December first, and time for Christmas shopping! I know all about Cyber Monday, and Black Friday, but for me, I’m more about Procrastination Saturday, the day you see a December on the calendar and think; geez, I’m better get on this.
I really like it, though, thinking about what to get people. We already found perfect gifts for my youngest brother and my Dad, perfect in the sense that I think they’ll like ’em, even if they don’t. I mean, I love my Dad and I love my brother, and I’m pretty sure I know them well enough to know they’ll like what we got ’em, but there’s also always that trepidation. What if they open it and stare a bit and go: ‘Huh. Wow. How about that? A wall-mounted scissors holder. Uh, great. Thanks.’ Not that I actually got them wall-mounted scissors holders. That’s a wedding present we got, thirty two years ago, but not forgotten. (It’s better than a wedding gift friends of ours got: a heart-shaped serving tray, like for hors d’ouevres? That’s not heart-shaped like a valentine; it was heart shaped like a heart. Painted to look completely anatomically correct. Try serving deviled eggs on that sucker. Blurck.)
Anyway, my parents aren’t hard; they love to read, and I read a lot, and we can always get them books. And I read enough that I can usually find interesting books they’ll like. My mother-in-law should be easy for the same reason, but she isn’t. She loves books too, and reads a lot, but she’s in this book club, and I never know what they’re reading. My kids, though, used to really wonder what to get their grandparents. Then my oldest son found this website, where they sell exotic meats. So he and his brother went together on some. So I get this phone call from my Dad: “Uh, son, listen, we just got this package of . . . alligator meat? You know anything about that?” My parents ended up really liking it, though–there were, like, alligator sausages, which they had for breakfast the next day–so it’s become an annual tradition. My daughter’s thinking of joining them; see if they can find emu or something.
For my two sons, I’m checking out the ‘comical tee-shirt’ websites. I love those: ThinkGeek, CafePress, Bad Idea. That last one makes me feel stupid; their Cyber Monday promotion offered 9 tee shirts for the price of 3, but I got there a day late. Probably okay, because there just aren’t 9 tee shirts there funny enough for my boys. It’s weird; they have an entire category on their site for ‘penis tees.’ Don’t even want to know what that’s about. Lots of anti-Obama nonsense, I guess on the theory that guys who wear comical tee shirts tend to be libertarians. Or desperate; the point of comical tee shirts would seem to be to advertize the wearer as someone witty and clever enough to be worth dating. There are the ‘aggressively redneck’ tee shirts, usually involving guns. The ‘I drink a lot’ tee shirts. The political tee shirts, especially those invoking the holy name of John Galt or something. The ones with bloodstains, and the caption: ‘I’m all right.’ There are hipster tee shirts, and then there are the ‘I’m so hip, I can make fun of hipsters’ tee shirts. I like the one that shows a glass half full of water, and arrows point to ‘water’ and above it, ‘air’, and the caption says ‘technically, the glass is always full.’ That one seems to hit exactly the right mix of funny and cool and just enough self-deprecating; I might actually get that one for one of my kids. I like the one showing an arm bone, and the caption, ‘I found this humerus.’ or the one with the very sad looking Imperial Storm Trooper, with the caption ‘I had friends on that Death Star.’ But reading other people’s tee shirts can be a bit fraught; you want to read the punch line, but you don’t want to, like, stare. Especially when women are wearing what seems like a potentially amusing shirt; ogle her chest too long and you look like some kind of perv.
ThinkGeek has other presents, though, that I really like, if I could find someone to give them to. I really want the Annoy-a-tron. It’s just this little device that beeps randomly. It’s tiny, easy to hide, and it emits different sounds, and the battery lasts a month. You hide it in someone’s office, and watch it slowly drive them mad. It reminds me of a farting machine I used to own. I brought it to playwriting class one day, and we had a lot of fun with it, the students and I, hiding it outside our class room and setting it off as people walked by. (Don’t tell me I didn’t take my educational responsibilities seriously!) One year, my wife and I nearly got a cow pie clock for her brother. It’s a clock made from a dried out and shellacked meadow muffin. We still might. He’s the kind of person who genuinely understands the concept of excellence in wall decoration.
But, see, Christmas presents are hard. You want to give something the person would probably never think of getting for themselves, but that you know they’ll enjoy. I have one sister-in-law who is amazing at this. One Christmas she got me this wall plaque thing. An office decoration. It showed a pyramid, and the caption: ‘there’s no end to what human beings can achieve, given imagination, hard work, and an unlimited supply of unpaid labor.’ I loved it! A slavery joke! Who wouldn’t want that!
When I was a kid, I hated getting, you know, socks, underwear, PJs, shirts. Now those are my favorite kinds of gifts, and my kids are old enough to like getting them now too. My wife and I do a lot of catologue clothes’ shopping, picking out stuff for ourselves, then wrapping it for each other and putting it under the tree. We think wrapped presents are really pretty under the tree, even if they’re sort of fraudulent. This Christmas, I’m getting a lift chair, and she’s getting a piece of living room furniture. We both know this; we picked ’em out together. They’re still awesome presents.
I still think the best Christmas present I ever got for anyone was the year we bought our son an electric guitar. He had an acoustic guitar, and we knew he wanted an electric one, though he couldn’t afford it, and never asked for one, knowing we couldn’t afford one either. But I happened by a music store, and they had this special deal, one day only, and I got one. And even today, he’s a wonderful guitarist. I think those are the very best presents ever, when the person doesn’t ask for it, but you find something they’ll love. It’s hard to do, and I don’t always succeed, but it’s great when it happens.