Five Purchases the Saavy Traveller Shouldn’t Miss (or Why I Love SkyMall)

Summertime in the UAE means two things: temperatures outside will compete with those on the surface of the sun, and school holidays begin. This July, I joined the crowds fleeing the crushing heat and humidity to visit home. I love to travel, but I detest flying. Long-distance flights equal desperate hours sandwiched between my cement-hard seat back and the headrest of the reclining passenger in front of me. As my aches and impatience grow by the second, SkyMall magazine has become a small sanctuary in the claustrophobic and sometimes chaotic conditions of economy class.

If you’ve flown a major airline, you have probably seen Sky Mall. Don’t confuse it with the useless Duty Free catalog offering mere perfumes, jewelry and booze or your airline’s in-flight magazine highlighting its destinations and the selection of chips and chocolates priced for the uber-wealthy. I mean the SkyMall. The gem, no, the jewel in the crown of catalogs. Its pages contain a level of consumer bliss adequate to distract passengers from even the worst flight anxiety. Sky Mall is, in its own words,almost universally known among affluent and well-educated travelers who are receptive to innovative, unique products.”

I like to save the magazine as a treat for later in the flight, just as I do the tiny packet of ginger biscuits, or if I’m lucky, the microscopic Toblerone that comes with my meal.  I held out for nearly eleven hours before eagerly lifting it from its pouch. “Can’t get enough sparkle?” asked the cover. Oh SkyMall, you don’t know where I live, do you? I was sad to see this edition seemed a bit thinner than previous ones. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was missing, but I suspect they thinned out the vast array of monogrammed products and fantasy series replicas. I was relieved to see I could still buy my own copy of the One Ring that Rules Them All. Still, I suspected I had been cheated of at least 20 additional minutes of shopping pleasure.

I suppose not even SkyMall is immune to the global economic downturn. However, a quick glance through its pages offers hope to consumers that there is still much we need to spend our limited incomes on. Here are five of my favorites.  

1. The Somawave Helmet

(His enthusiasm is contagious.) 

Who doesn’t like a nice massage to “disconnect from the world we know,” and relieve the stress and tension caused by everyday life. Head/neck massage and vibration on demand? Yes, please. Look at the smile on this man’s face. Here’s an opportunity no one should miss.

SkyMall’s writers point out that Somawave is light and portable, but they should perhaps rethink their claim that it can be taken anywhere. Somawave-wearers might not be well-received in certain public places, and should maybe restrict their usage to the privacy of home. I should also point out the accompanying warning in case any forklift or crane operators are hoping to use this product to avoid workplace stress:

Caution: Do not wear while operating heavy machinery. The SomaWave Helmet’s euphoria inducing waves may produce sleep or trance-like states of consciousness.

Ha. Good luck machinery operator. A person wearing this contraption has about as much chance of entering a blue-collar workplace as they does an airport, government office, or any place with security guards.

Warnings aside, if this product delivers as promised, maybe I should buy a couple to pack safely away in my suitcases. Since most mind-altering substances put me at risk of a lengthy sentence in a UAE prison, followed by deportation, the Somawave could offer a safe and legal evening of euphoria and bliss.

2. Easter Island “Ahu Akivi Moai” Monolith Statue

As an apartment dweller, now is not the time for giant statues, but I can dream. Dear readers, should any of you have access to a rooftop, garden or large balcony, this exotic addition would be perfect for avoiding post-holiday blues. Forget bird baths, fountains, or plastic flamingos. Thanks to Sky Mall’s suggestions, I have realized that no outdoor space is complete without a replica of one of the world’s great mysteries.

Sky Mall promises that King Moai will, “astound and impress guests at your next Polynesian luau.” I’ll keep that in mind. If nothing else, perhaps the giant staring eyes will frighten away pesky animals, trespassers, or nosy neighbors. I should add that the replica is not stone like the original, but is made from high quality resin.  Hosing down any pet or bird-related messes this large object could attract would be a breeze. Recreating Easter Island in my garden was never one of my Pinterest fantasies, but thanks to Sky Mall, I know have great plans for a future outdoor space.

