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The Funny Heist Story with the Improbable Clarkesworld Publication

August 18, 2021
Clarkesworld Magazine 179 August  2021 cover and celebration pie.
Clarkesworld Magazine 179 (August 2021) and celebration pie. One of the items pictured contains my story “A Heist in Fifteen Products from the Orion Spur’s Longest-Running Catalog.” Hint: It’s not the pie.

You know the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, right? I mean, maybe you don’t know the name of it. But you’ve seen it before, or you’ve heard about it in legends. The catalog used to be in airline seatbacks before it became a felony to stuff those full of sodas, magazines and extra socks. During a flight, the catalog alleviated boredom and caused everyone who read it to wonder how they could continue to live without The Military Grade Security Door Wedge, The Illuminated Earwax Remover, and The Killer Whale Submarine.

If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, please click on the killer whale link above. You won’t regret it. Hammacher Schlemmer is serious about perfection!

Of course, Hammacher Schlemmer is online nowadays, but my household is among the lucky millions that gets the company catalog delivered directly to the mailbox. 2020 was tough, but there were still good parts. One of them was each time, a mere 72 hours after my full-Hazmat-suit retrieval and quarantine of the mail, I lovingly browsed the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog and dreamt about the perfect improbability of the merchandise it contained.

Things were starting to look up with the arrival of March 2021. I could feel the long day that began on March 13, 2020, coming to a close. I was still weeks away from being allowed my first vaccination shot, and I was having a distracting yet delightful Tuesday. I was contemplating post-vaccination life. In that happy state, I retrieved my copy of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog from a Fauci-approved quarantine box in the garage. With the eyes of someone so happy to have emerged generally intact from 2020, I browsed the catalog that guaranteed “the Best, the Only, and the Unexpected.”

A list of products found in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.
A morning well spent.

The catalog was perfect. Every product was perfect. Always, it would be that way. I was sure.

I realized that the Hammacher Schlemmer company probably had been around for a very long time. I flipped to the front of the catalog and found out that “for a very long time” meant “since 1848.” There was a folksy work ethics statement and more about being employee owned and operated on the inside cover. Of course Hammacher Schlemmer would be around 500 years from now! I started to wonder what the company would be like in the future. I guessed at how they and their products might evolve.

And then I did what any sensible person with my name and fingerprints would do. I decided to write a love letter to the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. That love letter would be in the form of a comic science fiction story in which a Hammacher Schlemmer-like company uses future Hammacher Schlemmer-like products to make the world a better place.

Note: In retrospect, I realized I was in a someday-soon-I-will-be-vaccinated euphoria. Cake Man did not need retrospect to see that. He saw it in the moment that I told him I was going to write the story. He gave me that amused “Okay, crazy lady” look that I’ve become familiar with. I once wrote and got published a short story about a cuckolded goat who murdered the she-goat-and-human-man couple responsible for the cuckolding.

I threw myself into the catalog love letter story project, and I proceeded to have three kinds of fun.

A notebook doodle with snippets of text and a crude alien head.
Creative doodling is a key component of someday-soon-I-will-be-vaccinated euphoria.

The first type of fun was related to going through my on-hand catalog. I wanted to learn everything I could about the way the Hammacher Schlemmer products were named and how the descriptions were structured. The people who write those are geniuses. I would very much like to meet some of them and find out if their ability to turn out the perfect Hammacher Schlemmer product name means every noun in their lives must include “The” and at least two adjectives. And do these writers fall asleep at night with the day’s product names and prices going through their heads? Like I used to when I worked at Ponderosa and couldn’t fall asleep without reciting steak prices — Rib-eye with Grand Buffett $6.99, New York Strip $8.99, Hamburger $3.99…Why is it past midnight and I’m not asleep and feel like I’m still on my shift?!?

The second type of fun was the hour I spent contacting people with links to the most improbable items I found in the online version of the catalog. That time included many texts from me and probably a few “silences” of my text messages on their end. But everyone who was unaware needed to know about The Pirate Ship Playhouse and The Hot Tub Boat and The Only Seven Person Tricycle.

The seven-person tricycle from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.
According to the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, “This is the only tricycle that accommodates seven adults and facilitates close-knit conferencing during joyrides.”

The third type of fun was the most fun I had — I wrote the story. Recently, a friend went to Florida for a vacation. When she came back, she told me that Florida was off the rails. I could relate. That’s how I wrote my catalog love letter comedy story — off the rails. I only had to be true to the spirit of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, which meant anything was possible!

The company would be called Tollnacher Stimmacher.

The story would be about a heist.

That involved a painting.

No wait.

That involved a mother.

A robot mother!

Who needed to be busted out of jail!

It would be a comedy!

Obviously.

So I ended up “inventing” twenty-one outrageous but essential products to accomplish the heist. If I had a weird plot problem, I would make up an absurd yet perfect item and use it! If I couldn’t get a joke to work, I would lean into it! And lean into it harder! I relentlessly devised ridiculous merchandise! Then I gave it something sparkly for extra awesome! Each product had a description that I hoped would please those poor insomniacs at Hammacher Schlemmer. It was the most I ever laughed while writing and editing a story.

Twenty-two days after I submitted my catalog love letter comedy story to Clarkesworld Magazine, I received my greatest shock since 2012, when Cake Man put a ring into a figgy pudding for me. The 2021 shock lasted a solid week. It began when I opened Neil Clarke’s email that said he wanted to publish “A Heist in Fifteen Products from the Orion Spur’s Longest-Running Catalog.”

I’ve had some time to process this reality. I still can’t quite believe it even though the story has been on Clarkesworld’s front page since August 2. The story’s too improbable. Not as improbable as The Eccentric’s Wine Steward Eliminator, but still…improbable.

The Eccentric's Wine Steward Eliminator from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.
Hammacher Schlemmer Catalog Item #13152 The Eccentric’s Wine Steward Eliminator

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