The Traveling Knight and the Plastic Toilet

The traveling knight has gone on to greener pastures. When her spouse wasn’t looking, my sister shipped the knight off to a consignment store, and now he’s in the hands of some other lucky soul. I still have the plastic toilet, because I know quality and style when I see it.

 

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Now you may read on to find out what all of this has been about.

Red Shoes are Better than Bacon

I am an admitted re-gifter. So much known for doing so that even when I give something thoughtfully purchased and brand-new, maybe not even on sale, the recipient will declare “So, who gave you that first?” instead of some expression of gratitude.

Years ago, someone, fortunately long since forgotten, gave my grandfather a knight in shining copper-plated armor, standing about 18” tall and bearing a sword which could be used a letter-opener, something else for a roll of stamps, a drawer for paper clips, and a base which was also an AM radio. The tacky knight promptly was sent to the closet, released only once a year to be re-presented to some lucky soul on Christmas, always bearing a note card from Elvis. As in that guy from Graceland.

So, the year we decided to fully induct my brother-in-law into the family, and we gave him the gift from Elvis…

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The Gift

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My grandmother had the worst taste in the world, which meant that she was always fun and easy to shop for. Consequently, she always got the lion’s share of my gift-giving budget. She was the kind, in a certain age, who would’ve fit very well in Miami. She always decked herself out with too much makeup and jewelry, bright and gaudy colors, favoring the brightest blue eye shadow, so much that my mother would tell her that she looked like a streetwalker. She wore the loudest clothing she could get her hands on, and if it was lamé, all the better. Her over-the-top purses, always big enough to carry an entire carton of cigarettes, would be considered tacky in some circles, but that didn’t stop me from coveting one which bore multi-colored dead, stuffed birds nestled under clear plastic. I was thrilled when she gave that to me.

 

I thought she looked beautiful.

 

There was a time when I thought her house was exquisitely decorated, even if her idea was to buy out an entire department store window “because you get an interior decorator for free that way.” Consequently, I never had to buy furniture at any stage in my life, because there was always a progression of furnishings from the living room to the den to the rumpus room of their split-level house to the weekend house to mine. I still have never bought living room furniture that I was able to pick out for myself. It saves on hiring a decorator, you know.

 

I thought her house was beautiful.

 

When I was 8 years old, we went to Tijuana to do some shopping, probably over Thanksgiving weekend. I always knew that my November allowance would take a big hit, since December meant my grandmother’s birthday as well as Christmas. I bought her a little tray which bore a design of a bird with real feathers under glass, signed “Mexico.” At $2.50, it cost me an entire week’s allowance, but it was worth it. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I could afford, and I knew she’d love it. My mother thought it was the most hideous thing she’d ever seen, but she said “Mama Jean will love it.”

 

I knew who had the taste in the family. The next year, I would buy my grandmother $10 silver earrings, because she appreciated fine quality. Those, too, came from Tijuana.

 

As the years went on and I lost my sense of good taste, I’d snicker at the little tray, always displayed in her rumpus room, the room which bore the latest in 1960’s interior design: electric and green blue shag carpet, coffee and end tables painted green with a hint of gold, the black patent leather chair, wrought iron home bar finished in black with touches of gold, the swag lamp filled with turquoise and bright green diamonds, and a wall telephone with a cord that retracted right into the wall. The King Kamehameha wicker chair. And the zebra skin ice bucket. The little tray almost looked a little out of place amid the sophistication and glamour of the rest of that room. My grandmother didn’t put that little tray out there just for politeness’ sake; she knew fine art when she saw it.

 

My grandparents would furnish my first law office in 1977 with desks from my grandfather’s office and a reception room comprised of yet more castoffs. My mother swiped the little tray from Tijuana from her house, suggesting that it might repose on the reception room coffee table “because it’ll appeal to your migrant worker clients.” Embarrassed by the horror of it, after a while I tossed it away into a cabinet, and somehow it got moved to the next office and the next, and then somehow it ended up right here in central Mexico.

