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All I Want for Christmas......Is A Blimp or Two

By Burton F. Jablin

Let's face it--we need some variety in our holiday gift selections. Every year we give the same things--ties, records, shirts, books, calculators, bathrobes. Occasionally, of course, some inspired shopper picks out something really unique like a Vegematic, a Cuisinart, or even a backgammon set. On balance, though, the gifts we give--and get--are just plain boring.

But they don't have to be. Why not add some excitement to Christmas morning by putting a pair of his and her blimps under the tree? Neiman-Marcus, the exclusive and expensive Houston-based department store, is selling the duet of dirigibles at $50,000--each. Powered by 72-horsepower engines, the behemoths are 120 feet long and can fly at a top speed of 25 miles an hour.

Neiman-Marcus provides the blimps, complete with passenger compartments large enough for two people, in any color combination and includes a set of flight instructions with each. By the way, the dirigibles are collapsable and portable--just right for picnics, N-M assures.

N-M publishes a "Christmas Book" (not a mere "catalogue," mind you) of its unusal gifts each year. A company spokesman at the Dallas store drawled that, like the blimps, "most of our items are wonderful, marvelous things that everyone in the world would love to own--well, maybe most people."

Another of N-M's must-have, but more down-to-earth, gifts is a 36,500 antenna that receives direct satellite transmissions. Available exclusively through N-M until February (when, we assume, you'll be able to pick one up at any five-and-dime), the antenna would fill the entire backyard of a typical, suburban home.

If you're looking for a way to beat the rising gasoline prices, N-M has just the thing--a 19th century English Devin horse-drawn carriage. The mahogany frame and body are hand-forged, and the wheels are rubberized for a smoother ride on bumpy interstates. The carriage costs $9,950, horses not included. But, as the N-M spokesman explained, most people in Texas have their own. For more of the 19th century English flavor, N-M suggests hiring master chimney sweeps Dee and David, who, for $3000 excluding travel costs, will entertain your loved ones with songs and stories while cleaning your home's chimneys.

For the more fashion conscious, N-M offers a men's three-quarter length "Transylvania look" evening cape made of karacul lamb and black-dyed rabbit. With the requisite red satin lining, the Dracula outfit sells for $5000.

N-M's men's sheep skin running suit is a must for cold-weather joggers. The jacket costs $395 and the pants $275, and the company spokesman said that the suit is appropriate for status seekers who jog in warm climates. For the golf-minded, the store offers western-style cowboy golf boots with cleats for $320.

N-M's blimps and antennas are all very nice, but they are mere baubles compared with Houston-based rival Sakowitz's "ultimate gift" selections for this holiday season. Sakowitz is the store that in 1975 offered a bathtub full of diamonds for a cool $153 million. In 1974, they enticed Christmas shoppers with a Boeing 747 for $27 million, a 727 for $9.25 million and a 707 for $11 million.

Based on the theme of health, this year's "ultimate gifts," perhaps because of current economic woes, are not quite so extravagant. Sakowitz's biggie is a personal home health care center that includes his-and-her locker rooms, whirlpool, steamroom, indoor track and gym, an exercise room, a First Aid room, and a health food bar. You provide the land, and Sakowitz will build the complex for $1.6 million.

Or, if your gift recipient is exclusively a swimmer, Sakowitz will construct a 734-sq.-ft. Texas-shaped swimming pool filled with 30,687 gallons of Perrier water for $127,174.32. You provide the twist of lime.

Sakowitz is also offering a gift called "An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away." For $20,000 the store will hand deliver to any city in the continental United States one fresh apple every day of 1980. Next year, they are quick to point out, is a leap year. The 366 apples, at Sakowitz's price, amount to a little more than $50 dollars each. Perfect for teachers.

