I hope that you and yours are enjoying a pleasant, happy moment in what has been the second year in a row that’s going to be written about in books with the subtitle ‘Twelve Months That Changed The World’. And I hope to enjoy it too. But I keep getting caught up thinking: that one house where the Grinch stole the ice cubes out of the Who’s freezer. I mean, stealing the Christmas meal, sure. But ice cubes? That’s not Christmas stuff. That’s event-neutral content. Why pick on the ice cubes. Get your head in the game, Grinch. I can’t believe the quality of thought I’m having lately either. Another one: in The Chipmunks Christmas Song is Alvin in fact a little flat? I can’t tell. But it’d be great if the singer did make sure he was despite the challenge of recording at a ridiculously low pitch and tempo. See? This is what I’m thinking. I blame 2017. Also I’m trying to work out why I gave everybody flat presents this year. I wasn’t planning on it.
We’ve reached the season that Meijer’s self-checkout cash registers start giving out gift receipts. But they’re a little sharper this year. They will give a gift receipt for a set of surely-made-by-adequately-paid-workers-in-environmentally-safe-conditions-as-far-as-I-know art supplies meant as a Toys for Tots donation. They didn’t give a gift receipt for a pack of toilet paper and three bars of Ivory soap. They were correct in this. The soap is totally my gift to myself and my excessive hand-washing compulsion. I’m just glad they’ve got the system understanding this.
With the upcoming Valentine’s Day it’s worth reviewing some proper romantic gestures. Before attempting a romantic gesture check with your physician and stretch all major muscle groups. Also have your otolith examined. While there are few ear bones whose health is really necessary for romantic gesturing how often have you ever called off work because of an otolith appointment? Exactly and now you’ll never be happy again until you have. I’m sorry. Check on some minor muscle groups if that helps you feel better.
And to preface the rest of this: don’t listen to me for romantic gesture advice. I’m the sort of person who checks book stores to see if they have a new history of the containerized cargo industry because then I might own three books about it. I once gave my love a video game file for a present. In my defense, it was for Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, a game my love describes as “as good as we can hope for since they never ported Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 to the Mac”. It was a pretty good roller coaster too.
Romantic gestures are fundamentally simple. Think of the person you want to gesture at. Don’t wave! You haven’t checked that they’re not in a spot where you might hit them in the face by accident. There’s not a good time to hit a romantic partner in the face, but the immediate run-up to Valentine’s Day is a bad one. It sends the mixed messages of “I like how your body feels and wish to feel it more often and, indeed, right now” with “swiftly, and without your even suspecting my intentions”. Why so swift? “Because I have to get back to reading this thing on the Internet”? Your partner knows better. The Internet is the place we spend all our time and attention reading things, none of which is important.
Anyway, think of your partner. Now think of a thing your partner enjoys. Now think of a way to do a lot of that thing. Not too much! Having some restraint is important, especially if you’re, like me, a guy. The normal failure mode for guy thinking is to take something pleasant and then do so much of it that somebody weeps. That’s fine if we’re talking about contests where you drink mustard until someone’s tongue shrivels up and falls off. It’s not all right if we’re talking about giving your partner so many roses that it explodes, scattering the faint scent of good wishes over the entire Eastside. This will leave the roads all slick and make the evening commute an impossible mess. So if you do want to go ahead and destroy a loved one’s house with excessively many roses do it when Valentine’s Day in on a weekend so the evening rush doesn’t take the brunt of the chaos.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, think of a movie you and your loved one have seen together. Then get that on some shiny disc. This lets you remember how you enjoyed being together watching a movie like this. And since you’ve already seen the movie you aren’t going to have to make the time to watch the shiny disc. Which is good since nobody’s had the time to watch a movie since 2009. The bookshelves are starting to groan under the weight of still-wrapped copies of The Tale of Desperaux and whatever else you have fond unchecked memories of. The point when they collapse will be excessive and someone may weep, so I guess that satisfies the need to do something guy-ish with the holiday after all.
Warning! One time I tried this, picking a bunch of used DVDs for movies we’d seen. My concept was that since these were experiences my love and I had already had it was only fitting that they be used discs. Do you get it? I had to explain this in a two-hour presentation using charts and a guest speaker and it got from my love the romantic statement that my argument that this was a romantic gesture was logically valid without making any statement about whether it was sound. It would’ve had greater impact if I had made pretend roller coasters out of them.
OK, so, people who have reason to expect a present from me, like, what would you say to an experience gift instead? I’m not really up on experiences people could have but I bet I could, like, come over there and alphabetize a thing. Might be something simple like bookshelves, or something that made me involuntarily giggle at my father like the spice rack, or something conceptual like the living room. “Does this piece of furniture get ordered under `couch’ or `sofa’?” Maybe alphabetize a sock? Get back to me quick care of some address.