 

Anyone normal would think of the little tray from Tijuana as something that just wouldn’t die. Until only a few months ago, I hadn’t seen it for at least 30 years, and I almost broke down and cried when I discovered it. And you know something? It is beautiful, in a kitschy kind of way, and ones just like it are going for $50 on eBay right this very moment.

 

It’s not for sale.

Gumby on a Latke

A blast from the past — January 2010. We’ve never seen Gumby on a latke since then. Nor, apparently, has anyone else.

 

 

Red Shoes are Better than Bacon

It was Hanukah, and the year was 1999, when Gumby first appeared on a latke, right here in the Promised Land of Saint Mary of Guido. We kept his appearance rather quiet, knowing that millions of Gumby devotees would storm the place in search of his image. Every year after, while others play the dreidel game, count their Hanukah gelt and light the candles, we would remember fondly the night on which Gumby on a latke came into our lives. As far as we knew, we were the first house that he would honor, given that absolutely nowhere, then and now, would a reference to him appear. On the other hand, others may have likewise kept mum about his appearance.

Sure, you’ve seen Jesus on a tortilla, the Virgin Mary on a piece of burned toast, Mother Teresa, the inventress of human suffering, show up on a shriveled apple…

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The Thought Does Count

In A Designer’s Guide to Gift Giving, Steve Selzer exhorts readers to try and give their best gift ever. And I’m not taking about love, world peace, charity, good deeds, and that kind of touchy-feely crap. I’m talking about stuff that comes gift-wrapped. Read his article to spare me from setting forth the five requirements here.
I’ve already told you enough about horrible gifts.
Today I’m going to share the gifts that I’ve received as an adult that meet Selzer’s standards. Not all were given at Christmas; some were birthday and hostess gifts. And they all were gifts that I didn’t know that I wanted until I opened them up.

Perfex pepper mill
The completest-set ever of the top-of-the-line at the time Cuisinart professional cookware
French press
Top-of-the-line salad spinner
Pink elbow-length leather reinforced gardening gloves
Palette of eye shadow where the worst color was turquoise.
Etch-a-Sketch
Injinji socks
Lady Gaga perfume. The donor admitted that she was intrigued by the bottle design, the gift box, and the idea of black perfume. Now that’s something I’d never buy myself, but I have to own up to using the entire bottle and enjoying it. And  praying that no one would ask the name of the fragrance, even if it did smell good.
Tweezerman gold glitter set in a gold leather case

Vegetable seeds

Gucci loafers

A plane ticket to Managua. I didn’t even know that I wanted to go to Nicaragua, and it turned out to be a great adventure
A vintage black mammy doll
A black Muñecas Minas doll from Mineral de Pozos

Coin purses, Fendi and Dooney and Bourke
A Mizraim Cárdenas lithograph
A Juan Torres painting
It’s hard to buy books for others, but here are three that came as gifts and remain remembered:
Very Special People

Cocaine Papers by Sigmund Freud

Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein

(I cringe when I pick up books at a book sale which have been engraved “Happy Father’s Day from your loving son.” And which appear to be otherwise perfectly good books. And it’s even sadder when you know the recipient and feel that the recipient should’ve held on to them.)

This week I’m getting my load of Christmas load of shit, literally, from the cock-raising neighbor. And I’m thankful. He knows exactly what I want.

Yes, it is the thought that counts. Giving money or a gift certificate is the easy way out, because it doesn’t require thought. And while money is always appreciated and always fits, it’s seldom remembered.

Bad Santas

Bad Santas seldom start off with evil intentions. At least, that’s how I’d like to think. But there are times when you really wonder whether the givers’ brains were on hiatus. Why not just settle for giving your loved ones a stick or a lump of coal and get it all over with? Or just nothing? It would have to be cheaper and kinder in the long run.

It’s so easy to fall into that trap of giving someone what we would want to receive. Or what would make the recipient what we’d like them to become.