3. LED MagicShowerhead

(Because the shower should be where the magic happens.)

I bet you spend at least a few minutes a week trying to pinpoint what your bathroom is missing. What would make you feel more pampered, more luxurious, more complete? SkyMall has the answer—a more colorful shower.

According to SkyMall, MagicShowerhead illuminates your water with seven different colors, creating an experience to match the needs of its diverse readers. Searching for a “club like experience” in your own bathroom? Four flashy colors (and I’m assuming your own piped-in music) should do the trick. With action like that in the morning, I might not even need my morning coffee. Want to relax? Stop paying for pricey spa visits and create your own “spa-like environment” by setting the colors to slowly fade and change. Even environmentalists can appreciate MagicShowerhead. Three timed alternating colors help you limit your water consumption.  Doing your part to save the planet while enjoying a light show? Priceless.  

This shower head truly is “magic.” All you need to do is choose hand-held, fixed, or both! I don’t know who writes the copy for this magazine, but I want him or her to write my resume, biography, and eulogy. Hats off to this master of modern marketing.

4. Large Super Skate Sail

(How could this possibly end badly?)

My first thought on seeing the Super Skate Sail was, “Wow, that looks like a lot of fun!” SkyMall presents this product as a great way get adults and children outside and away from the TV, so perhaps it could be powerful enough pry me away from my laptop. The Super Skate Sail has three methods of use, so I wouldn’t be limited by my lack of skateboarding skills. I had found a hobby, a new sport I might actually enjoy.

Then practicality set in. There is a reason why sails are usually associated with water sports as opposed to land. The ocean offers pretty much unlimited space. I can’t think of many places in Abu Dhabi that offer adequate room to zoom along uninhibited with wheels and a 9′ by 11′ sail. There’s also the slight issue of creating a spectacle. As a Westerner, I attract enough unwanted attention just by being a minority. Breezing through town with a giant colorful sail (and maybe a matching helmet) would probably just add to the usual stares. The pleasant gulf breezes would most likely propel me from the Corniche walkway into the capital city’s busy streets within minutes. A Lexus SUV/Super Skate Sail collision is the kind of accident that could even make its way into print or broadcast media. SkyMall, you may have let me down this time. 

5. Jeans Lounge Pants

(They’re jeans, they’re pants, they’re perfection!)

SkyMall, you’ve just redeemed yourself.

Fellow American travelers, I’m sure you will be the first to appreciate that this product has not one, but two major benefits. Firstly, fashion. Who wouldn’t want their own pair of what at first glance appears to be stylish, ripped acid-washed denim circa 1991? Wait for it—that’s not denim it’s, “actually super-soft cotton with amazingly realistic front-and-back printing and a much more forgiving stretch.” Americans like forgiving stretch. It goes great with buffets, Thanksgiving, and chili cheese fries. These even have an elasticized drawstring waist. I hear my couch calling.

Secondly, what an incredible souvenir to bring back after a visit from the good ol’ USA! Nothing says, “this came from America” like “jeans” and “lounge.” You can’t lose. Buy a pair for your favorite co-worker, colleague, or friend, and maybe an extra pair for that awkward moment when you are surprised with an unexpected post-vacation gift. There is even a discount for purchasing 2 or more.

You’re welcome.

Hairy Little Devils

Monkeys are exotic creatures to the average North American. We share our outdoors with birds, squirrels, and lizards, but our exposure to monkeys is mostly limited to television and zoos. This all changed for me when my travels reached Africa and Asia. Monkeys became a fairly common feature of forests and even urban streets. My travel buddies enjoyed our frequent monkey spottings, but my anxiety increased with each encounter. Rather than whipping out my camera and getting as close as possible, I found myself cringing in fear and instinctively gripping anything I might use as a shield or weapon. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like monkeys? Look at how cute they are!” My friends were perplexed and probably embarrassed by my public discomfort. 

