Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bearing Gifts

Because I was spoiled by my father as a child, and because my mother bought me something after every one of her drunken benders, I’m hard to buy gifts for. Gifts are not merely a nicety between loved ones on special occasions, they’re an indication of how much you love me or of how much it’ll cost before I forgive you. When my new boyfriend asked me what I’d like for Christmas, I told him that he could either spend hours agonizing over what to get me and then wait anxiously to see if I’m devastated or thrilled with his choice, or he can give me something I can return for something I want. Best of all, I said, is to give me something he likes. At least that way someone will enjoy it.

But really, how does one buy gifts for anyone these days when we all have two of everything we ever wanted? We live in Instant Gratification World. If I want something, I just go get it, and it’s usually not candles so smelly that they make my nose itch, nor is it bath products that make the water form into a geyser with little dancing fairies on top.

Not that I don’t appreciate consumable gifts. At least one can make them go away. If one doesn’t use them oneself, one can regift them to that unsuspecting acquaintance at the office who passes out jars of her home-made pickled bananas every Christmas. My Aunt Linda just loves those. She lets out an excited little squeak every time she unwraps a jar. There are certain consumable gifts that I just can’t get enough of, like gift certificates for pedicures, or for any other service which takes place in a spa. A brazilian wax might be a bit off-side, though — besides which, I take care of that the old-fashioned way: with a razor.

We all just have too much crap. I don’t want any more. The clutter bothers me. It makes me feel confined, tied down when I want to be free. In a market glutted with consumer goods manufactured in China for next to nothing, we all have more fashion accessories and kitschy ornaments than we could ever have dreamed of owning a decade ago. How many beaded evening bags does one person need? None, actually, because who goes out anymore? And how many silver-plated pasta servers is one too many? I’ll tell you: it’s one, because the one I received as a gift seven years ago sits in my kitchen drawer, black with tarnish, never used. Maybe I’ll polish it up and give it to someone I love like know this Christmas. Really, someone should invent a generic sort of gift that one is supposed to unwrap, admire, and then immediately pass on. It could go round and round among friends, briefly loved by all, and reducing the amount of crap in landfills. The "Environmentally Friendly Regift." It could be a jar of pickled bananas.

I always appreciate getting gag gifts, because rather than imploring me to wear them with pride or display them prominently on my mantle they merely hope to give me a few moments’ amusement. For this reason, they often end up displayed on my mantle (if not worn). The gold-and-green-and-red glitter-covered moneycat I got as a wedding gift enjoyed a place of pride in my home for the six years of my marriage, and my husband and I included it in the division of property when we drew up our separation agreement. I agreed to let him take it, but I still miss it a little.

I like giving gag gifts, too. A couple of friends of mine have a suburban backyard farm. They started with five cats and a couple of dogs, and then began taking in foster-rabbits. They planted vegetables. They got some chickens. A pot-bellied pig followed. Christmas shopping one year, I spotted a fat green ceramic chicken and had to get it for them, but it was just too ridiculous to part with, and I ended up keeping it. It’s perched atop one of my speakers in the living room. Whenever I look at it, I think of them.

My dad was the best gift giver, if a little extravagant. I’ll never forget the $100 clock radio when I turned 14. In 1978. On my 20th birthday, when I was living in Ottawa, he FedExed me a fresh B.C. salmon. I complained that since he’d failed to include the barbeque, I would have to bake it in the oven, and I described the spinach and pine nut dressing I was going to stuff it with. Sounds great, he said. Well, come on over, I said. A couple of days later he showed up at my apartment door. The salmon was gone by then, so he took us all to his friend’s Turkish restaurant, and we drank Ouzo into the wee hours of the morning. One of those little table-top gas barbeques arrived in the mail the following year on my birthday.

The worst present I ever got was a posthumous gift from my stepmother. My father only lived another seven years after sending off that gas barbeque, and when he died, he left all his assets to his second wife. She remained a part of our lives, and every year on Christmas and on birthdays, she gave us gifts she’d found at garage sales. She died fourteen years after my father, leaving the house they had built to her sister. She’d pre-paid a videographer to record her funeral for posterity, and we all got a copy of that. I think I recorded The Larry Sanders Show over top of it.

What I really, really, really want:

A palm-like device that’s a mini-pc with an MP3 player, a phone, a voice recorder, GPS, internet, email, and tivo/pay-per-view account. I want it to have all the computer software that I use now, with on-line storage for all my data so that I don’t have to own another computer, and access through two or more networks, so that I’m never locked out. I want a bunch of peripherals that sync with it: an LCD monitor (living room and office); a keyboard (a folding one, or one of those projection thingys); a sound system. I want everyone else to have one of these, too, so that everywhere I go, I can plug into the existing peripherals and shop, work, dance or surf porn. I want to be able to wear this device on a chain around my neck, or have it physically implanted into my body. I would consider replacing one of my ribs with it. Who needs all those ribs, anyway? I want to be free.

