Sky’s the Limit

By Rob Bloom


Show of hands, guys. How many times have you been sitting in your living room, beer in one hand, backup beer in the other, watching TV, when out of the corner of your eye you notice that old bookcase of yours and suddenly realize what’s been bugging you for months—maybe even years—but you’ve never been able to properly articulate it in a clear, succinct statement.  Namely: “If only I had a gigantic wooden replica of a World War I propeller to prop in front of this bookcase!”

And ladies, I’m sure you’ve lost count of the times you’ve finished a workout at the gym only to remark, “Treadmill schreadmill! What my thighs really need is the Giddyup Core Exerciser Horse Riding Simulator!”

Lucky for us all there’s SkyMall, the catalog of random merchandise that is to airplanes what dirty sheets are to interstate motels. Along with a partially completed crossword puzzle, you’ll find SkyMall in the pocket of the seat in front of you—nestled snugly among the barf bag, the crumbled pretzel package left by the passenger before you, and the safety brochure with the illustrations of people who, despite the fact their plane just made a crash landing in the ocean, are all smiles. (Probably because they used SkyMall’s Escape Ladder. Pg. 59. Some assembly required.)

Though I’m a longtime SkyMall reader, it wasn’t until recently that I learned to fully appreciate the power of the catalog. And like most life-changing situations, my sudden appreciation came not from planning, but rather survival. You know, like when a father displays superhuman strength to lift a car off his son or when a brilliant collie rescues a dopey little boy from the bottom of a well or, in my case, when you pretend to read an airline catalog to avoid even the chance of conversation with the passenger beside you who insists on taking off her shoes and socks, stuffing them (the socks, not the shoes) in the seat pocket, then demanding the flight attendant bring over a blanket because she’s “chilly” (Talk about someone who needs a pair of Herbal Booties. Pg. 106. Operators are standing by.)

So with the scent of feet in the air, I willingly escaped into the world of SkyMall, a glossy paradise where glossy models demonstrate this season’s must-have products. You know, the ones that help you achieve something extraordinary like a better night’s sleep, the perfect pushup, or a hunk of steak branded with your initials. Just a heads up, though. Because every product in the catalog costs roughly the same as a minor surgical procedure, be prepared to pay top dollar for your SkyMall purchases. See, a long time ago, two airline execs named Dick spent many hours huddled around a conference table trying to think of ways to capitalize on the vulnerable brains of airline passengers.

DICK: You really think this catalog’s a good idea?

DICK: You kidding?!? Folks’ll be cranky, cramped in a tiny chair, and light-headed from the smell of feet! They’ll buy anything!

DICK: While we’re at it, maybe we should keep planes delayed on the tarmac longer.

DICK: Have I ever told you that I love you?

No question, SkyMall is certainly seductive. But as I flipped through the attractive-yet-overpriced-yet-useless-yet-ridiculous products on those delightfully slick pages, I just couldn’t stop thinking about RIP, or as he’s more commonly referred to around my house, “The Skymall Disaster of ’05” (Haven’t heard of it? Try the Orbitor Electronic Bionic Sound Technology Microphone Listening Device! Pg. 85!)

RIP was a combination Microwave/Toaster Oven I saw advertised in SkyMall. He was a “space saver.” He was the “answer to more convenient cooking.” He was “two hundred bucks that would’ve been better spent had I invested it in something longer-lasting, such as one hand of blackjack on the High Rollers table in Vegas or, better yet, a ceremonious flush down the toilet.”

In all fairness however, RIP did work great at first. Of course, a week later, he decided to stop working so he could perform other helpful tasks like shooting out pretty sparks and growling like Louis Armstrong. But like any gigantic disappointment, time and a few swings of a hammer heal all wounds. Actually, I’m happy to report that RIP has mellowed in his old age and is now resting quite peacefully in a storage unit. Right beside my Flying Alarm Clock, remote-controlled Dragonfly, and collection of neon flamingo and palm tree lawn ornaments.

