If I could have any super power I’d choose gift giving. It’s maybe not as powerful as a green power ring, maybe not as useful for humanity as super strength or super speed, maybe not as exciting as slinging webs at supervillains, but in the course of a year there are gifts to be given and I’d like my loved ones to end up with good ones.
Not to say I’m bad at gift giving; I’m ok at it now, as long as you don’t count the year where my wife asked for a coffee maker and I got her like a 37-cup percolator that took up about half the kitchen in our apartment at the time. Officially that is considered overkill, though I still think I was just overdelivering.
At least with my kids’ Christmas presents, I’ve been right on the money; there are big smiles when they open up their gifts on Christmas morning. Before they open up presents is a slightly different story; because I don’t like things to go to waste, I don’t buy single-use wrapping paper. I use the leftover brown paper from shopping bags and shipping boxes to wrap everything.
I admit that it’s not the fanciest approach; it looks like the post office is storing parcels under my Christmas tree. But the way I see it, the less money I spend on bows and ribbons and wrap, the more money I have to spend on great presents. People roll their eyes at me when I explain this. You may, in fact, be rolling your eyes at me while you’re reading this. It’s fine. The wrapping is forgotten the moment the awesome present inside is revealed. I will be vindicated!
Of course, even when I did make my Christmas presents look like Christmas presents there were other kinds of hiccups along the way. 800 years or so ago, the year I got married, the hot Christmas present option for people over 5 was giving DVDs. They were new and flashy and you could skip to different sections of a movie without waiting for a videocassette to fast forward, and the picture and sound were A+, and it wasn’t like you were going to ever stream movies on the internet or anything, so what could possibly be better? My wife and I had gotten a DVD player as a wedding present from a group of our friends, which was, along with two extremely sturdy baking sheets that I used this morning, one of the most-used items we got. Thanks, wedding gift givers! You should be writing this column for me.
Back then we mostly rented DVDs. Buying discs was a little out of the newlyweds-in-entry-level-jobs price range, and even if we could afford them, we couldn’t always find copies of movies for sale. For some reason if you walked into a store in those days, 95 percent of the DVDs for sale were copies of Jim Carrey’s “The Mask.” With any other movies you took your chances.
My favorite place to rent DVDs was a local shop run by probably the crankiest shop owner I’ve ever met. He had frizzy hair and big glasses; he wore tweed jackets with elbow patches, like a professor, and he was a total film geek. I think he had Godard movies on laserdisc at the store. Other movies he loathed, along with customers. I’m sure he thought he was being sarcastically witty when he put down the movies people were renting, but he really just came off as the Basil Fawlty of video rental. “I tell you people all the time to order these movies in advance!” he roared at a person in line ahead of me one time, because they’d asked for some new release that he didn’t have in stock. I would go in just to see people come in to give him money and then to see him chase them away.
By Christmastime we’d rented a lot of movies but owned, like, two – that big budget “Lost In Space” reboot and a Jackie Chan movie. I wanted to start a movie collection, and the movies I wanted to start with were some of my wife’s favorites. “Star Wars” wasn’t out yet on DVD (technically, it still isn’t, am I right George “Han Didn’t Shoot First” Lucas?) but “The Blues Brothers” was, and so was her all-time favorite Christmas movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I brought it home and wrapped it up and felt very proud of myself for picking such a perfect present. We’d be able to get up extra early to watch it on Christmas morning – well, at least if she’d enjoyed my giant coffeemaker more.
What I hadn’t considered, though, was that she might want to watch this treasured holiday classic before Christmas. Every few days I’d hear, “we should watch ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ this weekend.” And I’d have to make up some nonsense reason why we couldn’t, like, oh, I thought we could watch “Rudolph” instead, or eh, I never really liked that movie that much. A few days later she’d ask again, and I’d put her off again, and eventually my excuses got so dumb that she finally got mad.
“Look,” she said a week or so before Christmas. “‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is my favorite Christmas movie. I want to watch it and I’m tired of you telling me that we can’t. Give me ONE GOOD REASON why we can’t watch ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ RIGHT NOW.”
I froze. There was, in fact, one very good reason why we couldn’t watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” right then, but there was an even better reason why I couldn’t say what that one good reason was. So I just stood there, silent.
And then she realized what the one good reason was.
“Oh,” she said, rushing over to give me a hug. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know! I’m sorry!”
At least I’d picked the right present.