Accent on Living

THE gift catalogues from the mailorder houses seem wilder this year than ever before. It’s becoming hard to tell the supposed utilities — the shrimp-shellers, egg-timers, potholders, bird-feeders, and such — from the funny stuff — the dribble-glasses, trick cigars, and fur-lined bathtubs (“. . . for milady’s jewels”). The line is no longer clear. “DentaMatic,”for example, is a plastic box to be affixed to the bathroom wall, where it conceals a tube of toothpaste and emits “exactly a brush length with the mere push of a button.” Should we view this, at $1.89, with jocosity, or has the machine age indeed begat for us another boon? The virtues of a hollow-toothed comb with a built-in bulb which squirts flea powder as it combs the dog are obvious, and the same is probably true of the countless devices for adorning the latch key and controlling its behavior in one’s pocket. But what of the “woodpicker” — a metal bird which dips into a box of toothpicks and presents one to any diner who will push his button — does the woodpicker belong with the Early American candleholders or among the facetiae, with the key-winding false teeth and the crank-operated spaghetti fork?

Still another category is in the making in this year’s catalogues — a plethora of gifts which the recipient can use only by performing some dirty and disagreeable household task. Agreed that the butter-warmer or the horse-radish pot with a “whimsical and personable horse’s head” on its cover is not indispensable; yet these are relatively painless gifts. But it’s asking a good deal to expect anyone to receive joyously, as its gay wrappings are torn away, a can of KrustOff Oven Cleaner and to haste with it to the kitchen in an eager assault against oven grease in an oven that will doubtless be re-greased by nightfall anyhow.

To judge from other offerings of this sort, the family will deploy directly from the Christmas tree into a variety of repair and scouring projects. One of them will gather all broken china and get to work with the “plastic squeezable container” of Cementique. To the bathroom — is Christmas tending to overequip the American bathroom? — another will go with a jolly new tube of Miracle Tub Caulk (and to see that Denta-Matic adheres properly in its new surroundings). If the chair rungs are loose, a very merry day to you, sir, with this gift jar of Chair-Loc. You have only to follow the simple directions — and it would be festive, too, if someone else were to get busy with the gift Household Plumber and try to unplug the kitchen sink. There are gift mops and dustcloths, gift attachments for the ironing board, a snow shovel, a Venetian-blind cleaner, a gift dishpan. There are also knee guards, rubber pads to be strapped on if the use of the new presents calls for kneeling or crawling around.

Because the opening of any gift — even something worth having — calls for a certain amount of histrionics, the family planning a catalogue Christmas should give thought meanwhile to what to say and how to behave on the occasion. What does the wife say, or do, to the husband who gives her a lovely pair of shampoo goggles (“Handy when you’re cutting up onions, too!”) for her very own?