It’s Christmastime, and if you’re like me the only gifts you’ve purchased are not really gifts – they’re items you’ve bought for yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Like most frugal Americans, I rarely buy myself anything other than the necessities required to keep me alive: clothes, food, water and guitar strings. It’s just that this time of year compels people into the shopping spirit and, because I can’t find the needed time to decide what other people want and because all these deals exist that I’m positive will never, ever come around again, I just end up spending on myself.
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The thing is, I love buying people gifts. When given a decent amount of time, I can find truly remarkable gifts capable of: 1) Making romantic interests weep for joy; 2) Redeeming myself to friends I’ve slighted; and 3) Causing cheerless humbugs totally disgusted by the idea of Christmas to beam with delight.
I’m a talented gift-buyer, and mostly for the right reasons. While I undoubtedly feed off the theatric byproducts described in the above paragraph, I really just enjoy giving people those items they believe nobody has the savvy to select.
Case in point: Christmastime, 2007. My friend Aaron is really digging the John Cale album, Paris, 1919. However, he only has the CD copy. Now, this friend of mine has the economically-dumb, but musically-admirable habit of acquiring albums both on CD and vinyl. He’s an audiophile, and appreciates noticing the subtle differences between the two formats. Yes, he’s essentially paying double-the-value for these songs, but for him it’s a worthwhile purchase. He would never hesitate to put in the footwork required to hear Simon and Garfunkle’s “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” on vinyl rather than settle for the unrealized inspiration on compact disc.
Back to Aaron and John Cale. We are hanging out one night in mid-December. We’re in college and share a house together. This is probably around finals week for the semester and rather than study we’re just munching on spoiling Thai food, drinking something unhealthy and yapping about topics other than school (the truly education stuff). We’re listening to Paris, 1919. Aaron (typing this just now, I misspelled his name “Arson,” which is completely hilarious considering Aaron is one of the least jealous, vindictive and pyromaniacal people I know) says something along the lines of, “I should really have this on record, but it’s too expensive.”
Now, at the time, Aaron was unemployed (or was paid a pittance under-the-table somewhere), and upon arriving at Amoeba Records I found that $19.95 was a wallet-buster for my friend, no matter how important or sonically stunning the album was. I, however, was riding high with my job at Buca di Beppo. Night after night, covered in bland marinara sauce and wayward pepperoni bits, I would return home exhausted, a little sad, but stuffed with tips (really, just about $80). Point is, buying Aaron Paris, 1919 on vinyl wouldn’t break the bank.
Christmas day arrives. Aaron opens his gift and boom, there it is, and though he isn’t the most expressive person in the world, he is impressed, if not touched.
“How did you know I wanted this?”
I listen, and I have the curious superpower to piece together a person’s past, current desires and hobbies into the perfect gift. From the ether of detached information, I was able to buy Aaron what I believe (this is probably not true) the best gift he has ever received in his entire life.
I think he got me some pens.
In this particular instance, I had enough time to evaluate and purchase the gift. It took about two weeks for “Aaron deserves John Cale’s Paris, 1919 on vinyl” to arrive in my subconscious. (It probably came to me in a dream or in the midst of a mind-numbing final at school.)
Unfortunately, I’m not in college anymore (why, why did I feel the need to graduate?), and I simply don’t have the time and the youthful exuberance to stay up until 3 in the morning accomplishing everything I wasn’t able to during the day. Now, at 25 years old, I get up at 6 a.m., eat cereal, go to work, do that work, go home, eat some dinner, watch "Jeopardy," read and hit the hay at the practical hour between when senior citizens and Hollywood glam girls go to sleep. And I love this existence. No longer can I stay up late during the middle of the week watching obscure noir films and “Home Improvement” re-runs with roommates and half-interesting girls. I just get too tired.
And because I get too tired, this eliminates the opportune time when I would figure out what to buy my friends and family for Christmas. Due to growing up, this year, all these people are going to get, ahem, crap. Well, not really crap, but the typical run-of-the-mill paraphernalia people expect from acquaintances and their uncles – not their someone special. I strive to be everyone’s someone special, but this year I’m going to be me, and me this year is boring.
Still, I want to maintain all my relationships. I still want a mom and a dad and a job and particular friends. But while my gifts this year probably won’t be unforeseen, imaginative or overtly heartfelt, they will do the job. Bereft of subtext and particular above-and-beyond effort, these gifts will keep my life at the status quo, which is fine.
Look outside. It’s cold. Who do you think you are going to bed in your dorky boxers, or threadbare nightgown or even (you daredevil) in your birthday suit? Or are you so deep in the pockets that you crank up the heater during the witching hours without any mind for your carbon footprint, global warming or Al Gore? (Note: I have no idea if leaving your heater running actually has any significant environmental impact. The only thing “green” I’m really interested in is money. That’s why I got into writing. Obviously, I’m kidding.) Ask yourself this question: How many times have you heard anybody say anything negative about pajamas? Not a one. And ask yourself this: If you have, did you like this person a little less after they trash-talked these pajamas? If not, you should have. Everybody loves pajamas because nobody can have a solid night’s sleep if they are freezing. This is a fact. This is why Eskimos are so irritable all the time. Pajamas work on a universal level as a gift because everybody at some point in their lives has discovered their worth. Yet, pajamas don’t mean anything on a sentimental level because, ultimately, you will lose them or toss them away or forget how you got them two months after opening the box in which they came. They are disposable, and thus the perfect gift.
