Wednesday, December 28, 2011


December 28, 2011

By the time you’ve joined the line at the returns counter, the guy who brought you the wrong sized slippers has already waddled off back to the North Pole with his overworked reindeer. Absolutely knackered.
But you’re tired too, weary of doing this every year with stuff that doesn’t fit or presents you just plain don’t like. So you’ll take the money instead. Isn’t that what Christmas gifting is all about these days?
And who hasn’t noticed that while there might be 20-odd store clerks at the checkouts there’s only one at the returns desk. Some folks see the long line and give up the wait. “Santa? I told that wooly-headed old chimney clown my size. These jeans are gargantuan. They’d fit him rather than me – and you could probably squeeze a few elves in there too.”
Returns is one game, re-gifting another. Many people do it and it’s entirely possible for that unwanted bottle of elder wine you offloaded to come back to you after one or two intermediate giveaways. And, if you’re lucky, maybe even unopened.
A year ago a friend made me a late Christmas present of a “Beuatful Green Stimware Set”, which is what it said on the box above the Chinese picture-writing. Trouble was the colored stems were attached to the bowls at odd angles, so that these wine glasses stood on the table looking like sad skinny leprechauns with their big, empty heads hung low. Why, thanks a lot, Maggot. Your good heal... oops! It tipped over. Luckily we had toasted her with appropriately cheap supermarket “champagne”, so no great loss. Looking inside the box later, we discover the original message: “To Maggie. Merry Christmas. Hank.”
There are many such brow-furrowing tales and there’s even an art to re-gifting, as set out by authoress Barbara Bitela. Some folks see Christmas as a time to clear out their closets. Old clothes. Fruit bowls. That Georgia Bulldogs Garden Gnome. One woman was given a meat grinder with bits of old meat in it. So if it’s the thought that counts – think twice.
That’s the trouble with late Christmas presents. Even if it looks new-ish, at the back of your mind is often the suspicion that here’s something the giver received a few days earlier and decided to dump on someone. And you’re the lucky victim.
It’s a feeling that there’s something odd, even with timely gifts, especially clothes that might fit but feel kind-of “wrong”. And here I should mention someone I used to know who’s the Dowager of Disgusting. She buys the latest fashions, wears them to the seasonal parties, taking care to keep all the tags tucked inside and tries to avoid “christening” them with food and wine.
Then she returns them to the store for a refund. Yeccchh. Not only is this mega-cheezy but it’s also unsanitary. How’d you like to buy a dress new, that, unbeknownst to you, had someone else’s sweat in it? Perhaps even lice.
There are those who see only the money. Among them the folks who bought up hundreds of celebrated chef Heston Blumenthal’s scrumptious Christmas puddings for $20 and sought to sell them on eBay for 25 times that amount. There were some buyers, but it would serve these opportunists right if they were stuck having Christmas Pud for breakfast, lunch and dinner until June.
Cakezilla was a multicolored 13-lb 16-inch confection topped with oodles of icing and fluorescent candies that could easily have passed for an alien spacecraft. The glistening behemoth touched down three times on its voyage along I-20 and wound up in Monroe.
This home-made torte spaceship was first presented at Thanksgiving, handed on, uneaten, as a Christmas gift, then forwarded, again untouched, as an New Year’s gateau to another lucky family. Cake Encounters Of The Third Kindness. And here we knew the person who actually baked the beast: mom had made it for her son.
As an after-Christmas gift, the ex-wife (Cruella, or whatever her name was)
gave me a brass “F” paperweight and I’m convinced it was a message that had nothing to do with my name. Apparently the new broomstick I got her was not appreciated.
One of the presents I received this time around was a $5 multitool. Which was nice. Except the giver felt he just had to spin me a tale about how he had really wanted to get me an $80 belt like his own but didn’t know my measurement. We’ve been good friends for the last five years and we’re the exact same size.
Do we give expensive presents to show we “care”? Then how about a car? We’ve all seen the commercials. But who gets a brand new vehicle for Christmas? And in this economy? Does anyone here in Walton County really shell out $20,000 or so for a present? I’d like to make that person my very best personal friend.
Which takes me back to my youth and the family who bought each other really extravagant items. Under the tree were cameras and hi-fi equipment and jewelry and all these goodies evoked gasps of glee as they were opened.
A month later, Christmas long forgotten, the recipients’ gasps were for another surprise – a bill in the mail. Only the down payment had been made on the glorious gift they received. So now there was a two-year responsibility to keep up the instalments or have that Christmas prezzie repossessed. You hated it? Too bad. Keep paying.


© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.