2011.09.08 Never too early to buy a unique Christmas gift

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY 

Too early? Actually, IT’S ONLY THREE MONTHS AWAY!!!! Wait a minute, I already did most of this year’s shopping during the after-Christmas sales in January. I just have to keep from losing track of where I put my purchases between now and December, as well as make sure that gift I bought post-Christmas 2009 doesn’t get forgotten two years running. For any other odd gifting needs, there’s always the Heartland America catalog.

They’re not kidding about the name, either. The company is based in Chaska, Minnesota, with mail processing done in Rapid City, South Dakota. It doesn’t get much more heartland than that. I wonder if Norman Rockwell works in the mailroom? I bought a lamp from them five or six years ago, and the catalogs have come every four or five weeks ever since.

Most of the items are manufacturers final closeouts, so there’s lots of shoes, leather jackets, watches, even the original Ronco Veg-O-Matic. But the odd items are the fun ones, like the Fuel Doctor Platinum, which claims to improve your mileage by 20 percent just by plugging it into the vehicle’s lighter socket. They’ve been running this one for quite a while, so I guess the oil companies don’t consider it a threat.

A bigger menace to us all might be the Zap Cane, “an ingenious combination of a walking stick and a super-powerful stun gun.” In case of trouble, just touch the mugger, loose dog or rude skateboarder with the tip, push the button and one million volts gives them something else to think about. Not available to Michigan residents, luckily. And read the disclaimer about consulting federal, state and local laws before ordering.

Have a concealed weapons permit? Then you might like a fancy concealed weapons permit gold badge with holder, as if you were a real officer. Once again, read the disclaimer: The badge itself is not official. No kidding.

But on to happier items. How about all 43 episodes of the television series “Greatest American Hero” on DVD, just $17.99? Yes, I think I’ll pass, too. Harder to resist might be the complete 103 episode run of “21 Jump Street,” featuring little Johnny Depp, only $24.99.

Like your heroes slightly older? How about 94 episodes of Michael Chiklis as “The Commish,” $24.99? Or a whopping 152 episodes of “Hunter,” starring former NFL star Fred Dryer, only $35.99? It will keep you busy for days!

Then there’s the musical instruments. Items available include guitars, flutes, clarinets and even a mandolin. Not just any mandolin, either, but one “that YouTube celebrity Warren G. called the ‘best darn mandolin I’ve ever played!’...if you’ve followed Warren G. on YouTube, you know that he knows a thing or two about mandolins.”

I’ll happily confess that I spend almost no time on YouTube and doubt they were referring to West Coast rapper Warren G, although the thought of a rapper playing mandolin gave me a chuckle. I went to YouTube and after filtering out postings about the rapper, was left with seven entries concerning the mandolin-playing Warren G.

The most popular of the seven had, as of last week, been viewed a total of 858 times. That’s enough to call him a celebrity? I guess I’m not the only one not following him. Luckily, another “celebrity” endorsement helped Heartland move some harmonicas.

Ever since I started receiving the catalog, they’ve advertised a “Soul Man” set of seven harmonicas. A few months ago, the listing had the addition of a customer endorsement box, which includes a short customer comment about the product, along with their initials and hometown. “BD” of Hibbing, Minnesota, called the harmonicas “the best.”

I started laughing out loud as soon as I saw it. They want us to think that Bob Dylan bought harmonicas from them, seven for $29.99, and then sent in a fan letter? I suppose I shouldn’t be so cynical. The endorsement ran in two catalogs, then the entire listing disappeared. 

I can think of only two possible explanations. Either Bob’s lawyers forced them to quit using his “endorsement,” or worried that they might run out of stock, Bob bought the remaining inventory before Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young got their hands on them. Maybe Bob will send them a set for Christmas.

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