By Robert Schwaninger
As I have repeatedly admitted, my knowledge of what to buy my wife, Isabel, or practically anyone else is only slightly better than my knowledge of 16th century Croatian folk dancing. Therefore, if you are having trouble coming up with a gift idea, don’t call me.
I will not be able to help you come up with something creative to give Aunt Ida or something appropriate to buy your secretary that won’t result in a lawsuit. I don’t know what the hell I want, so I don’t have a clue about what your husband would want, unless he’s a member of a militia group. They always want sharp objects.
As for your wife, forget it. I look into Isabel’s beautiful green eyes and staring back at me are mysteries that have not been witnessed since the birth of man. I don’t know if leg-o-mutton sleeves refer to food or fashion. I don’t know one perfume from another. They all smell like pureed butterflies to me. I am hopeless.
But in the spirit of the season, I can tell you what not to buy, because through error and error I have gained some insight into what people do not want. For example, women do not want clothes that don’t fit. If they’re too small, then she has to admit she’s a bigger size. This is not something she wants to admit while gulping down a large mug of rich eggnog with a side order of cookies.
If you get them something too big, the woman’s first thought is, “jeez, I’m not that fat.” Either way, the remainder of the Yule moment will be stuck in that silent zone that women go to while they contemplate garroting you with a garland.
Women do not want anything that involves any electrical outlet located more than three feet from the vanity. With the exception of giving birth, women don’t do chords.
Men do not want anything that requires them to take up a new hobby. If the guy hasn’t already chosen that activity, it’s probably because he has no interest in doing it. That is, you can lead a guy to a lathe, but you can’t make him take up woodworking. This is particularly true if you think the activity will be “relaxing.” Relaxing for most men is the art of doing nothing, and doing nothing requires no accessories except a remote control.
If someone is a quasi-expert in a given area, make sure you get assistance. For example, if your aunt collects Depression glass, whatever you pick alone will probably be the equivalent of jelly jars to her no matter what you think of it, and she’ll either toss it or use it to feed the cat.
If the lady’s single, don’t buy her mommy gifts, like tea cozies, or tart gifts, like sexy lingerie. Both carry unwanted messages. They say, you’re single and horny or single and hopeless. Either way, you’re in dangerous territory. If you insist on sending her sexy undergarments, add a digital camera and my email address.
If the guy’s single, don’t buy him daddy gifts, like flannel shirts. On the other hand, you can buy him toys, beer, or damn near anything electronic. He’s the unevolved guy with the brain of a 15-year-old lodged between his ears that will only slowly change over time and marriage, but maybe never.
Buy nothing that is a “of-the-month” kind. There exists no 12 variations of anything that people want with the exception of Playboy Playmates. There does not exist 12 jellies or hams or books or chocolates or anything that will not include a person receiving at least six things that are headed for the trash.
Okay, now that I’ve explained what not to buy, the rest is simple, right? Just breathe deeply in the smell of pine and cinnamon that hangs in the air, picture the faces of small children clustered around a frosty store window, glide down the aisles at the stores with the sounds of carols tinkling in your happy brain, and with your newfound knowledge of what not to buy, it should take you no time to fill your cart with soon-to-be cherished gifts brimming over the top. Right?
Nope. Doesn’t work that way. After about seven hours of 110-degree store temperature baking into your fevered brain, you will have stripped off your coat and torn it to shreds with your teeth while you grunt out the words “where, why, where ...why...what?!!”
Your mind will be overloaded with images flashing of home goods, decorative items, electronic gizmos, clothing, tools, and more, spinning quickly in concentric circles of confusion. Something as simple as choosing a pair of slippers will take on importance akin to deciding whether to drop the A bomb.
Store clerks will be seen as a part of a vast conspiracy to guide you to the worst possible selections, and you know you can hear them whispering the word “moron” behind your back.
Words like “merino wool” and “camisole” and “a-line” and “sling back” start creeping across your tongue like you’ve been inhabited by an alien presence that you don’t recognize or understand. You buy something but have little idea what it is or whether it needs an extended warranty, a battery, or an FBI background check.
At the end of a day that even Dante couldn’t imagine, you find yourself slumped over the wheel of your car with a load of bags and packages in the back. You have no idea what’s back there but based on bulk measurement alone, it seems to be sufficient to get you through another year.
You’ll sort it out later, but first you gotta get to alcohol, any alcohol. Because after a few belts, you can relax and realize there’s one thing you can depend on. All that crap is going to be returned by your forgiving wife who mainly is just happy knowing that you cared enough to try. Just don’t drink so much that you forget to store the receipts where she can find them.