Sunday, December 11, 2005

Better to receive than to give

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Every Christmas, it's the same thing. What do you get for the person in your life who has everything, because he's already rich beyond your wildest imagination? Will a nice basket full of endangered snow leopard cubs do the trick? Or is this the year you should spring for that continent he's been hinting around at?

Just about the time most of us (by "us" I mean "them") might be giving up and reaching for the old standby in frustration — cotton money-storage bags with dollar-signs printed on the side, package of six — the annual Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog has arrived. Yes, Fall River, it's here! You can view it online at neimanmarcus.com. At long last, someone has taken the guesswork out of gifting the ultra-wealthy!

There's plenty of great stuff to choose from, but nothing will make your special someone put down his copy of The Wall Street Journal and finally take note of your puny existence like one of the Neiman-Marcus fantasy gifts! Ooh la la!

Fantasy gifts are unique presents, highly elite and more expensive than the human mind can comfortably perceive — we're talking hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Any of them would be sure to make your giftee's face light up with joy. Wait. Do rich people's faces light up when they receive a terrific present? Or do they have plastic surgery to fix that?

On the low end of fantasy gifts is the Neiman-Marcus Photo-Me Classic Photobooth. It's an actual working photo booth, the kind you see at the mall with a bunch of giggly teenage girls crammed inside. It's a bargain at $20,000, but delivery and giggly teenage girls are not included.

According to the catalog description, "The Photo-Me Classic Photobooth features a customized NM exterior." From what I recall about photo booths, that means playfully hand-scrawled vulgar graffiti, illustrations of comically oversized cocks, and authentically aged urine puddled around the back. For an extra $5,000, Neiman-Marcus will personalize the vulgar graffiti about someone you love.

Is your special person a fan of Elton John? You have my sympathy.

But if you want to indulge that person's wretched taste in music, Neiman-Marcus sells a private Elton John concert for you and 500 of your friends. Having 501 people there seems to say, "Screw the whole 'private' thing," but never mind.

The best part? It's $1.5 million. You also get a free piano, though. A red one! And add an extra million and Sir Elton will rewrite "Candle in the Wind" again to feature your life and/or tragic death.

But it's an awful lot of money for a fleeting gift. As the old maxim goes, you never own Elton John — you just rent him. And there's a $2 late fee if he's not returned to the store by 11 p.m.

If you really want to possess something of value, try jewels. Neiman-Marcus has a rock or two for sale. Not sure what she likes? Luckily, Neiman-Marcus sells an assortment — a trail mix of historic rubies, diamonds, turquoises, black onyxeseses and salted cashews.

"Eight significant pieces in all, spanning parts of the last three centuries, from the 1800s to 2004," the catalog reads — although to be fair, the jewels pretty much just hang a toe over two of those centuries, starting in 1880 and going to 2004.

Then, with a straight face, the catalog says, "It's an amazing way to begin a jewelry collection." For this beginners' set, you'll shell out $1.2 million. Intermediate sets include a sculpted fragment from the earth's core at $3 million. The advanced jewelry collection features two rings of Saturn connected by a hair from God's beard. That's $5 million.

For the kiddies? Many children of the upper crust enjoy games in which they can control everyone and everything in their environment, all while safely locked into a predestined path. It prepares them for lives of ease at the head of major corporations. So the Neiman-Marcus elves have been busy in Santa's workshop building personal Grand Empire Railroads for all the good rich boys and girls!

It's a nearly full-size working locomotive that comes with a thousand feet of track, several cars, a caboose, eight decorative signs ("Butler Xing" is probably in there somewhere), and a cute antique-looking cow-catcher on the front for running over cows and other poor people.

Only $200,000 will give your little angel hours of fun playtime, until they realize that running a leisure railroad is an unprofitable business venture and lease the track to a freight company.

Lastly, for the kid in all of us, there's the ultimate Neiman-Marcus gift:

The prototype Moller M400 Skycar.

Say it with me again:

The prototype Moller M400 Skycar!

It's a flying car. An actual car that flies.

I didn't want any of that other crap. This, I want.

It looks sort of like a cross between a Jaguar and a vision of aeronautic glory.

Take a look at this baby online. It takes off and lands vertically, so I wouldn't have to use my driveway as a runway. More room for my Toyota. The Skycar doesn't use gas — it uses ethanol, and gets 20 miles per gallon. It's better than a Ford!

What's best is, its top speed is about 275 mph. Imagine how that would cut down on my commuting time. I live about a mile from work, and typically I get hung up on that stupid stop sign on Rock Street and Locust. The traffic takes forever, bringing my commute time to something like four minutes.

The prototype Moller M400 Skycar? Thirteen seconds. In a straight line.

Now for the awful part. How much does the Skycar cost?

If you have to ask, it's still just a fantasy for you, too.

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