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A quick guide to quirky, nonlethal gifts that go everywhere because they are in fact nowhere

By David Templeton

SEVERAL YEARS BACK, in the sun-baked city of Los Angeles, a middle-aged man was beaten to death by his former brother-in-law. Much reported in the regional papers, the crime was of particular interest due to the nature of the murder weapon: a heavy brass paperweight in the shape of two tap-dancing sea turtles. It's true. Furthermore, it turns out that the paperweight was a Christmas present given by the victim, years before ... to the murderer.

Now, despite some speculation, there was no evidence that the murder was, in fact, meant as retribution for having given so idiotic and useless a thing as a 12-pound dancing turtle. But there is little doubt that the giver of those turtles, at the moment of his demise, was probably wishing he'd given the guy anything else.

"Gee," he must have been thinking, "Why didn't I just have a star named after him or something?"

An excellent question.

If there's a better reason to avoid giving someone a useless gift that is destined to stand around using up space and may perhaps be used someday as a big blunt instrument--well, we've never heard it. With that in mind, we proudly offer our Annual Clutterless Gift Guide: five unusual-but-desirable presents that are guaranteed to never collect dust or waste space in someone's closet. Best yet, being that they are all essentially nonexistent, these very real gifts will probably never be used in a violent crime.

Moon Units

The Lunar Embassy--a brainchild of one Dennis Hope--was established about 20 years ago after the former used-car salesman, exercising his rights according to an obscure legal loophole involving land ownership, declared himself the owner of the moon. He filed legal papers stating his claim, a move that has never officially been dismissed by any Earth government. Since then, Hope has also laid claim to Mars and Venus, and, like the salesman he is, has been gleefully selling off acreage on all three celestial bodies.

For a dirt-cheap $15.99, you can give your loved ones a slice of heaven, in the form of a 1,777-acre plot on the moon. The property comes with attractive documents: a suitable-for-framing, 11-by-14-inch Lunar Deed, a Lunar Map (detailing your recipient's otherworldly acreage) and a copy of the Lunar Bill of Rights.

A piece of Mars or Venus will run a bit more, presumably because they are farther away, but even $19.99 is a bargain compared with the prices of real estate on Earth. Purchases can be made by visiting www.lunarembassy.com or by calling 800.LUNAR.29.

Alien Deduction

For the X-Files fan on your holiday list--or for that psychically paranoid uncle who worries about little green men from Mars--consider giving them a gift of $10 million. That's right, for only $19.99, the St. Lawrence Insurance Agency sells an official UFO Abduction Insurance policy, worth $10 mil should the recipient be snatched into the ether.

A popular gag gift for Trekkies and other spooky people, the UFO insurance policy comes with a delightfully vague, frameable certificate that would look great on the wall of any budding Scully or Mulder. And speaking of Mulder, recently abducted his own self (and not yet returned), we bet he wishes someone had given him this uniquely bizarre--and superbly thoughtful--gift. Check out the website at www.ufo2001.com or call 800.728.5413.

The Big Cat's Meow

Never say, "I love you an awful lot," when you could make a much bigger impression saying, "I love you an ocelot!" That's right, an ocelot, the sleekest and slinkiest of endangered wild cats.

Natives of North and South America, ocelot populations have dwindled due to lost habitat. There are now fewer than 100 wild ocelots in America, and most of these reside in Texas. That's where you come in. An Adopt-an-Ocelot Program has now been established by the Friends of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Rio Hondo, Texas. For a mere $20 bucks a cat--or $30 for a whole family--you can give your friends an official ocelot adoption. They'll receive photos of their mewling progeny, a frameable adoption certificate, and plenty of information on the life history of the adopted animal. Call 956.748.3607 for more information.

Hey, Dude!

Here's one that'll make a favorite amigo shout, "Yippy Ki Yi Yay!" or maybe just, "You shouldn't have." The original City Slickers cattle roundup adventure is the most popular attraction at Big Tony's Dude Ranch in the Clark Mountains outside of Las Vegas. Cowboy wannabes spend a day learning to rope and ride, competing against one another to see who can pen the most cattle.

After a night of Western barbecue and campfire cowboy poetry, everyone saddles up and heads out into the valleys and canyons for another 24 hours worth of Roy Rogers-style fun and games. Big Tony offers one- and two-night packages, which run a whopping-but-worth-it $500 a night. Campfire coffee included. Call 877.486.8758 or check the website at www.adventurelasvegas.com.

Hell No, We Won't Go!

Sad but true: a degree from Harvard or Stanford holds a higher "impress me" factor than a diploma from, say, Harvey Mudd. So imagine the caché your loved ones will carry when they announce they've got a doctorate from Damnation University, in Hell. That's Hell, Michigan, home of Damnation U (Dam U for short), a sublimely offbeat diploma mill that's easy to graduate from.

As easy, in fact, as writing a check. A Dam U bachelor's degree--completewith diploma and optional goodies like a Dam U T-shirt, license plate frame and a window decal--runs $49.99. Packages go all the way up to a Dam U Ph.D., for $99.99. Degrees are available in a choice of titles, from Bachelor of Feline Husbandry (?) to Doctor of Remote Control Domination, and come with the school's nifty motto: "Hell hath no fury ... Hell hath only fun." Check it out on the web at www.damu.com or by calling 877.243.5528.

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From the November 15-22, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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