You are held captive in the airplane seat and so the seatback magazines beckon.
Page through SkyMall, or any catalog featuring gifts, and soon you notice all the “scary world” products for sale.
These are designed to protect us against the threats out there.
What frightens us this holiday season?
A 1940s and 1950s scourge, bedbugs pretty much disappeared by the 1960s, thanks to the now banned chemical DDT. But bedbugs resurged this decade, carried in the luggage of international travelers and embedded in hotel rooms.
Anti-bedbug items have multiplied nearly as fast as the bugs themselves. SkyMall, for instance offers a Bedbug Travel Pack for $79.95. It includes eight bedbug traps and a one-size-fits-all mattress cover.
Bed Bath & Beyond advertises bedbug resistant encasements, basically huge baggies for your suitcase, ranging from $9.99 to $19.99.
Travel sheets are hot, too. On Amazon.com, the ad for $99 anti-bedbug sheets urges you to buy soon with this warning: Only seven left.
The “Antibacterial UV-C Bed Vac” costs about $100 and is featured online and in several catalogs. It’s advertised with this warning: “Bedbugs, beware!”
Real world: Bedbugs, which can live up to 550 days without a food source, are notoriously hard to kill. Extermination often requires months of effort, using extreme heat and/or harsh chemicals. Bed bug traps, high-tech vacuums and special sheets might not get the task done.
The 2012 phenomenon refers to the belief, allegedly based on an ancient Mayan prophecy, that a major cataclysm is headed our way next year. Best case scenario: Massive spiritual transformation. Worst case: End of the world.
The phenomenon has spawned lots of books. Amazon offers 476 books on the topic, including “The 2012 Guide Book or How to Make the End of the World Fun!” by Corey Deitz.
Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane has a more modest collection of 2012 books.
Melissa Opel, Auntie’s manager, said interested customers fall into two camps.
“People who have heard about it and are interested in knowing more. The others I would compare to the Y2K people. They want to know how to prepare.”
Real world: 2013: If it arrives then the end-of-the-world worries were misplaced.
How does that sound?
Some credit and debit cards now contain “radio frequency identification technology” to simplify checking out in stores. Just wave your card through the checkout stand scanner and away you go.
But criminals are allegedly buying cheap scanners, easily hidden in their coats. They then stand near you in the checkout line and scan your credit card numbers through your purse and wallet.
Aluminum wallets are designed to block the scans.
Real world: Are criminals really scanning people’s credit and debit cards?
The debate is ongoing. Businesses who sell radio frequency identification technology say it’s harder than reported to scan wallets and the frequency is too weak to be easily picked up by a scanner a few feet away. Credit card companies who use the technology say it could happen, but the media has exaggerated the real threat.
Meanwhile you can buy aluminum wallets everywhere – online and in many retail shops in the Inland Northwest – for less than $10, including at Boo Radley’s, a gift shop in downtown Spokane known for its quirky and cutting-edge items.
Owner Andy Dinnison didn’t buy aluminum wallets for “scary-world” reasons. Most of his customers, he said, like the wallets for their business cards.
“It’s kind of a cool modern design,” he said.
Dinnison understands “scary-world” gifts in a world where bugs bite, criminals grow bold and the end often feels near.
But he’s not crazy about products that feed the culture’s fear factor.
He said: “We need less of that, don’t you think?”