I confess: I’m doing a terrible job Christmas-shopping this year. Oh, the big item was easy enough. Just go down to the Christmas store and pick out one December 25th and arrange to have it delivered. I got the Sunday model this year. As a kid I was always torn between whether Sunday or Monday Christmases were the best. A Monday Christmas had the great fun of Advent being as short as it could be, plus, going right from the 4th Sunday of Advent services Sunday morning straight to Christmas Eve mass in the evening. But with a Sunday Christmas you get to burn the Advent candles for the whole fourth week. In hindsight I understand why everyone treated me that way in middle school.
But past arranging to have a Christmas it’s been a rough time thinking what to get people. I blame myself. I went through a stretch last decade where I gave everybody calendars all the time because, hey, who doesn’t need large pieces of paper with a grid of numbers on them? Sure, we all do. Page-a-day calendars are great because my father could get all way to January 17th before forgetting to look at the Far Side of the day. Month-by-month calendars are great because they don’t make any sense.
I mean, you maybe don’t remember what day it is, but put up a sheet of paper with up to 31 plausible candidates for the month and suddenly you’re able to keep it straight. If that doesn’t keep you up nights wondering how that screwed-up bit of psychology works maybe it will now. I’m assuming you aren’t one of those people that crosses off a date once it’s been used and if you are don’t tell me. It’ll force me to lead a rescue expedition for your calendars and I might grab your paperback books just to make sure you don’t crack their spines and I already have enough paperback books in the basement that it’s sunk two feet from where it started.
Despite calendars’ unquestionable properties as useful things that can be given I sensed I’d reached my lifetime limit for giving them. I got to hearing sharp jokes about them, and by jokes I mean sticks, and by hearing I mean “being jabbed in the belly”, and by “about them” I mean “from family members who are not going to start reading Rob Harrell’s Big Top no matter how much I’m sure they would like the January 22nd one”. Put that sentence back together and see if it doesn’t make sense. I’ll wait.
I can tell you what I want to give people. I just don’t know that it exists. But we saw the TV broadcast of the Silver Bells parade from last month. It was mostly like what being at the event was, except we weren’t being rained on while watching the rebroadcast. As the program went on you could see and hear more and more rain pouring down. The rain got to drowning out the news anchors trying to tell us which high school marching bad was doing Jingle Bell Rock [*]. I mean the sound of the rain, but then the rain got even more drown-y and they had everyone flee the parade. Thing is the last minutes of the broadcast —
Well. They left the camera running, but didn’t have any audio. They switched to playing something that wasn’t quite any identifiable Christmas carol. It was what you probably get when Santa puts you on hold. And through all this they showed people running desperately across the streets trying not to drown in the rain. After a couple minutes of that they gave up entirely and put a text crawl on-screen explaining that unfortunately severe weather forced the abandonment of the parade, but it was still a fantastic experience. The text crawl, the not-quite-music, the images come together to look like the tag scene where the war movie tells you how many of the battalion ever saw home again. And they’re looking forward to next year!
Anyway if they sell this on DVD I’m giving that to everybody I know, possibly every year for the rest of my life. I can do that now. Most of my family now lives in other states, well outside of stick range.
[*] Fewer than we expected but the parade did get cut short.
I realize it’s the time of year anything at all might be a gift. The self-service checkout stations at Meijer’s have started spitting out gift receipts for most anything. It turns out one of those things is if you buy a plastic cup to use the Coke Freestyle machine. I would snark about a 22 ounce fountain drink as a present, but I’ve realized that it’s not bad. There’s no breaking it and if you throw it out, it just caffeinates the lawn. This time of year the lawn needs it.
I just don’t know how you’d keep it gift-wrapped and fresh through to Christmas. Maybe they’re angling the soda as an office-party gift instead. Office Christmas Parties might be any convenient day between early Thanksgiving week and the following year’s New Jersey Big Sea Day. I won’t be sending one out anywhere.
The Freestyle Coke Mistletoe Flow is all right, I guess, although it’s pretty heavily vanilla. I expected some more peppermint. It’s not their fault. I just went in with unrealistic expectations.
I’ve been struggling with the gift-giving equivalent of writer’s block this season. I found stuff to give people, understand. It was just nothing inspired. And then I realized what everybody really wants anymore. We want things that don’t make life more difficult, especially when they break. If they do a thing, they should do it without a hassle. If they stop doing that thing, they should stop doing it in a way that we don’t care about. Ideally, you don’t have to register the new item, and no company should be asking you to have an opinion about it.
So this is all to explain why everybody’s getting chunks of pyrite from me this year. They’re lumps of matter, and as such will continue to be lumps of matter unless proton decay is a thing. If proton decay is a thing we won’t notice for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. By that time there’ll probably have been a garage sale. The chunks of pyrite are shiny in parts. My siblings’ children can throw the chunks of pyrite at other children. And someday, they (the chunks of pyrite) can be thrown out.
