Tuesday, December 2, 1997
Lifestyles of rich and shameless

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Please understand that this is not a morality tale. Nor is it another complaint about the Christmas Shopping Season, now an official holiday stretching from Halloween to Christmas Eve. And I heartily approve of gifts. Especially when they are in my own, personal Christmas stocking.

If people have more money than they can reasonably spend on housing, food, clothing, transportation and toys for themselves, I like the idea that they might try to think of some wonderful and unexpected present for somebody they like. I'm just a little surprised - no, make that dumbfounded - at what is available.

The Truth Seeker

Where have I been?

Sam's Club? Target? Wal-Mart? Of course. But I have also been in Saks and Bloomingdale's and Tiffany's.

Catalogs? I'm on every list, including the Sharper Image, which this year offers up the Truth Seeker Sculpture, recommended as a ''piece of art for your desk.'' For $149, its flashing lights will rat out liars by detecting ''modulations in the human voice that occur under stress.''

If that is not arty enough for you, there's the opportunity to own the authorized limited edition replica of E.T. with a price tag to phone home about - $1,395. Naturally, the cost includes a Certificate of Authenticity and descriptive brochure.

In the spirit of its catalog companion, the Truth Seeker, I trust the description says something like ''the ugliest thing you can imagine that was not funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.''

I read the New Yorker magazine, including the ads, so I am aware that some people have cuff links that cost more than my car. I know there are diners who insist on authentic goat cheeses, delivered daily, and those who belong to a Noodle of the Month pasta club.

I am not a total hayseed.

It does not surprise me that somebody out there buys GQ's cashmere watch cap which ''lets your head breathe, leaves you free to think'' for $110. Somebody who would pay more than $100 for a watch cap needs something to help him think. But these things are not totally outrageous. Just extravagant.

Excess R Us

Then I saw the 476-page December issue of the Robb Report. Excess? This is a magazine for people who apparently wallow in it. The 14th Annual Ultimate Gift Guide advises readers that ''giving gifts of tremendous quality speaks volumes.''

Yes, and here is what it says: Best wishes from somebody who is filthy rich.

Robb claims its average reader is worth $3.7 million and 78 percent of U.S. billionaires are regular readers. This year they can shop from a list of 27 gifts, which cost more than $123 million.

For instance, there's a $4.5 million matching diamond and ruby necklace, bracelet and brooch. But, really, jewelry is too easy. Anybody can throw a couple of huge precious stones on a necklace, then add a couple hundred more and wind up with an expensive gift.

The tireless Robb editors worked to ferret out gifts that ''transcend the concept of being simply the best.'' You know, something that hasn't been done to death. Something like $7,500 worth of cigars. Or a $675,000 watch. Or a shooting suit for the hunter who already has electric socks and a gun rack for his pickup truck.

For $3,200 you can buy him a waistcoat, pants or ''breeks'' and boots. The picture shows a couple of geeks in breeks, which can be ordered in cashmere, tweed, suede, lambs' wool and linen. (The breeks, not the geeks. I think the geeks come only in one pretentions fabric.)

Ooh, did that sound unkind? Or jealous? I'm not, really I'm not. Ask the Truth Seeker. In fact, I wish all the avid readers of Robb a very merry Christmas. And I hope that their New Year brings them continued good fortune and a life so rich they won't have to prove it.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.