By: Don Martin Re: Johnson Smith Catalogue T'other day we got a catalogue. Actually, we se

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By: Don Martin Re: Johnson Smith Catalogue T'other day we got a catalogue. Actually, we seem to get two or three of the things daily, but this one was a little different. "Things You Never Knew Existed" the cover proclaimed, with the subtitle "and other items you can't possibly live without." I suppose it was the subtitle that caught my interest, being one who finds it very possible to live without all sorts of things that others regard as essential. I started leafing through it. In seconds, I was back in my childhood, looking at stuff I yearned for when I was in the fourth and fifth grades--tasteless stuff, horrid stuff, fake stuff, like whoopie cushions, joy buzzers, and the funny little thing that, when put in one's mouth, was supposed to make it possible to "throw the voice". "I'll be damned!" I exclaimed to my wife, "this thing reads just like an old Johnson Smith catalogue!" "What's a Johnson Smith catalogue," she wondered. Ann did not grow up on the same side of the tracks--or even of the continent--as I did, and she was certainly never a little boy to whom a squirting nickel was a treasure beyond price. "Cheapo novelty stuff for kids," I replied, "carbide cannons, practical jokes, magic tricks, marked cards, two-headed coins: that sort of stuff. We used to send for them from little classifieds at the rear of Popular Science. The prices were cheap, but usually about ten cents more than we could afford. So was the catalogue--cheap. Newsprint, smeary black ink, lots of type and crude line drawings--always the same ones." The drawing for the ventriloquist device showed a delivery man looking bewilderdly at a trunk, from which emanated the exclamations, "LET ME OUT!", "HELP!", and "GET ME OUTTA HERE!" while a small boy, with strangely puckered lips, stood knowingly at one side. I read on, finding more stuff with the ten-year-old mind in mind: fake cut fingers, realistic feet (in real pantlegs) that could be dangled from the trunk of a car, and the world's smallest harmonica. It was when I found the mold for making jello in the form of a strikingly detailed, life-sized human brain that I was driven to look at the return address on the book. "Jesus, Ann, it IS a Johnson Smith catalogue. Sometime during the past half century, they appear to have discovered cheap color printing!" This company, they indicate with pride on the cover, has been around since 1914, and over the years they have never developed any taste--they know where the money is to be made. Ya wanna clock that looks like a cat with moving eyeballs and pendulum tail? They got it! Or mebbe ya wanna 'larm clock that sports an Apache AH-64 helicopter: it awakens you with whirling rotors, flashing lights, and gunfire sound effects. They got it! You want an original lava light? They got it! And much, much more. They have branched out since the days of my youth. They always pitched to the gullible--ten-year-olds really do believe that they can learn to throw their voices--and to those who would prey upon the gullibility of others: squirting coins and joy buzzers invite one to violate trust. They have gone a step further than those trifles: amongst the ordinary schlock, there are now things like "Formula for successful prayer", "Lord's Prayer Cross", UFO books, "Black Helicopters over America" (a book), "Talking Horoscope Alarm Clock" (which must be seen to be believed), The "Alien Autopsy" video, "Magnetic Copper Bracelet" and other health aids, etc., etc., etc. The whole thing is hilarious, and they are proud of it. You will be happy to know that the March of Progress has not left Johnson Smith behind--they now have an _electric_ whoopie cushion. ... Through a Jaundiced Eye Darkly--Rheum With a View (don@balt-rehab.med.va.gov) --- IM2.29+/FE1.45a+/PB2.12+ * Origin: Xtians are uncomplicated beings: pure and simpleton. (1:109/601)

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