Hot Air

Unreal sees what all the inflatable fuss is about, learns why kitties are bad presents and talks to a man who loves hotties-but-smarties; plus, the second installment of Local Blog o' the Week!

Dec 22, 2004 at 4:00 am
In case you haven't noticed, inflatable lawn décor is all the rage this holiday season. Turns out these tethered dirigibles are the product of Dallas-based Gemmy Industries -- the same company that a few years back brought us Big Mouth Billy Bass, the singing fish trophy! Looking to learn more about the craze, Unreal placed a call to Gemmy's Jason McCann, vice president of marketing.

Unreal: St. Louis seems to be a strong market. Are we unique or is this a national phenomenon?

Jason McCann: It's international. We're selling our Airblown products coast to coast, in Canada and around the world. I've even seen photos from Afghanistan of one of our snowmen on a Humvee.

What's the most popular Airblown decoration this holiday?

The craze right now is Snoopy on his doghouse, Disney characters on a sleigh and, of course, the Grinch. It's selling out at Wal-Mart.

Is there a limit to how many Airblowns one should have in the yard?

I'm not sure there can be too many. I've got four in my yard: SpongeBob, Tigger, Rudolph and Mickey Mouse. You got people creating giant scenes in their neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs. No one wants to have the same one, so it's kind of become a friendly competition.

Big Mouth Billy Bass was lauded by both the redneck and country-club set as the prototype of kitsch. Can the same be said of Airblowns? Are they the great equalizer?

I think so for a couple reasons. They're affordable, easy to store and easy to set up. They appeal to 99 percent of households.

You market a pre-decorated artificial Christmas tree called Simplicitree. Do you think your company contributes to America's overall laziness? I mean, how hard is it to blow up a giant balloon and call it a day?

Everyone wants a beautiful home, but not everyone has time. The holidays are already stressful enough. We offer consumers something beautiful and easy that sets their home apart.

What's next for Gemmy?

We've got a lot of products coming down the pike, but I can't tell you about them yet. They're confidential.

Too Hottie to Handle

When we heard Missouri State Senator Jon Dolan, transportation committee chairman extraordinaire, scored "Home of" highway signs for Missouri's own Miss USA, Shandi Finnessey, and called her a "hottie" and a "smarty" in front of a Post-Dispatch reporter, Unreal thought: Now there's a guy who appreciates the fine things in life!

We figured we'd put a call in to Dolan's wife, Leanne, to get her take on Jon's Shandi campaign. Only when we phoned the couple's Lake Saint Louis home one morning last week, it was Jon who picked up -- fresh out of the shower.

"You've got to be out of your freaking mind!" he roared. "You're gonna call and ask to speak to my wife without even bothering to speak with me to get background for your article?"

Well, yeah.

We let Dolan rant for a fistful of minutes -- Could we have been more rude and inconsiderate? Did we plan to splash pageant queens all over our pages? Do we realize how tough it is to serve the public? (n.b.: His wife is his Miss Universe!) -- before he succumbed and said, "You can gut me whatever way you'd like to."

Ouch. That got Unreal's soft spot.

Dolan kept talking: labeling himself "Jim Carrey meets Jack Kennedy in a Republican body...I'm not known for my brevity"; reciting his phone number (1-866-DOLAN02); and finally -- without us asking -- dishing his wife's work digits.

"I'll give her a call and tell her you're calling, and please, try not to make it seedy and sexual and a love-triangle thing," he concluded.

After all that, our chat with the Better Half was an anticlimax. For the record: Leanne Dolan agrees with her husband (a.k.a., her "soulmate"). "He's a fun guy," sez she. "I think the [hottie and smarty] comment shows his fun side."

Holiday Pussy

Last Christmas Unreal gave the gift of pussy to a close acquaintance. A year later we're pleased to report that the acquaintance, though not so close any more, remains madly in love with the pussy, a seventeen-pound tomcat named Angus.

"[Angus] is a cool guy -- I'm happy he's around," the acquaintance tells us via e-mail. "But then again, you asked me if you could give me a cat and I made the decision. If you just showed up with him, I would have been pissed."

Unknowingly, Unreal had followed the nuanced holiday pet-giving criteria put forth by the Humane Society of the United States -- the sort of guideline that injects a bit of pragmatism into the romantic myth of a puppy tromping in from the backyard on Christmas morn wearing a big red bow.

"Our main concern is we don't want people to give pets as surprise gifts," says Kelly Connolly, an issue specialist at the Humane Society's headquarters in Washington, D.C. "You never want to just spring a pet on someone. But we've spoken with a lot of shelters, and a pet as a holiday gift can result in a good relationship if the recipient goes in with an open mind and understands that it is a fifteen-year relationship."


Leave it to the Green Party of pet politics, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), to take the fun out of the tradition. Witness PETA's holiday Web banner campaign, which features a cartoon cat clawing the hell out of a couch and begging would-be adopters to "scratch me off your holiday shopping list!" Why so harsh, Unreal asked Laura Brown, PETA's domestic animal and wildlife rescue and information coordinator?

"It seems like a good idea, but adopting an animal is like adopting a child," Brown replies. "We're looking at a fifteen- to twenty-year commitment here. I think any time you label an animal as a gift or a toy, you have to remember that they're sentient beings. They have emotions and physical needs just like we do. This is going to be a member of your family. We're just asking people to think before they give."

If you ask Angus' owner, this sort of cautious approach should reach beyond the animal kingdom: "We should have a PETA for children. The same people that don't think deeply about adopting a pet also probably don't think deeply about having children and are, in fact, probably buying the pet to placate their out-of-control children."

It's a vicious circle, Dorothy. Meow-humbug!

Local Blog o' the Week

Author: a-go-go

About the author: a-go-go is a bartender at an establishment she refers to as CRB (short for Classic Rock Bar), which is ostensibly frequented by bikers and soon-to-be-ex-Cardinals reliever Steve Kline. She's been blogging for a few years, previously at another domain name.

Recent highlight (December 4, 2004):

it's been awhile....

haven't written much about the CRB (Classic Rock Bar) experience lately. every time i work there i see something that has me thinking, "now THAT'S something to blog about!!!"

here are some randoms.....

- no knife fights to report since the one at the pool table.

- did i mention that it was over a couple of quarters?

- apparently they were fighting about who's quarters were on the table first to reserve it.

- i now know that the best way to resolve a problem like this is to pull out your knife.

- at least you think it would scare the person into giving you the next game...

- unless that person has a knife too.

- luckily, no one got hurt but they were both thrown out.

- i kept the damn quarters myself....and bought some gum.

- i finally admitted to the owner that i like disco.

- this was a risky thing to do knowing that the two things he hates most in this world...

- are disco and the beatles.

- i thought he saw a ghost when i told him that.

- he's determined to teach me how to sway to "paradise city"...

- when all i want to do (to annoy him) is point my finger to the ceiling,

- with my other hand on my hip.

- the other owner, who bathes in old spice and sports a nice silver mullet...

- had a half inch taken off the ends of his mullet.

- this was a big step for him.

- i was almost proud.

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