Yes, apes are our closest relatives.  I respect their intelligence and am saddened when they are victims of mistreatment or cruelty.  That doesn’t change the fact that they have scared the crap out of me since I was five.  I once found them just as cute as the rest of you do.  Then one day after Kindergarten, my mother took me to a pet store where a tiny monkey in an even tinier diaper sat in a cage.  I walked towards it quietly, hoping for some cute monkey chirps or even a trick or two.  Instead it turned, bared two rows of pointed teeth and released an impossibly loud hiss.  It was a hiss of deep, dark hatred.  That monkey wanted nothing more than to pry open the bars of its cage and rip my eyes from my five year-old skull with its tiny opposable thumbs.  I was led from the store in tears.  Still, I’m grateful for that moment of terror because it taught me the truth about city- or cage-dwelling monkeys. 

I apologize in advance to monkey owners, fans, or others who may be offended by this post.  I do not write as a personal attack, rather as a way to deal with my own fears and beliefs.  Feel free to share your opinion by leaving a comment, or skip this altogether and wait for my next post, which will not be primate-related.  For the rest of you, listen and learn, my dear readers and/or future travel partners.  Listen and learn.

5 Reasons Monkeys Should Frighten You 

1.  Monkeys are strong, emotionally volatile, and can cause can cause us serious bodily harm.  

When I see a monkey, especially one that is within a ten foot range, a little red danger sign starts flashing deep within my primal brain.  Monkeys are wild animals; highly intelligent, powerful, and dexterous wild animals.  If they feel threatened, they will do whatever it takes to protect themselves without the human fears of arrest or detention.  

I’m not an expert on actions that make monkeys feel threatened, but I imagine there are many that we would never consider.  My fear of monkeys stems from a strong conviction that all monkeys see me as a potential threat, and are thus seconds away from pouncing on my chest and tearing off my face. “She was right,” my travel buddies would say as the air filled with my muffled screams and the monkey’s triumphant screeches. “We should have been more afraid and less adoring of these creatures.”

I bet you are thinking I’m exaggerating or overreacting, but this has actually happened at least once. In 2009, an American woman lost her face, hands, vision, and nearly her life after a vicious attack by her friend’s pet chimpanzee. I don’t mean to joke about or make light of this tragedy, instead I mention it to add weight to my reasons monkeys are not to be trusted. You can read the story here, and youtube it if you want to see the Oprah interview, but I want to give a very clear disclaimer that the damage was severe, and the images are very disturbing..

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-02-17/us/chimpanzee.attack_1_charla-nash-chimp-attack-sandra-herold?_s=PM:US

 In fact, don’t search “monkey attack” in google images either. That experience was nearly enough for me to create a 6th reason to fear monkeys.  

Okay, I admit the chances of losing my face to a monkey are low, but monkey attacks are real, and they are serious! In 2007, the late Deputy Mayor died in his New Delhi home after a monkey attack on his own terrace.  

http://delhigreens.com/2007/11/06/the-monkey-menace-turns-fatal/

This poor man went onto his terrace, perhaps for a coffee and fresh air, and never came back because of the evil little critters silly tourists actually like to feed!  If holding a political office and having a ridiculously gorgeous actor for a son can’t protect you from a swarm of vicious monkeys, what will?

(If his dad can be attacked by monkeys, no one is safe!)

2. Angry monkeys throw feces. 

 Do I really need to explain why this is a problem?  Most of you probably still think monkeys are cute and funny, so clearly I do. Here goes.  We’ve all gotten upset and used cruel and possibly vulgar language at least once in our lives.  Admit it, you’ve also thrown, punched, broken or smashed something to smithereens out of sheer temper.  However, it is well known that monkeys have their own unique method of combining the sweet release of throwing an object with the gratification of degrading someone who has offended them.  

(Actual warning sign at a South African Nature Preserve)

I have to admit that a small part of me gives monkeys props for having the guts to actually DO the foulest, most contemptuous act I can think of.  Nonetheless, I don’t care to be within range of creature that is known for this sort of behavior.  I never, ever want to be involved in a monkey-feces incident, and avoiding monkeys in general should be a good guarantee I will never face this situation.

(Keep your distance.  They look a little angry!)

3.  Monkeys and humans do not share the same etiquette regarding activities that are appropriate in public, and those that should be strictly private.