Maybe I’m being too kind. We can write off gifting fails as acts of the clueless and the cheap bastards, and then there’s unadulterated malice.

There are funny gifts. There are gifts that can be genuinely appreciated only by the recipients. And then there are gifts that are just plain cruel.

The initiation fee on a golf club membership. Not only do I hate golf, I couldn’t afford to pay the monthly maintenance charges and had to let the membership go. The donor may have thought the membership would put me with a more desirable class of people, but it was money wasted.

Diet aids, exercise equipment, and self-help books. “But I was only trying to help.”  In my family, this comes this naturally. My grandmother gave my mother a three-month membership to Vic Tanny’s, good only during the last 3 months of her final pregnancy. My own mother couldn’t help herself when it came to throwing in cheap exercise equipment along with excesses of stuff I really wanted.

Clothing that is obviously too small or too large for the recipient. Now, no one expects every donor to know every recipient’s size, but it’s a fair bet that those who shop Eileen Fisher seldom come in size 4. And folks with size 7 feet rarely will grow into a 9.5.

Framed photos. I already know what you and your family look like, and I don’t need to be reminded. Do you really think I’m going to prop that up on my mantle? Since you adore those images of yourself so much, how about I blow up a really bad photo of you, put it in a cheap frame, and give it to you on your next birthday?

Holiday gift baskets, loaded with cylinders of dried meat that a rat wouldn’t even touch, cheese cultured from toe jam, and stale crackers, and worse. Is there anyone who really is impressed by an assortment of sample-sized nut bars and a few lousy bananas? Why not just send over a sack of dry dog food and a couple of cans of Alpo? If you really know the recipient well, you can deliver the same thrill and for a lot less money by simply wrapping up a box of Kraft non-deluxe dinner and a can of SpaghettiOs.

Tuition at a science conference and a check made out to a math tutor. That kind of gift demands reciprocity of no less than a scholarship to Betty Ford.

A donation made in my name to your favorite charity. How fucking dumb do you think I am? I know you’re taking the tax deduction.

The free travel liquor valise with pictures of liquor bottles, umbrella, and other shit you got for buying office supplies.  A family member once gave that to my mother. Wisely, she handed the gift right back as a going-away present no less than 24 hours later.

A yellow lace baby doll peignoir. When was the last time you saw me wearing anything like that?

A gift certificate that would barely pay the sales tax on the cheapest item available or the tip on the cheapest item on the menu. Really, do you think that anyone could use a $5 Zabar’s certificate or a $10 gift certificate good at Canyon Ranch? The only one benefitting from this certificate is the vendor who never has to redeem it.

Books that have absolutely no useful purpose in my life – not even as donations. How about the Children’s Favorite Fables of Utah? Or a coffee table book about the most interesting gas stations in the San Fernando Valley? Surely there’s something more interesting in the remainder pile.

A jeweled dog collar, signifying a promise to buy a poodle. Really, what is a college student going to do with an unsolicited dog?

Medical devices. Oh boy, just what I always wanted! A sleep apnea pillow. A box of Depends would be easier to wrap. Why not go all out and give someone a year’s pass to the local STD clinic?

Used tacky Christmas ornaments, particularly when given on Christmas Day.

Tickets to an event which was held yesterday.  Even worse would be tickets to tomorrow night’s Morelia boys’ choir concert for someone living in Uganda.

A toilet brush.

A wood flute and a concertina. Someone could’ve saved a lot of money just by buying an LP of the Lennon Sisters singing the von Trapp Family favorites.

Gifts that the donor thinks may spark some new hobby interest. Like macramé or stamp collecting. People over the age of 9 are seldom spurred on to new avocations.

A stick in your stocking. Yes, this did happen in my family. Even if he may have deserved it, and even though he received everything else he wanted, it still cast an unpleasant pall to that Christmas. No wonder he remains frozen when it comes to giving Christmas presents: expect one of those gift baskets from him.

