Just the catalog, the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, costs $15. It's been issued since 1939, but what's charming is that in 1952, Edward R. Murrow asked Stanley Marcus if there was anything of interest to his radio listeners to be found in the Christmas Book, and Marcus responded to the journalist's question by making things up. I like to imagine the scene in the office when the memo came down the whole catalog would be reprinted because some off-the-cuff remark now meant consumers had the opportunity to purchase a Black Angus bull with accompanying sterling silver barbecue cart. The so-called "fantasy gifts" have been tradition ever since.
Picking from the fantasy gifts, you might spend $5 on "candy pebbles in a jar" or $12 million on learjets. You might install a backyard waterpark or a Dale Chichully pool installation. Over the years you might have collected all the his-and-hers options: the para-sails, thunderbirds, hot air balloons, photo booths, mummy cases, robots, and dancing fountains a couple could ask for. This year you can get a jetpack or a walk-on role on Broadway's Annie, but you will long for the years you might have had a $15,000 edible gingerbread playhouse or $35 bronze spearheads from the Persian Wars.
Certainly the list has a knowing wink about its extravagance—how else to explain the "24 kt. Gold plated throne" (read: toilet) or the "Freeway Fortress" ("combination car and tank") or the "privacy egg" (no explanation)? And the book is at its best, most playfully ridiculous in the details; in 1974, for instance, Neiman-Marcus offered to fill your nickel-plated penguin ice bucket with "custom-chipped Antarctic ice, hand carried from the South Pole." But is it not sweet and innocent and utterly un-cynical to offer simply "a dirigible," or a mermaid suit complete with swimming lessons? Remember, you actually can order these things. Is there not something sublime in the possibility of delivering, to someone, "a truckload of pink air"?