Friday, January 04, 2008

Hats Off to the Holidays

I like presents. I have always liked presents. I like getting them, and I like giving them. Of all the kinds of presents that I like, Christmas presents are my least favorite kind of presents. I don’t like Christmas because you don’t have a choice about it, you just have to give presents and if you don’t give presents, you are a scrooge… or an asshole. That being said, I still like presents. I still like getting them, and I still like giving them. A monkey-head car air freshener and a box of evil duck band-aids was a present I once gave to a girl I was courting. A big slab of thick sliced bacon was a Chanukah present to one of my non-Jewish friends; a Kosher gift to those who love bacon and aren’t Kosher. I once gave a second grade class a plastic penguin and most of my first houseplant. I even gave the worst boss I’ve ever had, a pillowcase with a picture of me looking a touch mentally unstable, a bit chemically unbalanced, a little nuts. Right above my face, it read “Sweet Dreams!” I wanted it to give her nightmares, night after night after night. She laughed and foiled my plans by, upon receiving this pillow case, immediately giving it to the girl I later gave the monkey air freshener to. I guess neither of those gifts worked out the way I wanted. I’ve gifted books and music, wine and flowers, shoes, coats, sunglasses and scarves, to all types of people for all kinds of occasions. I really like presents.

My brother, Adam, and I have a little ritual with our gift giving. Our gifts to each other must amuse both the gift giver and the gift receiver. I think I unknowingly started this ritual as an eight-year-old. I bought a dinky $1.99 soccer ball key chain and put it in the biggest cardboard box I could find in out basement. I filled the box with foam peanuts and bubble wrap and put the key chain at the bottom. It took a whole roll of wrapping paper to cover the refrigerator box I used. I think the card said something like, “Good things come in small packages.” This obviously wasn’t a small package, or a good gift. By the time he found the key chain, there were peanuts all over the floor and he looked at me with a tiny key chain in his hands and a look on his face that said, "what the...?" And so it began. I had given him an annoying prank present that wasted more raw materials and created more of a mess than the idiots in the parking lot of a Phish show could creat (I hate Phish), and I thought it was hilarious. Years later, he got me back and it solidified our little ritual, the traditional brotherly giving of gag gifts. At this point in my life, I have whole-heartedly, and almost tenaciously, latched onto it.

The tradition really took its current shape one Christmas when Adam was in Scotland while the rest of the family had gathered to celebrate together in Vermont. He had mailed a package with gifts to each of the three of us. He might have given my mother a framed photograph that he had taken, and it's possible that he gave my father a book about Scotland. Those would seem like appropriate gifts for my brother to give to our parents, but in all honesty, I've totally forgotten what he gave to them. But I will never forget what he gave to me; a mullet wig. I big, black, tangled, itchy mullet wig. The card read, “To My Redneck Brother. Yeeeehaw!” On the box, which was a bag, there was a picture of a guy with bad teeth wearing a plaid flannel shirt and overalls, chewing on some hay and drinking a can of beer. I promptly donned my new coif, stuck out my jaw, slapped my knee, slapped my boot, slapped my imaginary pregnant wife, Amber, then slapped her sister, Crystal, and started tromping around the house talking like a hillbilly. “Christmas is saved, God-damn-it-all!” Adam had hit the nail on the bulls-eye of the donkey-tail with this present. And so it continued.

For my birthday, some years later, when I was living and working in downtown Boston, he gave me a camping thermos that could keep coffee hot for hours while being exposed to the most extreme cold conditions; a tundra proof coffee pot. It came with a shoulder strap... you know, for traveling. There were three Dunkin' Donuts on my ten minute walk to the subway. There were also two Dunkin' Donuts across the street from my office in downtown Boston. In fact, there wasn’t a street corner within the Commonwealth of Boston from which you couldn’t see at least four of those distinct orange and pink logos. Dunkin' Donuts are as commonplace in the Commonwealth as people with bad attitudes; you can’t flip the guy off in the car next to you for no reason without practically running into one. Point being, I was constantly surrounded by fresh brewed, liquid-frickin’-magma, melt-your-soul-it’s-so-damn-hot coffee, but now I had a way to keep coffee hot for my next ascent up Mt. Kilimanjaro, and it had a shoulder strap... you know, for traveling. Later that year, I gave my brother, who works in the wilderness for months at a time, a fancy fountain pen that would only have broken and covered all his possessions with ink had he actually brought it out on the trail with him. He, knowing this, left it at my parent’s house without ever opening the box, let alone filling the pen with ink. For my birthday last year, he and his fiancĂ©e, Kassy, gave me a one-gallon jug of Tabasco Sauce. I laughed for a good hour when I opened that present. The expiration date says 2009. I’m about an eighth of the way into it. I’ve got some work ahead of me. I have a picture of it on my cell phone to prove to people how cool Adam and Kassy are.

This year, my folks and I flew down to the Grand Canyon to celebrate the holidays with Adam and Kassy on their home turf. The plan was for the five of us to celebrate Christmas together and then meet Kassy’s parents who were flying in the next day. It was going to be the very first time anyone from either family had met the other. We were all a bit nervous about this, especially my brother. My parents embarked on this trip at 4am Eastern Time. They had to drive from Vermont to the airport in New Hampshire, fly to Chicago to meet me, the three of us would then fly together to Albuquerque, then Phoenix, only to drive five more hours in a crappy rental Pontiac to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, dodging elk all the way. Our plane landed, the car was there and red and crappy and, after a long drive with a quick recharge stop at Denny’s for Moons Over My Hammy and a chat with a jaded waitress who was originally from Maine and hated Arizona or at least the Denny's there, we reached the Grand Canyon, or as my brother calls it, “The Big Ditch.” We got in at 1am, Mountain Time. My parents had been traveling for twenty-three hours. They have never been to China, but that is how long it would take to get there. Maybe next Christmas.


“This year, our Christmas gifts to each other will be spending the holidays together after so many years. We don't need to buy things for each other. This trip is gift enough.” This is what each member of my family, including me, said at some point during the planning of this holiday reunion on the rim. We made that single rule together, everyone agreed on it. Then we all broke it individually.

These were my Christmas gifts to my family.

This is what we did with them.

And this is the Obsquatch-Theoman-Sherbald Memorial, known as Mount Big Ditch; commemorating the 2007 alliance between the United Obsquatch Rebellion, the Holy Embassy of Kassy, and the People’s Republic of Adam. Behold it’s glory.

The bottom line of this story is that the hats were a big hit. The other good news is that Adam and Kassy are still going to invite me to the wedding, even after I gave both of Kassys parents, Deedee and John, their own present. I gave John a plastic king's crown. He is honestly the Pork King in my book. I gave Deedee a pink, sparkly cowboy hat. Now she could drive the tractors and combines around the farm in style; pink, sparkling, cheep plastic style. At one point, she hinted that she should put on some "hot pants" and make Adam some money. That just floored me. Although I doubt any of those hats will ever be warn again, there was a beautiful two hour time span where the Village People were nothin' compared to us. Happy Holidays.

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