Why do those last-minute gift ideas come at the last minute?

My wife and I were having the annual Thanksgiving Day conversation on the telephone with my family in Illinois when we asked my brother what's on his Christmas list.

"Brown socks," he said.

Amazing. That's what I want, too.

In fact, almost every year several of the men in my family ask for socks - brown is a popular color - and sometimes we actually get them.

Not from the female members of the family, of course. To them, socks are not an appropriate Christmas present. If they buy socks as a present, then the socks are going to be decorated with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or pictures of Barney or something.

It's just not a gift if it's useful, according to the women. One reason they perpetuate this rule is they know what would happen if they said otherwise. They would get toasters, or vacuum cleaners, or a new washing machine from the men-folk.

So the only way the men will get socks for Christmas is if another man buys them. And they won't be decorated with elves, either.

I don't know if this happens in your family, but I've decided it's time that men become a little more creative in the Christmas-list wishing.

The problem is that we never think of all the great, useless stuff we could be listing until we're on the airplane flying to our holiday destination. Quite by accident, we discover the catalogue tucked into the pouch in front of us.

Voila! There it is. The Sky Mall catalogue. Page after page of stuff we wouldn't dream we needed in a million years.

If only we had know, we could have asked for:

- Cart Away 9-hole Miniature Golf

It's a portable miniature golf course. Fun for the whole family, and when you're done you just pack it up like a suitcase. $18,999.94, plus $275 for shipping and handling.

- Remote control B-2 Stealth bomber.

It has a 48-inch wingspan and 3000-foot range. It doesn't say whether you can actually bomb your neighbors with it, though. $399.95.

- Wearable air purifier.

"It hangs around your neck to provide a steady stream of purified air when and where you need it most." Enough said. $99.95.

So you don't think Sky Mall has all the good ideas, here are some others:

- Turbo-Groomer 2.0

From Sharper Image, this handy tool has dual LED headlamps so you can get a good look at the nose and ear hair as you trim it. $59.

- Humdinger 6-seat Electric Cart.

Aside from golf courses, we don't have any communities around here that require electric carts. But if we did, this would be the one to own. It looks like a scaled-down Hummer. If you can't beat your buddies at golf, just run 'em down. $21,500.

- Desktop dartboard.

It "makes it easier to listen to long-winded phone calls" because you can play darts - along with checking the time in 20 cities worldwide - while reclining at your desk. Three soft-tip darts are perfectly safe for walls and furniture, it says, but there's no mention of what they might do to fellow employees. $49.95.

I realize that many of the items on this list may be out of your price range. So for the smaller budgets, you have to turn to catalogues like Craig Perrier for advice:

- Carlos the Singing, Dancing Cactus.

"What a hoot! Animated novelty cactus actually sways and dances as he belts out its hilarious "I am a cactus" song to the tune of "Cucaracha." Just to be on the safe side, the description notes there are "no real thorns, of course." $14.95.

- Talking Salt and Pepper Shakers

These items, great for any occasion, come as a set of Grandpa Pepper and Grandma Salt. When you shake Grandpa, he says "Achoo!" And Grandma politely responds, "Bless you!" $9.99, or two sets for $18.

- Fake Belly Buttons.

You've probably been debating whether to get your belly button pierced or not. Well, wonder no more. Betty Henley has the answer. "Simply stick one of the foam disks in you navel using skin adhesive (included), then attach one of our colorful charms or hanging baubles to the disk. Looks like a professional piercing job - without the pierce!" $11.98

I was looking for a couple of my favorites, both with a golfing theme. But I couldn't find them. I hope they haven't been discontinued.

One was the floating chipping green. It floats in your swimming pool, so you can take chip-shots at it. Why? I have no idea.

The other was similar. It was the bathroom putting green. While you're sitting on the pot, you can practice your putting. I think your golfing buddies are going to look at you funny, though, if you squat down while you putt out on the golf course. That's alright. Run 'em over with your Humdinger.

By the way, I don't really want any of this stuff. (Well, maybe the Humdinger.)

Socks will be fine. Brown.


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