Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I have a guilty secret. Actually, more accurately, I have several, but for the sake of some pseudo-propriety, I’ll stick to this one for now.

And it’s this: I am addicted to SkyMall magazines. For those of you who are lucky enough not to have to make regular domestic flights, or have been living under a rock for the last couple of decades, Skymall is one of the free magazines on the back of every seat along with the instructions on what to do if the airplane you happen to be on falls out of the sky.

In fact, it’s got to the point where I won’t even read it during the flight in order to savor the pleasure of a more luxurious read when I get home. In short, it’s a magazine full of those essentials you never knew you couldn’t live without. A kind of consumer Pandora’s box but without the carnage or guilt.
After my most recent trip to the wilds of Florida, I began to wonder why this magazine holds such a strong attraction for me. After all, I don’t exactly need an underwater pogo stick or a kitty litter artfully disguised as a pot plant or spy camera disguised as a common pen. Or do I?

And yet here’s the rub: a lot of the items so lavishly photographed seem to be exactly the kind of thing I just didn’t know I needed until that very moment.

Let’s get one thing straight; I’m in no way a conspicuous consumer. Well, unless you count the art supplies and the chocolate. I come from a long line of recyclers from my grandmother (plastic bags) to my dad (jokes). My grandfather famously ‘recycled’ one of the shelves in the hall closet into safety bars for the bunk bed we slept on as kids. Not really that odd, you might think, until you saw the strange boomerang-shaped holes in the hat shelf the next time you went to put your coat away.

The older I get, the more conscious I’ve become that the practices I grew up with were largely green. Take a shopping bag with you, take your shoes to be repaired, dry your laundry on the line, and bathe once a year whether you need it or not. So perhaps this secret love of such blatant consumerism is firmly rooted in a lifetime of enforced recycling practices. But closer examination brings with it the realization that it’s not the products that I actually want, it’s the ideas they generate.

As an artist with engineering tendencies, I have designed and made things all my life. At the dreaded English boarding school after a particularly gruesome game of field hockey, I once designed a hockey stick with motorized cart which grew, in time, to have not only a seat and hood, but stash of food, a heater and, in it’s final iteration, a TV. It’s truly amazing what cold, wet wintery days out on the fields with wooden sticks and shin pads will inspire.

And so the real appeal of the SkyMall magazine is the magnetism of all those people sitting out they’re saying “what if”. What if you could actually pogo UNDER water? What if my kitty litter box actually looked like a houseplant? And then actually got someone to make it.

It’s not really so much about the consumer goods for me; it’s more of a quick check to see if there are other people out there like me. And it’s with a large tinge of relief that the last time I looked, there were.