Two weeks ago today my family and I celebrated Christmas. We exchanged gifts and had the annual home cooked meal at my sister Dovima’s house in the San Francisco Bay Area. As usual, it was scrumptious, not that I can recall anything I ate other than the cookies that my niece, Sweet Pea, baked. I know the main course was something without cheese or tomato or lemon, the latter two acidic ingredients instantly activate my gastritis and make me spew hellfire. I also know that it was not fish, since both Sweet Pea and my brother-in-law, Herb (with a silent h), are not fans of seafood. My brother Axel will not eat red meat of any kind, so that eliminates beef as well as pork and ham. My father loves turkey, but Dovima loathes eating fowl so soon after Thanksgiving. None of us will go anywhere near veal since animal cruelty makes us all cry. I know whatever we had, we kept it simple so it’s very possible that we celebrated the holiday with delectable bread and water.
Before that wonderful meal of — here’s another possibility — carrot sticks and crackers, we had appetizers. I have no recollection of what they were, either, but I know that I did eat the equivalent of my weight in all of them including three fairly digestible paper napkins decorated with cartoon reindeer. Then, we exchanged gifts.
Ever since the economy tanked, and my wages were decreased twenty percent four years ago this month — not one of my more treasured memories — affording gifts has posed a challenge. Every year as the cost of living increases, my meager alms are further stretched. In years past when my pay was robust I could afford to give those near and dear presents of significant worth. Translation: I shelled out for costlier crap.
Unfortunately, those days are now history and today, with such a scant pile of pesos at my disposal, I am forced to be creative or in the case of Herb (with a silent h), redundant. For a second year in a row I have gifted my brother-in-law with the same present, a gum wrapper inscribed:
IOU a Gift.
My sister hinted that she needed an umbrella so that was easy. I slipped five dollars to one of the umbrella guys that pop up all over Manhattan sidewalks the second a cloud bursts. For my 85-year-old dad, I raided the supply closet at work and plied him with Post-its and paper clips. As for Axel, I gave my brother a rusty, twisted nail. That scored a huge hit with him. Whispering this confidence lent it instant panache:
Me: They say that nail was used on Jesus.
When I told my pal, Milton, that I had gotten him a gift he admonished me:
Milton: No, you shouldn’t have!
Abiding by his wish, I gave his Barbra Streisand pencil cup to my niece along with a post-dated check for two dollars.
Just as I thought I had finished the hell of holiday shopping I remembered that I had stiffed one of my most valued relations, Thurber, the family dog. He completely slipped my mind the previous Christmas as well. That year I rushed out to Target and got him a hard plastic mallard that landed with a thud literally and figuratively. He made the definitive canine “I hate this toy statement” i.e., he buried it deep into a black hole. It was more the equivalent of a black hole since he does not have access to a yard. He shoved it under the couch and neither looked for it nor barked for some schnook or schnook-ette with opposable thumbs to retrieve it. Possibly it remains there right now.
I know why that mallard was a dud. Mouth feel. Two years ago, I gave Thurber a Mr. Bill doll. That toy not only had exquisite fabric-y mouth feel but it talked. And yes, I tested it out in my own mouth. It did feel very good.
Eager to repeat the Mr. Bill level of success with The Family Canine, I raced out to a neighborhood pet store where I found The Perfect Gift — a talking Curly from the Three Stooges. It said several Curley phrases including my personal favorites, the more intellectually astute bon mots, “Soitenly!” and “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!” Plus, the mouth feel was sublime. The one hindrance was the price, $18.47 (with tax). Would I really unload nearly $20 on a dog toy, considering that I had spent less than $20 on my entire family combined?