Reason number two above eluded to this fact, but the problem is that primates’ tendency towards disturbing behavior is not limited to times of anger.  In fact, when monkeys aren’t eating or sleeping, they are sure to be shamelessly engaging in behaviors that most people would never even dream of, or at least admit to doing, even in an empty house behind closed doors.  The mother-child lice grooming is sort of sweet in its own way I guess, although the resulting eating of the lice quickly ruins that effect.  

(We’ve only just begun…)

Everyone laughs uncomfortably when monkeys play with themselves, as long as it doesn’t go on for too long.  It’s the depth and intensity of monkeys’ exploration, examination, and manipulation of their body parts, functions and fluids that sets my gag reflex on maximum.  Want to see something disgusting?  Visit a zoo and sit outside a monkey enclosure for a while.  Twenty minutes should be more than enough time.  

The smarter the species, the more horrendous the show will be.  Chimpanzees are like a winning lotto ticket when it comes to unspeakable acts, and they will etch images of horror into your mind that even a sandblaster couldn’t clear.  I won’t share my own traumatic zoo experience here, but feel free to leave a comment with your email should you wish to spend a few days fasting, or perhaps curled in a corner in the fetal position.

4.  The media and toy manufacturers frequently remind us of monkeys’ intrinsic creepiness.

Monkeys are like clowns.  While many think they are amusing or entertaining. enlightened others like myself see the evil inside.  Thankfully, we have Hollywood to remind us of the truth.

Hello?  I’m going to have nightmares after just reading the intro.  How many movies like this exist about puppies or kittens?  That’s because they aren’t inherently evil!  Look at that toy.  Do you think someone made it look scary just for the movie?  Do you think it’s the only monkey toy out there that looks like this?  No.  You can show me adorable 80s sock monkeys until the cows come home, but the rest of the world bombards me with far too many scary images to change my mind about them.

5.  Monkeys are the source of the plague, rage, and/or zombie apocalypse that will ultimately destroy our civilization.

Most films containing red-eyed, flailing, flesh eating creatures begin with a minor mishap between an unfortunate, unsuspecting, and underpaid scientist and an infected primate.  This fact alone should be enough to make us wary of monkeys lurking beyond the boundaries of a jungle or rainforest.  Did you nonbelievers learn nothing from Dustin Hoffman chasing that monkey in his clean suit? 

Even so, you don’t have to be a huge fan of zombie films or Robin Cook thrillers to notice the link between our closest species and terrifying epidemics.  If a plague involves bleeding from every orifice or your skin falling from your bones, you can catch it from a monkey.  Forget global warming, climate change, and the end of the Mayan Calendar.  Every year, some new health scare makes headlines, and the virus that will wipe us out like a summer disaster flick is the culmination of the primates’ plot to get us.  Humans can hunt them, cage them, experiment on them, and dress them in humiliating outfits, but our day of reckoning will inevitably come, and it will come from their hairy little hands.

(This guy definitely had it coming.)

Monkeys are at the lower end of the food chain now, but they will happily pick lice, examine their privates, and angrily throw feces long after our future zombie selves have eaten the appendages of Earth’s last surviving human.

 These 5 arguments aside, even after my critique of monkey behavior and their plan to destroy life as we know it, I still can’t really blame that monkey for hissing at me when I was a child.  It was an intelligent creature spending its days caged in a pet shop. The brightest future it faced was adoption by some childless woman who would dress it in doll clothes, rock it like a baby, and force it to watch re-runs of bad 70s sitcoms. 

I’ll add some balance to my diatribe of fear and disgust with some links showing how monkeys are incredible, at a distance. The two podcasts are long, but fascinating and well worth your time.

http://www.npr.org/2006/07/08/5503685/a-voluble-visit-with-two-talking-apes

http://www.radiolab.org/2010/feb/19/kanzi/

http://www.radiolab.org/2010/feb/19/lucy/

Maybe I should consider monkeys as I do other wild animals; with a healthy dose of respect, rather than fear and mistrust.  After all, elephants could trample me in a second, but I still love them.  Then again, maybe I should hold on to my convictions, and worriedly await the day when my work abroad brings me to live in a place where monkeys roam free.