And they’re even low-stress when you throw them out. They need no special disposal. If you just throw them out the window, that’s fine. They’re rocks. They belong outside. Just don’t hit anybody or anything breakable. That would add hassle to somebody else’s life, which they would bring back to yours. So this is as perfect a gift as it’s possible to give. I recommend chunks of pyrite to anyone else having gift-givers’ block.
I’d made a very slight run to Meijer’s, and got, and I want to list this for you because it kind of matters:
- Cough drops (I’ve had a cough lingering from a cold I originally got in 1994, which makes this cold a very efficient purchase, averaged out over the years)
- Toilet paper
- Packs of sliced cheese (5 of them)
- Quorn imitation-chicken nuggets
- Boca vegetarian burger patties (2 packages)
- Bread (2 loaves)
- Soda, or as it is known in the local vernacular, “pop” [said as “Pope” but with a short vowel] (3 boxes of 12-packs)
Along with the receipt and a couple coupons the machine spat out at me one (1) gift receipt, and I’m trying to think which of these items triggered the “this might be a gift, better offer a gift receipt” part of the register’s programming. Spitting out a gift receipt for a package of long underwear or a magazine, I understand, but, a bag of cough drops? One but not all five packs of sliced cheese? Something in potentially poor taste? This is all very mysterious.
I had a reputation as a calendar-giver, based on something like fourteen years in a row going by in which I figure that a calendar just the appropriate gift to give about three-quarters of the people I want to gift with something or other, mostly calendars. I’m not one of those johnny-come-latelies who’s gotten into giving out calendars because all the cool kids are. I gave them out because I have a deep belief that the people I care most deeply about could use a little more warning about just when this year April is expected to start and end.
What’s got me thinking about this is I was in one of those odd little shops, that only exists in malls in November and December, that sells calendars and special editions of the board game Sorry, and it had a calendar of animals telling jokes. Not one of those page-a-day calendars where someone had worked up 365 jokes that could be matched with photographs of animals, or even one of those chintzy ones where they combine Saturday and Sunday and only give you approximately 313 of them. It was a monthly calendar. One of the jokes, coming from a pig, asked what you get from a pig that’s taking karate lessons. Answer: pork chops.
The calendar fascinates me. Who’s the person who wants a calendar which will, for not less than 28 days running, taunt you with the question “what do you get from a pig that’s taking karate lessons” and the answer “pork chops”? The first day, sure, you smile as broadly as anyone ever would. The second day, maybe a bit of a grin. The third, it registers as a kind of cute picture of a pig, I guess, with some text creeping around it. The fourth, you start to wonder what color belt the pig’s got to. The fifth, it’s now a question of how the pig would even tie the belt? Or would he have someone to do the belt-tying for him? Is it a him? Are boy or girl pigs more likely to take carate lessons? The sixth, you realize you spent all day yesterday treating the problem of pig karate as if it were serious and probably drove right past the turn for home three times before getting it right.
Oh, sure, you can give the calendar to a little kid who’s too young to be driving and that avoids the issue on the sixth, but that just means whoever’s responsible for the kid is going to have to answer whether the pig in the picture wanted to take karate lessons and, if so, was it just for the fun of it or was it because of bullies in the farmyard. Maybe it is. Then you’re going to have to explain why the farmer puts up with bullies, and that’s going to lead to questions about whether they’re doing it to impress the cows, and the question of why they aren’t called cowies, and you don’t really have a good answer to that. The English language is able to attach a diminutive ending to any word that’s got an ending, so why should it step briskly back from a cowie? Before long you’d be peeking ahead to the next month hoping it’s something blissfully simple like a sheep making a pun on “ewe” but then someone has to explain why that isn’t pronounced “eewiee” and that’s exactly what you were hoping to not explain.
If this had been a joke-a-day calendar I’d understand, since by the time you’d got to being haunted by the implications of the pork chop joke you’d have had four or five other gags about fish schools or owls asking who’s there and cow astronomers discovering the Milky Way to crowd them out of your mind. But this presentation just sits on you and makes you think about it and keep on thinking about it.
On the other hand, the joke isn’t going to be there more than 31 days, unless you lose so much interest in continuing to live that you never advance the calendar again, in which case the karate pig probably isn’t the real issue. So maybe it’s for people who want to be haunted by these kinds of problems but not indefinitely.
I like relying on weatherunderground.com for checking on weather, and it doesn’t usually mislead me, apart form a little stretch the other day when the temperature was NA Fahrenheit (or -9999 Celsius). The other day one of their little side ads suggested, “Give a friend the gift of weather”. Now I’m considering ordering for myself something small and cheap, maybe a late-morning fog or one of those odd little flashes of lightning you sometimes get as you’re trying to go to sleep and that isn’t accompanied by thunder or a storm or even other flashes of lightning. I don’t need them, obviously, but I’m dying to know how they’re packaged. I have to suppose in something non-conductive and resistant to moistness, but there’s literally two or three kinds of package like that.