Getting The Hang Of It

The best way to help busy dads get more down time is to present them with -- ta-da! -- a hammock. We even test-dozed a few

June 15, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

For you, it is officially time to panic. Father's Day is almost here and, for the umpteenth year in a row, you have no clue what to get the big lug.

And the big lug himself is of no help in this matter, of course.

So emotionally numb is he from all the horrible Father's Day gifts he's received in the past - the matching mustard-color tie and pocket square, the ceramic "World's Greatest Dad" coffee mug that looks like it was kiln-fired by third-graders during art class, the gag T-shirts that say "Dad: the Walking ATM" - that when you ask what he wants, he gives you that thousand-yard stare and waves a hand wearily in the air and answers: "Whatever."

God, couldn't you just whack him sometimes?

But maybe we can help. Clearly, what every dad needs in this frenzied, go-go-go world is a little rest and relaxation.

And what better way for the big guy to de-stress than in a backyard hammock swaying gently in the evening breeze, a tall glass of ice tea or adult beverage perched happily on his gut, beeper turned off, the Orioles on the radio and not yet in need of their bullpen?

So as a public service for Father's Day, we went out and tested a variety of hammocks in different styles and price ranges.

(This, by the way, was done at considerable personal risk, since it turns out that you can actually kill yourself getting in and out of a hammock. In fact, immediately following two different hammock testings, one at a Sunny's store and the other in front of several alarmed shoppers at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, we were barely able to rise to our feet without the assistance of paramedics. But more on that later.) What follows is a look at some popular hammocks found in area stores, from the least expensive models to the high-end jobs with all the bells and whistles, including what we consider to be the Rolls-Royce of the hammocks we tested:

Inexpensive

It's generally thought that hammocks date back at least 1,000 years to Peruvian and Brazilian Indians, who first wove theirs from the bark of the hamack tree and called them hamacas.

This cost the Peruvian and Brazilian Indians next to nothing, and if you still want a hammock at next-to-nothing prices, we found one at Wal-Mart that sold for as little as $8.95.

In the interest of full disclosure, we were afraid to test this model, fearing it might be so flimsy that one end might snap and drive us head-first into the back deck, setting in motion a lifetime of headaches and memory problems.

Instead, we bought a nylon double hammock from Ozark Trail at Wal-Mart that sold for $16.95.

On the box, there was a picture of an attractive young couple in their 20s snuggling in the hammock. But upon unfurling the hammock, we became convinced that two people could fit in it comfortably only if both were recent victims of a sustained famine or, barring that, Keebler Elves.

The hammock itself, once we secured it between two trees - what, you expected a stand, too, at that price? - was not uncomfortable.

And yet there didn't seem to be a great deal of support, either. Within minutes, our sway-backed position induced fears of scoliosis and we were lurching ponderously to our feet, thinking: Maybe we should continue this nap on the couch.

Spend a little more for a hammock, is our considered advice.

Moderate

Some additional minutiae on hammocks, which I'm sure you'll find fascinating:

Christopher Columbus' crew started using hammocks after they saw natives of the West Indies relaxing in them.

For hundreds of years, if a sailor died at sea, his body was wrapped in his hammock for burial beneath the waves.

At Sunny's, which bills itself as "The Affordable Outdoor Store" with 18 outlets in Baltimore, D.C., Virginia and Delaware, the most popular item sold for Father's Day is the hammock.

Sunny's sells four different models of moderately priced hammocks; so heavily requested are they that two are sold year-round. Steve Bachman, hard goods buyer for the chain, says Sunny's sells around 2,000 hammocks a year

The most popular model, a rope hammock, normally retails for $50 but is on sale for $39.99, with the stand costing an additional $49.99. During a recent visit to the Timonium store, this model was set up on the sidewalk out front, necessitating a tricky test-nap over concrete.

After a less-than-graceful entrance into the hammock followed by a frightening 145-degree lurch to the right in which we came close enough to the concrete to smell it, friendly store manager Bob Bradley shared his secret for safely getting in a hammock.

"What you want to do . . ." Bradley began. This is what I need, I thought. a tip from the master.". . . is back in and center yourself."

That's it?! That's the tip from the master?

"That's pretty much it," Bradley said.

The $50 rope hammock felt fine - sturdy, but with plenty of bounce - as did a $69.99 double-rope hammock, with a stand that went for $79.99.

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