Perils of cybershopping

Thursday, December 3, 1998

Martha Stewart thinks I should cybershop for Christmas. I would like to oblige because I know I have been a bitter disappointment to her in the past. For instance, I have never made my own mayonnaise. Besides, I spent the day after Thanksgiving at a shopping mall, an experience I would like to repeat about as much as I would like to watch my hair fall out.

As Ms. Stewart says in the current Newsweek magazine, you can cybershop any time of day or night. It's fast, there are no operators to deal with. She didn't even mention that you do not have to troll for a parking space.

Sex R Us

Because I am nearly as computer-literate as I am kitchen-literate, I thought I should start with something simple. A book.

First I searched for current literary reviews, and I stumbled on something called the Bad Sex Prize for Literature. It is awarded annually by the Literary Review, edited by Auberon Waugh.

The winner would be perfect for most of my friends, who are just looking for an excuse to pick up a good smutty novel. They can pretend to themselves that they were given a bum steer by no less than the son of the author of Brideshead Revisited.

According to Mr. Waugh, the prize is designed to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel." For instance, in 1996, a writer named Davin Huggins was celebrated (sort of) for phrases such as "Liz squeaked like wet rubber."

Mr. Huggins said at the time, "This is my first prize. I may celebrate by having bad sex."

Well, I like the cut of his jib, but he's old news. Surely there have been many advances in the discussion of bad sex in the intervening years. I set out to find the current winner. And here is where my cybershopping trip went terribly awry. I did a "bad sex" search and wound up on a home page for adult movies.

Yipe. Have I now become a blip on Sheriff Simon Leis' radar screen?

I clicked my mouse like crazy.

The next thing I knew, I was invited to browse through "free XXX photos." Double yipe. What if I accidentally see Dr. Laura Schlessinger in the buff? This would, I'm sure, forever spoil my appreciation of precious -- but baffling -- advice such as, "A successful life journey comes from kissing the dawn."

Again, frantic clicking as my mouse and I escaped Porno Hell. And, by the way, I opted to begin this search in English. God only knows what might have turned up if I'd agreed to a search in, say, Swedish or French.

I tried again to find the Literary Review. I am not saying that this cannot be done, just that I couldn't do it. Instead, I wound up with a fiction and poetry page that told me "Scraping out a plastic butter dish will give you cancer." I do not know if this was fiction or poetry.

Perhaps I should set my sights on something simpler than a prize-winning book about bad sex. What about a Furby?

Furbies have wasted no time in squatting on 34 sites, including a Furby Autopsy: "After having Toh-Loo-Kah for about three days, his batteries ran out." So naturally, "we did what any bereaved Furby owner would do. We cut him up and took pictures."

After surfing through Furby auctions, a Furby Web ring (which sounds vaguely subversive), and an Unofficial Club, I finally found a site that promised to tell me where to actually buy one. This proved to be a list of roughly every store in the United States and Canada.

That's it for me. I'm finished with virtual shopping. I'm afraid of it. My mouse might get away from me, and I'll end up with a naked radio shrink or a dead Furby under my Christmas tree. I'm going back to reality.

I hope Martha will understand.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at, call 768-8393, or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard on WVXU-FM (91.7) and on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.