The current historic economic nosedive has two unintended consequences. One of them is that hobos just aren’t really cute anymore. Maybe they never were. All these years I thought they were adorable dirty clowns, carrying little bundles tied to the ends of sticks. I never realized those bundles were full of cans of beans and broken dreams.
The other consequence of what I call “The Brokepocalypse” is that we’re all, well, broke. Tightening our purse strings, gettin’ all thrifty, learning how to turn a bag of 99 cent ramen noodles into a gourmet feast. A lot of us are laid-off, and my heart goes out to you. As a society, we’ve all been living off credit, from the government to corporations to yours truly. It’s just the way it is. The manic pursuit of the Good Life has officially been detoured.
And this is the season to question what exactly is the good life? Is it expensive handbags and marked-up bottles of vodka at the clubs and the absolute coolest gizmo that will be obsolete before you take it out of its box? This holiday you should ask yourself: Which came first, the people you love or the big price tag on the gift?
I like toys. I like having mad loot that enables the purchase of said toys. I like to buy toys for people I love, and sometimes for people who I want to see naked. I am a devout capitalist. But these days I’m dropping coin on things that are of real value, quality products, and I’m looking for sweet, sweet deals. Perhaps you will find such treasures featured on this very site.
Which brings me to what to buy for your significant other this year, which is stressful enough during more gilded ages.
Here is the my Ultimate Gift Guide. The Gift Guide To End All Gift Guides. Ten thousand years from now, alien anthropologists will uncover this Gift Guide, and declare it a classic of our culture, along with Moby Dick, Catch-22, Twilight. This Gift Guide will get you laid. Yes. Everybody wants to get laid, because getting laid feels GOOD.
Are you ready?
As in, surprise your girlfriend or boyfriend. All it really costs is a little time and a little creativity.
Let me explain. My Dad loved my mother very much, and vice versa. It was disgusting, really. They were both total Christmas junkies. It was a month of Yuletide celebration that began the day after Thanksgiving. My dad turned into the giddy, cheery cruise director of the USS Santagasm, and my mom became a cross between Martha Stewart and Jackson Pollack, strewing the DeVore compound with tinsel, fake snow, and what can only be described as elf entrails.
But the main event was the Secret Clue my dad would give my mom regarding what he had gotten her for a gift. He would spend weeks agonizing over what to get her, which was part of the fun, because my dad already knew what she wanted. It’s something he taught me about women, and people in general. If you listen very closely, they will tell you exactly what their heart desires and needs. And what my mom wanted was never really extravagant; she was born to a pair of hard-working Mexican-Americans in El Paso, Texas, who accepted that the price for achieving the American Dream was working hard, then working a little harder. Although, if my mom had really wanted something pricey, I’m sure my dad, a Depression era kid, would have tried to have purchased it for her. Because it’s amazing what you can afford if you scrutinize every penny and read every nickel the riot act.
Once the gift was decided upon, he’d bring the family together, grandly announce the clue, and for the next three weeks or so, she would try to guess what the gift was. The clue was always something utterly impossible to divine; he’d craft the most obscure, random, one-line clues, and she’d go mad trying to best his word-play. She’d eventually try to bribe me or my brother. She’d feign sickness and stay home while we went to get pizza; meanwhile, she’d tear up the place. Unethical, yes. But it was a great contest between them. Most years she’d guess correctly, and my dad would be secretly defeated. Until the next year. One year, he bought her a massive art book of the works of the classic American print makers Currier and Ives, whom my mom adored. The clue was: “You’ll get curiouser, then get hives.” I remember being a kid and thinking, “WTF?” That wasn’t even a clue. It was a bad pun. It didn’t matter. She didn’t think the old man would throw a pun at her. I don’t think she guessed it that year.
The secret was the surprise. Even if she guessed the clue, my dad would never relent. The revelation of the surprise was a payoff that added a joyful adult edge to what is essentially a children’s holiday. And every major girlfriend I’ve ever had, I have tried to replicate, at the very least, the tactful application of the art of surprise. Even if it’s the old “Small Gift In A Big Box Full Of Crepe Paper” gambit. Or the classic “Bait and Switch,” in which an inferior, thoughtless gift is given, while the more thoughtful one awaits under the couch. I’ve never been a fan of the “Hiding Something Shiny In Food” technique. Who wants to be the guy with the girlfriend who choked on earrings?
I’m not advocating cheapness, but there is cheapness of the pocketbook, and then there is cheapness of the heart. Time and creativity are valuable — they’re not making any more of the former, and the latter lives at the bottom of a deep mine inside all of us. If he or she wants an Xbox, or a sparkly, expensive bracelet, by all means, save up for it if you can. But sometimes, as my dad taught me, people whisper their wants under their breath, sometimes without knowing it or remembering it.
I had a girlfriend once, long ago, and for a time we were very much in love. For months, I had complained about my writing chair. It was a worn, rickety, tacky thing that had cursed an unfortunate kitchen table from a few decades ago that I had actually “liberated” from the curb. I didn’t even know I had complained about it. She surprised me with a gift: a slick, cushy executive chair on wheels. It was inexpensive, easily fifty bucks from one of those giant office supply stores. I left to run some errands, and I came back, and there it was, a proper throne for a fledgling hack.
And guess what? She got laid. Oh yeeeaaaahhhh! Merry Christmas! And if you want to wish me Happy Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Pagan Winter Festival, or Secular Consumerist Orgy Day, feel free.