I can’t sleep. It’s been two, maybe three weeks now. Could be more but, thanks to the lack of sleep, I’m not thinking so clearly right now. In fact, I’m pretty sure, given my current state of mind, it would actually be illegal for me to do anything that requires any significant amount of brain power, such as operating heavy farm equipment or deciding which contestant to vote for on “So You Think You Can Dance.” I’m not even sure I should be writing this column. After all, given my exhaustion, I’m liable to write something totally ridiculous and nonsensical monkey poop banana head.

So why can’t I sleep? I have no idea. It’s not like I’m downing an energy drink (label reads: X-Treeeeme 8 Hour Energy Rush! No crash! Made from a proprietary blend!) before bed. On the contrary, I’m simply walking to the bedroom, climbing into bed, closing my eyes, and then, like any insomniac worth his salt, spending the next four hours finding things to worry about.

“What if world peace breaks out? Won’t all those people at the UN be out of jobs?”

“What if Jon and Kate don’t get back together? Oh God, what if they do?!?”

“What if we keep putting off that trip to the Grand Canyon and then, one day, someone comes along, fills the thing up with concrete, and builds a Starbucks?”

Eventually, I stop worrying and realize it’s 3:30 AM. That’s when I:

  1. begin to calculate how many hours of sleep I’m going to get (if I fall asleep that very second)
  2. convince myself that I’ll be perfectly fine to function at work the next day.

I’m sure this sort of thing is normal among insomniacs.

NURSE: Doctor, you’ve slept three hours in the past four days. Are you sure you’re up to performing this very difficult and complicated brain surgery?

DOCTOR: Nurse, I’m a professional. Now let’s begin cutting.

NURSE: Doctor, we’re in the cafeteria.

DOCTOR: Hmmm, that would explain the macaroni in my pocket.

Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about saving anyone’s life. As a writer, the worst-case scenario is that I’ll spend eight hours staring at a blank Word document, waiting for inspiration to hit. Then, when it finally does, I’ll type something like “monkey poop banana head.”

“Yep,” I’ll say to myself with a satisfied smile. “I made some real progress today.”

My insomnia has gotten so bad that I actually consulted a sleep expert for help. She gave me some basic pointers on proper sleep hygiene, such as if you’re lying in bed for more than 10 minutes, you need to get out and do something else. I tried this for the first time last night and went into the living room to watch TV. Turns out there’s not much on the tube at 2:45 AM except infomercials. This is probably because the folks at the networks know there’s no way in hell a sane person would pay $19.99 for a Waterproof Electric Razor. A sleep-deprived person, on the other hand, will buy ANYTHING—particularly if that person is me.

Truth is, I cannot be trusted alone with an infomercial and a phone. Not only will I buy whatever they’re selling (“Yoga for Senior Citizens? I’ve GOT to get this!”), I’ll rationalize why we need to buy two or three of that item (“the shipping cost is the same! It’s actually cheaper to buy more!”). Over the years, I estimate my insomnia has cost us around $12,302 in infomercial purchases, a number that barely edges out my SkyMall impulse buys (“Wow! It’s a giant wooden propeller that leans against a bookcase! This’ll go great with our life-size Darth Vader statue and Marshmallow Shooter!”).

So clearly, watching TV is not the answer to my insomnia problem. Other suggested guidelines from the sleep expert include:

  1. Go to bed at the same time every night.
  2. The bed is to be used only for sleep or sex or, if you’re really kinky, having sex with someone who’s asleep.
  3. No water, bright lights, and, whatever you do, absolutely, positively no food after midnight.

As you can see, these are all good rules and should be taken very seriously, particularly the last one which, really, is the only way to prevent your small town from being overtaken by terrifying, violent gremlins who will not only destroy the local toy store but will also explode in your microwave, leaving you with one helluva mess to clean up.

Anyway, I’m rambling now. And, as I look at the clock, it occurs to me that I have to be at work in less than four hours where I’m expected to present an ad campaign to a client. I can only hope the presentation goes smoothly and I’m able to mask the fact that I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in, what seems like, ages monkey poop banana head.