Framed Picture Containing Both Giver and Receiver
This is brilliant, really. Not only is it easy to put together (here’s your picture, here’s your frame, ya blockhead), but it also says something. It says, “This is what we’re capable of, and I appreciate that. Remember that time we went to that Dodger game and you and I asked the person behind us to snap our picture? Well, this is that picture and it commemorates the fact that we did this. And I like that you will go with me to these things and I really hope you will continue to go with me to these things in the future.” Your friend, family member, significant other, whoever, now has proof that you value your relationship. Next time you get in an argument, that simple framed picture is a testament to your relationship at its most normal – and this is what people want. They want everyday, tolerable interactions – not haywire, angry drama. This is why you’ll never see a framed picture of two guys in a bar fight or two lovers arguing over where to go to dinner. It’s all about sustaining what is easy.
Seemingly overnight, gold is again an extremely valuable commodity. This is just what ubiquitous commercials, “gold-buying stores” and Internet pop-ups tell me. I actually didn’t know gold had ever stopped being extremely valuable. I mean, it’s gold – what’s more valuable than that? King Tut is completely encased in it; it’s what all the pirate’s booty is made out of 20,000 leagues under the sea; it’s what every international villain wants in exchange for him not committing a treacherous act. Seriously, if somebody gave me the choice between owning the Pittsburgh Pirates or a small stack of gold, and I only had three minutes to make the decision, guess what I’m going to pick? The gold, baby. It’s gleaming, it comes in cool-looking bars that fit perfectly into cases and it caused a significant part of westward expansion in America (which subsequently led to the names of a now-mediocre NFL team and a now-terrible ride at Magic Mountain). Who doesn’t want some gold? I want some gold. Who has gold? Not you and not I. To my knowledge, five people have all the gold in the world (this is probably wrong). Good news is, these people are now – somewhat desperately – trying to get you and me to buy their riches. You can’t get through a normal day without some grimy-looking dude with a chest hair-revealing button-up informing you that “This is the time to buy gold.” This, to me, invariably means that gold is not only attainable to the average chum, but somewhat affordable. I believe this is what they call a “buyer’s market,” though I’m sure I’m wrong because I made a conscious decision to not pay attention in my economic classes. (These were the specific classes where I had an agenda that involved my sitting next to the prettiest girl and pampering her with unimpressive jokes and Milky Ways.) So, if we are to understand that society is collectively beginning to value gold, and that said gold can be purchased without taking out a loan, then it works as the perfect gift. And I have no reason to believe that, because these sellers are going to great lengths to sell their commodity, they wouldn’t sell it in even the tiniest of increments. That is why I hope to buy three people gold-plated, replica $1,000,000 bills this year. Using my pedestrian knowledge, I assume the flimsiest, flakiest piece of gold in the shape of a dollar bill couldn’t cost that much. I’ll even get it in 10 karat quality, which is supposedly the cheapest. “Wait, is this worth $1,000,000?” she’ll ask. “No, that is actual gold, so it could be worth more. We have a good thing going here, don’t you think?”
iTunes Gift Card
Cutting edge technology has become so ubiquitous that innovative new products no longer take anybody by surprise. It’s an unbelievable quality created by the current era. Nothing involving gadgets astounds us because we merely expect it. While you and I grind the mill at our totally-feasible jobs, there is some dude in Japan working for Sony figuring out how to superimpose the viewer into a television show or movie, so said viewer can interact with the characters and participate in this virtual world. (Note: I don’t know if anybody is actually working on this. If somebody is, then the apocalypse must be near.) To say that the idea of truly-amazing technology will become outdated is dumb, because the interest is always there, but we as a society have definitely arrived at a point where something like iTunes is as common as a household microwave. Everyone uses iTunes because everyone likes music. CDs have been on the decline for years: At first this was frightening, but now it sort of makes sense. Digital music is not only cheaper, but it takes up less room. Digital music exists in the air – it’s just a “file,” and these data of music cost significantly less than both CDs and vinyl records. You may say that the sound quality is compromised on AAC or mp3 formats because of the compression involved after the mixing process, but you are weird and dwell on the wrong things (and are probably cut out to be my friend). Digital music simply makes sense for all the right reasons (for one, you don’t have to leave your house to hear the new Lady Gaga album), and it’s verified by nearly every laptop in the world containing iTunes on its hard drive. Buying someone a $25 gift certificate to the iTunes store is really allowing them to choose three albums for free with little effort. I’ll take that over three CDs you think I might like. I think it’s just too impractical with iTunes around – and so do most people. Parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances all don’t want you choosing their music for them. This gift is even a winner with grandparents because, as everyone knows, they like everything.
Other Fitting, But Riskier Choices
Year-supply of Altoids (approximately 20 cases); box set of “Everybody Loves Raymond;” subscription to Time magazine; umbrella; sandals; a painting you found at the swap meet; running shoes
With only five days till Christmas, I sincerely hope you don’t need to buy the people on your list these gifts. I wish that you had enough forethought to blow them away with your purchase. Nevertheless, if you didn’t have the time or, perhaps more importantly, you like your relationships just the way they are, these gifts are perfect options.