September 30, 2008

A Dead Aunt and a Liquid Luxury

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T his past week, on a transatlantic flight to London, I had more than enough time to think as I futilely attempted sleep between two large women. Not just any two large women, but 62-year-old identical twins, Barbara and Betty Franklin from Anamosa, Iowa. They wore the same outfits, but in different colors. Betty, the younger by 17 minutes, wore powder-blue from head to whited canvass sneakers, and Barbara, because she was “mom’s first girl,” got to wear the equally stunning pink version of the ensemble.
I asked both if either would like to change seats with me so that they might sit side by side. I insisted that I did not mind doing so — in fact, I made it clear that I preferred it. Still, though, they acted as if it would be too much trouble and repeatedly and politely declined before proceeding to speak to one another across me. Halfway through the flight, though, Betty confided in me that it was a good thing she and I didn’t switch — with her overactive bowels, it was best that she had an aisle seat.
I was going to London because my great aunt Beatrice had died. Al­though news of her death saddened me, it was not completely distressing; she was 92 and had had a good run of it and I was greatly looking forward to the reading of her will. Bea was a widow since 1972, had not worked since 1932 and rode her bi­cycle every day until 2006. She lived in a great Victorian home in North Kensington and held a very public disdain for the nouveau riche investment bankers who bought up the neighborhood around her. Since the death of her husband Phillip, she had al­ways had more money than she knew what to do with, although she spent modestly.
Beatrice only had one child, Evelyn, who — unlike her mother — spent money on anything and everything. Evelyn is one of those few, truly fabulous individuals that one knows in his or her lifetime. She has an undeniable joie de vivre and a contagious laughter that can lift one’s spirit on even the most dismal of London days. She also has a lot of stuff.
Evelyn’s birthday was six days after her mother’s death, and she had been planning a gala of sorts to celebrate. Family and friends from the States and the U.K. were all scheduled to fly in. Out of respect for her mother, the event was cancelled, but I still needed to give her a gift. “What, though,” I painfully asked myself, “do you gift the woman who has everything?” Her aesthetic taste is diverse, but not indiscriminate; she likes the rare and unusual: a Matisse hangs in her study and a Takashi Murakami Louis Vuitton bag has been known to hang from her arm.
I began to truly panic over my gift dilemma around the seventh hour of my flight — so much so that I actually asked Barbara for advice (I would have asked Betty as well, but she was in the loo again). Luckily for me, Barbara knew exactly what I should do. She reached into the seat pocket in front of her and pulled out the Sky Mall magazine and handed it to me, saying, “I get all my best gifts from this. You can find anything.” She awkwardly touched my thigh for emphasis, then leaned even closer and slowly restated, “anything…”
The way she spoke about it made me envision that I could order cocaine and hookers easily and cheaply from this publication, and that it was only for “those in the know” — not just every single U.S. Airlines passenger.
Well, I was not sufficiently drunk to believe that my crisis would be solved with an airline magazine, but I was not sober enough to rule it out completely. No whores were for sale, but anything from guitar-embossed denim jackets to spy cameras and “marshmallow shooters” were. My world became vaster as I exposed my­self to 195 pages of fantastic crap and, a mile above the Atlantic, I transformed from a Sky Mall skeptic to a believer. Reflecting back, I think it was the “Dough-Nu-Matic” that really put me over the edge. This ingenious machine “automatically forms, fries and delivers mini-doughnuts in 50 seconds!” “Mini” as in smaller than doughnut holes, but they actually have the tube shape — simply magical.
The magazine offers everything from jewelry to sculpture to electro-shock therapy systems. You can get a darling charm bracelet that proclaims to the world, “I kiss my dog on the lips,” with another customized charm for his or her name. There is a “Big Foot the Garden Yeti” sculpture that will “have your guests doing a double-take as they admire your creative gardening style!” And the electro-shock system — not to shock the schizophrenia or gay out of you, but to teach you to stop snoring through “safe electronic pulses through your wrists.”
Overwhelmed with so many unusual, glorious options, I tried my best to find the most classy and timeless Sky Mall gift for Evelyn. The anti-fungal toe gel and the rubberized home mats in the image of 100-dollar bills, while thoughtful, just didn’t seem significant enough; I wanted something that she could cherish for years. And then I found it. Next to the advertisement for the always-hilarious dangling-scrotum trailer hitch accessory, was a photograph of the most beautiful coffee table aquarium I had ever seen — and, even better, it was guaranteed by Sky Mall “to add shimmer and dimension to your home!”
I immediately ordered the aquarium after getting off the plane and bidding farewell to the twins. It didn’t matter that it cost $825 or that I made no plans to purchase fish for it, all that mattered was that, thanks to Sky Mall, I was able to find the single gift that, through its shimmer and liquid luxury, would lift Evelyn’s spirit after the death of her mother.