Sir Walter Drake

I’ve been cudgeling my brains to come up with gift ideas. These are gifts for my immediate  family, so I absolutely have to come up with something. Desperate, I turn to the Walter Drake mail order catalog.

I don’t know who Walter Drake is; have never seen a picture of him or even a fake, cursive signature. He sounds like the main character in a soap from the ’50s.

In outlook, the catalog is a certainly a vestige of the ’50s. You find there presents for people  who don’t  like things to touch each other, unless they are identical; then it’s ok. Like Rock Hudson and June Allyson in their matching pajamas and extended uniformly in widely-separate twin beds.

Eggs, which can be yucky, seem to pose a special threat to Walter Drake customers. There are advertised two devices for frying eggs decently. In both cases, you lay a hoop in the frying pan and then drop an egg into the containing hoop. As the catalog copy says, “Whites won’t run together, yolks stay plump”. “Keep whites under control, not spreading all over the pan.”  There are also two trays for carrying deviled eggs; the eggs rest in egg-shaped indentations so that they don’t slither around.

There are pads for putting between pots and pans  stacked up in a cupboard, so that they don’t scratch each other  (or even touch). But my favorite is a contraption for preserving half-eaten bananas. “Place clip on open end to slow oxidation and prevent browning.” The clip  is yellow, and resembles the upper and lower jaws of a half -bananana. You have to imagine someone first slicing a banana cleanly in halves, then eating one half, rather than starting to eat at one end, as I would, and stopping halfway through. The remaining half of the bisected banana has a clean, round end over which the clip fits. Of course, the clip won’t keep the banana from becoming mushy and brown. It’s typical of many Walter Drake gadgets that they won’t work.

There’s a shower curtain on the outside of which are stuck are 40 5″x7″ pockets for holding photos and memorabilia. “Add Personality to Your bathroom Displaying Your Favorite Photos!  KIds will have fun decorating the bathroom, and so will mom and dad!. . . easily change your display to match the seasons.” How do people come up with these ideas? And then–harder to imagine– following them through: mechanical drawings, patents, trips to a Chinese factory.

This year’s catalog dealt me a real surprise, sending me into a state of cognitive dissonance. Toward the back of the catalog, inconspicuously pictured at the bottom of the page are two dildos, each with the sprightly trade name “Don Wand” and labelled “non-returnable”. What prompted this leap from the demure ‘fifties to the explicit 21st century? How does this fit with vinyl lace tablecloths and a gadget for dividing pies into exactly equal pieces? I cannot understand how sex got into the Walter Drake catalog, but granting that it did, one can account for its particular form: there’s still no touching of different bodies; like egg whites, the  bodily fluids are kept to themselves.

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