This is the ideal gift for those people. It's a T-shirt that has been fitted with batteries, wires and other electronic items that magically transform it from an ordinary garment into a garment that is really uncomfortable. But also when you hit certain parts of it just right, it makes noises that sound vaguely like really bad recordings of what could conceivably be drums. We're talking about hours of entertainment, assuming the person being entertained has an unusually small brain.
Otherwise we're talking about maybe 15 seconds of entertainment.
This is the only drum T-shirt recommended by leading musicians such as the late Ray Charles.
$19.95 plus shipping and handling from www.pillowtie.com
Suggested by Barb Goldstein of Albany, N.Y.
A man wearing a necktie makes an important statement about himself. That statement is: "I am wearing an idiotic garment around my neck."
Yes, the pathetic truth is that neckties serve no useful purpose. We modern men wear them only because our fathers wore them, and they wore them only because their fathers wore them, and so on backward in history to a time of such ignorance that mankind believed solar eclipses were caused by a giant snake swallowing the sun.
Today, thanks to science, we know that the sun isn't being swallowed by a giant snake. It's simply being obscured by a shadow, which is cast by the giant snake. Yet despite all our modern scientific knowledge, we're still wearing these stupid neckties.
Well, finally somebody has done something, and that something is the Pillow Tie.
This is a tie that can be quickly inflated to serve as a pillow, thus enabling the wearer to put his head down and catch "40 winks" during tedious activities such as attending meetings, holding congressional hearings or piloting long-haul commercial airliners.
Hand Crank Siren
$99.99 plus shipping and handling from Kotula's, 800-685-4845; www.kotulas.com
This is the ultimate gift for the person on your list who is concerned about personal safety, or simply enjoys attracting attention. This is a hand-cranked siren that, once you get it really cranking, can be heard a quarter of a mile away. It's completely portable, weighing no more than a standard food processor and fitting easily into any purse large enough to carry a siren of this size. You can use it to repel a would-be mugger by either cranking the siren, or simply bludgeoning him senseless.
The siren also makes a great conversation piece. Say you're at a restaurant with some iPhone owners who are -- because this is what iPhone people do -- demanding that you marvel at their latest "apps." Imagine their envious looks when you haul out this baby and start cranking it. Their iPhones cannot top that! And if they can, you can smash them with your siren.