Are you tempted this year to give some a gift certificate for paternity testing? What gifts have you received that just made your want to sit down and cry? Or plot revenge by blogging about them?

Kissing Baby Jesus

I will never be cool. I’ve never kissed a woman, other than in the most forced greeting, and even then I make great efforts to avoid doing so. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but it’s just not my style. But an effort to be polite, I bowed and kissed Baby Jesus. It was agonizing.

Not all Christmases are festive and joyous or even as picturesque as something Noman Rockwell could’ve dreamed up. Some are spent in lonely bars. Some are spent with odd lots of relatives and a police presence. Others are spent looking for Chinese restaurants. And some are simply awful.

There was Christmas Day in Iowa City, dining at Denny’s. The bar exam review course would start the next day, and for the next ten days I would be the sole occupant of the FIJI house with Mother Guy’s blessing. For at least a couple of decades, she was housemother to the fraternity of every important male at the University of Iowa.

More than a few Christmas spent aloft on a plane, fleeing flyover country.

Christmas Eve at the Villa Montana, more than any place else during my adult life.

Christmas Day volunteering as a Candy Striper.

A Christmas Day drive to the countryside beyond San Miguel del Monte and ending up at Paseo Altozano.

Christmas in Buenos Aires, heralded by fireworks and a complete and total absence of traffic, not a taxi cab in sight.

Christmas Eve in Florence, successfully scoring a simple black doll over my mother’s entreaties to opt for something fancier.

The awful ones have their place, if for no reason other than to be memorialized in blogs like this. And here’s mine, which is far more dreadful than the Czar of Tzurumutaro could ever contemplate.

A few days before Christmas, more than a decade back, I found myself an unwilling guest at a neighbor’s Christmas Eve dinner. I’d armed myself ahead of time with a tale of other plans, but the sly old lady, whose own kids had the foresight to leave town, was a step ahead of me, telling me that the rest of my family, which amounted only to a sister and her husband, had already accepted. I did not know at the time that she’d already pulled that trick on them. We were trapped.

Christmas Eve started off with mass at 9 p.m., seemingly quicker and more cheerful than usual, with the padre starting off with a hearty “Buenas Noches” and ending with aguinaldos of cookies and candies for everyone.

We came armed with a Costco pecan pie and Ensalada Navideña, and it was a good thing we did. The culinary offerings awaiting us amounted to macaroni with ham and pineapple and a single pollo rostizado. And this was not a poor family.

The holiday feast over, we were invited to admire the nativity scene which extended along the entire side of the room and around the corner, replete with giraffes and elephants and zebras. Maybe even dinosaurs and a statue of Benito Juarez. As the clock struck midnight, and with great ceremony, the hostess presented the infant Jesus surrounded by candy, not for a bris, given that eight days had yet to pass after his birth, but for adoration and besos. He travels around the table from one guest to another, which didn’t take long, given that there was a total of six humans at the table. I am last, my sib and sib-in-law rolling their eyes and laughing under their breath, but I have not a clue of what awaits. And then he’s handed over to me. Never mind that I had not the first clue what to do with him. “You’re the madrina, and you’re supposed to place him in the nacimiento,” I was instructed. Oh.

Not only am I supposed to kiss Baby Jesus, I’ve been tapped to lovingly place him in the cradle.

Now, I know it’s a tradition, but it struck me then, and it still does today, as just downright creepy. Not the idea of blessing their Christ child, but asking me to do the honors. What were these people thinking?

Meanwhile, gunfire pierced the night air, and we casually tried to identify the kind of weapon used. Mostly .22s, we figured. I would’ve gladly placed myself directly in the line of fire if it would’ve meant avoiding that episode of kissing baby Jesus. Walking home, some of the other neighbors were sitting outside warming themselves in the fogatas in the street, inviting us to join them for a tequilito. I could’ve used several before what will always be remembered as the saddest, most horrific Christmas Eve in my life.

Lesson learned: even if you have zero plans, make up some. And engrave them in stone.