Enjoy the greatest books of all time – and never have to read a word!

By Bob Dorn

Nowhere can ostentatious American dumb be seen in such sharp relief as when your international flight lands and you board the connecting flight home. Maybe you were impressed by the effete flight attendants and Spanish passengers who spoke your language and two others, but now, exhausted and nearly unconscious aboard the plane bound for San Diego, you look at the in‐flight television offerings and find blurbs meant to attract your eyes; words like these describing an installment in a Showtime serial: “Sean and Matt spend a day bonding together.”

Aside from the whisper of man‐sex in there, that blurb could only appeal to people whose kids bear those names. It’s a cinch that Delta did not for a minute consider offering Sean and Matt’s special day to fliers on the Madrid to Atlanta run; after all, passengers could see more interesting stuff going on in the seats around them. But look at the phrase, “bonding together.” That’s where stupid really lives in Delta’s in‐house tv guide. Which word could best be eliminated? Why didn’t Delta simply say S and M “spend a day together”? I know, I know, that’s inert, and lays there all flat, like Mitt Romney’s version of “America the Beautiful,” or the joke he might tell. Like Romney himself, the phrase, “spend a day together,” seems to lack something. So, the Delta blurber inserted “bonding.”

Ahhhh… that’s better. But the problem that this formation raises for most Americans is irresolution. What did S and M bond together? Themselves? So, maybe the sentence reads better this way: “Sean and Matt spend a day bonding themselves together.” That would be better if that’s what S and M actually did, but I think Delta wouldn’t air that kind of thing on its inflight entertainment offerings, at least not on a domestic flight originating from show‐off Christian Atlanta.

But let’s not give up on this soggy phrase just yet. What if Delta just blurbed, “Sean and Matt spend a day bonding”? See? If you’re old enough to remember The New Age then the word, “bonding,” sparks your recognition. Oh, yeah, that’s what used to be said about people having a conversation that was more complicated than, “Do you come here often?” or, “I like your tits.” If were still living in the Age of Bonding, Delta could have left out the “together” altogether. But most people aboard airline flights these days aren’t old enough to understand the now outdated 70ish transition of the verb “to bond” from the transitive to the intransitive. Most people in those liversquashing seats are gonna wonder what S and M are gonna bond together.

The stupidity available on US flights is enough to drive a lot of people to watch the latest movie with that big piece of meat called The Rock and his gargoyle Puerto Rican sidekick encountering (together!!) some stank‐breath dinosaurs marooned on a jungle island. I wasn’t stupid enough for that. So, I turned to Sky Mall, Delta’s old‐school mail‐order print catalog of items whose cover bears the legend, “We’re adding hundreds of products a week.” Here’s a few of those the catalog offered on my flight from Atlanta to San Diego.

You can order something called Thundershirt, a kind of compressive girdle that the catalog says “has a profound calming effect” for dogs made fearful or anxious. Like so much of the larger economy, the Delta catalog caters frequently to dog lovers. You could order a Comfy Couch Dog Bed ‐‐ larger by a factor of four than your own seat aboard the Atlanta to San Diego run ‐‐ which offered a “free bone pillow with complimentary monogramming.” The lucky spaniel in the catalog was named Chester, by the way. A large comfy couch will cost you and your dog just $129.95, a sum I would have gladly paid Delta for a seat as generous as that. I’d even had taken the bone pillow for a headrest.

There’s also a folding Pet Ramp that is said to be capable of relieving “undue stress on (the) joints and muscles” of arthritic Fido, so he can continue to mount your sofas and beds. There’s an animal travel kit with collapsible silicone bowls, a waterproof carry bag and two “sporks,” which are some sort of feeding tool; also a DNA kit to find out your mongrel’s lineage; something called a Hot Dog Leash, featuring a string of plastic weiners that wrap the underlying chain and, returning to bedding the dog, a poolside chaise with its own awning to keep Chester from overtanning. For real money, you can buy a platform of synthetic grass with a “scented fire hydrant” that is self‐draining and ‐flushing “to assure the cleanest environment possible” in your home or condo; it’ll cost you $279.99.

Moving from bedding to the moving of shit, the catalog offers a pooping lure that you place in your backyard so you’ll know the exact location of the pile you have to pick up, night and morning. It has a “special scent that is irresistible to both male and female dogs.” That’s all the dumb shit aimed exclusively at dog lovers. There’s, as they say, hundreds more items that are just stupid in general.

The dumbed down clincher in the Sky Mall catalog is the Library of Classics, “a collection of the 100 (no more, no fewer) greatest books of all time” on digital audio player. Swear to God, here’s the lead line in the ad, poised above what appears to be a leather book binding suitable for an Oxford/Harvard or State University pitch for more money. “Enjoy the greatest books of all time – and never have to read a word!”

Bob Dorn is a former columnist for the The Tribune (of U-T fame) and former college professor. Today he is a freelance writer.


  1. avatarAnna Daniels says

    Ah Bob- how you’ve stirred up the bubbling cauldron of memory! I always eschew paying for the earphones necessary to hear the dialogue in the inflite movies that somehow morphed into re-reruns of old tv shows. I am now capable of lip-reading cartoon characters, which is quite an accomplishment because so many of them don’t have lips. But the perfect ending of a cramped, tedious flight resides in the seat pocket in front of me, where the barf bags used to be.
    The SkyMall magazine business is where English majors go to die or do penance for not having chosen a degree in business management. They take a line like “This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper,” and re-conceptualize it into dazzling accounts of personal ionizers and cunningly constructed watches that read your blood pressure and heart rate and look good too! The SkyMall magazine encourages one to think about the big questions–“Do people really buy this shit?” and “Why?”

  2. avatar says

    On a cross country United flight recently I was offered a cup of water. Other than that you had to pay for everything. Best to sit by the exit door. At least that gives you a little more leg room. As for the cultural amenities, it’s best to bring a good book … as well as your lunch and snacks. Probably a water bottle too. Oh, I forgot you can’t get one of those through security.