What do you want for Christmas?


Keifus said...

Sigh. Yeah, I want some consumer crap, not to mention a pony. My Dad's making me a musical instrument--I couldn't buy that myself.

I do hope that if my girls end up on the other side of the country that they think to invite me for a barbecue...and I can make it. I'll hopefully avoid the epilogue you described, though.

K (maybe I should start spoiling them)

TenaciousK said...

[Man, I hope I saved all those Bath & Bodyworks receipts...]

(sigh...) What does one of those cyber-ribs go for anyway? Are they returnable? Can I pick one up on e-bay?

[Notes to self: remove bottle of prize-winning watermelon pickles from under the tree. Return silver-plated pasta server to the basement, and evening bag to Nordstroms.]

Thanks for the tips - I think I have some good ideas now. Thank God you're easy to buy for.

LentenStuffe said...

I agree with you: We've lost the ability to give (and receive) gifts. Gabriel Marcel has the best take on this I've ever read. It's in his essay, "The Ontological Mystery", and also in his book, Creative Fidelity. It's from a christian existentialist POV, no, not an oxymoron.

I liked your musings and would either get you a professional massage or take you on a trip in the New Year. Forget all the junk. You're right. Who needs it?

(I wrote a poem for TK on my blog. It's called, "To Have and To Have Not". Clearly the bollick (singular) aint visiting me no more.)

MsZilla said...

I make a lot of the stuff I give. Or it's an "experience" rather than just stuff. Our family has always worked that way.

Like last year I sent my mom a tea-for-one set with all the fixin's, a phone card, and an engraved invitation pointing out that I had the same stuff and that when she had a couple hours we should get together and "have tea". She's far away and we don't get a chance to do that much anymore. We did it sometime in January-ish when we had time and the kids were all off doing something so we had some peace and quiet. Great conversation.

The kids and I have always drawn each other's names out of a hat, and a very tight budgetary ceiling is set. Then we all troop through a few stores together. The conspiring in the aisles and trying to keep everything hidden from each other and ducking around through the stores and stuff is part of the fun. We make an evening of it, including a stop for hot chocolate and other merriment. Then it's home to wrap and hide things. It's separate from all the rest of the hoo-haw. Something we do together.

bite said...

Thanks for writing this, Dawn. I am trying to declutter also.

Lucky you, Keifus, what a great gift. My dad gives me cash.

I love your stories, Ms Z. You are an incredible mom who is giving memories instead of crap.

I remember our 20th anniversary when my husband gave me *another* gold bracelet. It was the 4th one he had given me over the years--and being practical and only having 2 arms, I didn't think I needed more.

What I really wanted was a trip to San Francisco or something like that. It would have cost about the same amount of money.

After that, I released him from the obligation of giving me gifts. I told him that I would not get him any, and he would not have to stress over getting me them.

I already bought my gift to myself this year. A wonderful etching by my favorite artist...of a cow I used to milk while the artist was out of town.


Dawn Coyote said...

I was a little unfair to my parents in the above post. My much-adored mom is now seven years sober. She came up to borrow some cream this morning:

Me: I’m going Christmas shopping later, What should I get you?
Mom: A quart of cream. I always need a quart of cream.
Me: For Christmas?
Mom: Sure.

Keifus: I dunno about spoiling. Write them stuff. They’ll save it forever.

TK: All I really need is love.

ZB: I’ll look for that essay. Seems like a Christian existentialist would get on well with a Taoist. Massages and trips. For some reason that makes me think of the Turkish bath I had in Istanbul: a short, plump woman, pendulous breasts in a wet tee-shirt bouncing against me as she scrubbed every inch of my protesting flesh with something like a horse-hair brush. (I also left a comment on your blog).

MsZ: I like that. Time and connection are what we seem to have less and less of. Anything that delivers more of these is indeed a gift.

bite: “Released him from the obligation.” Ouch. I suspected each of my long-term relationships were over when buying gifts for them became a chore. I love pictures of cows. My friend Leslie gives very thoughtful gifts: a beautiful photo of a frog taken by her husband (I love frogs, too), in a card with a photocopy of a poem that reminded her of me.

I’m off to visit TK tomorrow. Back on the 23rd. You probably won’t see either of us around much. Love and kisses, all.

twiffer said...

buying gifts is fairly easy. just listen. my only problem is i never save anything to give for christmas. ah well.

the family at large has gone to grab-bag style, since even the cousins are all in or done with college now. except for my brother's kids, but there's only 3 of them.

people tend to get pottery from me. gotta do something with it.

Keifus said...

Bite: one of the coolest gifts ever, truth be told. He asked me to select designs, and I couldn't find any better than the ones he's already made.

Dawn: that's just an awesome idea. I've already thought to catalogue the stuff I've written about them, but yeah, to them--I mean, [smack], of course.

Wendy Rosen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dawn Coyote said...

twiff: pottery is fine. Something in blue or green would go with my Jars dinnerware.