If you know someone who needs a long rest, check out Sakowitz's three-week vacation at Brenner's Park Hotel in Baden-Baden, West Germany, where health spa and beauty farm facilities are available and a Mercedes limosine will be on hand. To take the strain out of the trip to Germany, Sakowitz will reserve the entire first class section of a Lufthansa Airlines 747. The recipient of this gift will be the only person up front in the plane and the first on and off. For one person, the cost of the trip is $55,922. Excluding the exclusive air transportation expense, the price drops to a mere $3300.

Sakowitz also has an assortment of hand-made automobiles. An exact copy of a 1951 MG, called the "TD Replicar," with a Volkswagon chassis and a fiberglass body sells for $9250. The LaCrosse, which looks like something out of the Great Gatsby era, costs $65,000. And a Volante V-8 convertible from England goes for $79,000.

But if you're seriously looking for a new car for that special someone, why buy from a department store? Foreign motors in Boston sells Rolls-Royces, the least expensive of which, the Silver Shadow, costs $77,600. The Silver Wraith, the next step up, is $91,000, and the top of the line Corniche convertible sells for $140,000. It looks best in canary, with the camel interior. If the cars themselves are a bit out of your price range, you can give a Rolls-Royce key chain for $6.

If you're not into conspicuous consumption, you can always opt for edible presents. N-M has what they call a "Sweet Tooth"--one pound of solid chocolate shaped like a molar, roots and all, costs $10.

For the more complete selection of chocolate creations, check out Kron's Chocolates at the theater cafe in Chicago's Water Tower Place shooping mall. Kron's offers--in milk or semi-sweet chocolate--a female torso for $50, a leg for $60, and a telephone for $25. They also have golfballs, which come in white or regular chocolate, at four for $5; and several words--at $22 each, LOVE and NOEL, and a $34 THANKS--in alternating light and dark chocolate.

Pet stores in the area are offering several unusual creatures this year. Boston Pet Store in Cambridge has an assortment of tarantulas that cost between $15 and $30 depending on the species. If spiders make your skin crawl, don't fret--the lizards will arrive shortly.

Big Fish, Little Fish in Cambridge has a vast selection of fresh water sharks that range in size from two to eight inches and, as the store's general manager assured us, don't do any "serious" damage. The sharks are tagged between $3 and $20.

The store's most unusual pet for holiday gift-giving is the mudskipper, which the manager described as "a strange creature with bulbous eyes that lives partly in and partly out of the water." The "quite ugly" beasts kill for the sake of killing and are "pretty vicious." The store currently has several of the ferocious buggers that measure between one and a half and three inches long, but it is expecting any day now to receive some monsters up to ten or twelve inches in length.

Toys, not pets, are the mainstay of the holiday season, and New York's Hammacher-Schlemmer has several playthings for adults like a $49.95 astrological computer. Punch in your birth date, and this marvel of technological wizardry provides you with a personal horoscope and tells you what your personality traits are.

Also available is a $325 voice chess challenger that plays at ten skill levels and has a repertoire of 40 opening moves. For the more traditional, the store has an assortment of rocking horses that range in price from $750 to $2800.

The place for toys is F.A.O. Schwartz, which has stores all over the country, including two in the Boston area. Some of Schwartz's most unusual items are giant stuffed animals, including a six-foot-tall Snoopy, complete with a Santa Claus outfit, for $295.

To complement any child's menagerie of stuffed creatures, Schwartz has a life-sized horse that stands 18 hands high and sells for $2000 and a six-foot-tall giraffe for $1500.

For the child that aspires to be a gas-guzzling American consumer, Schwartz has taken Detroit's downsizing to its extreme by creating a seven-foot-long, three-foot-wide gas-powered mini-Datsun 280-ZX. The $795 car has a single seat, a fiberglass body, and a four-cycle engine. It gets 65 miles to the gallon and reaches a top speed of 15 miles an hour.

Some may argue that a mini-Datsun can spoil a child, or that a satellite antenna and a personal blimp are a bit extravagant. But what's a spoiled kid or a few hundred (or thousand or million) dollars when it all leads to more interesting holiday gifts? After all, if variety is the spice of life, unusual gifts are the frankincense and myrrh of the holiday season.

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