Reality Truck

Many Happy Returns

I was happy to see most of my guy friends absorbed in a gift-giving frenzy for the women in their lives this year: what to buy? where to find it? how to package it?

Many admitted up front to a certain ineptitude—but, in their defense, they worked so hard to rectify their general cluelessness that I give them more credit than if it was actually something that came naturally.

As one of them observed, with fairly brutal candor: “What women want?!! I’d never see that movie, because you all lie, and you all change your minds all the time anyway.”

“And your point is…. what?” I asked.

Still, as a group, they sought help, and that made my heart glad.

I never worry about who spent what; I don’t keep score; and I never think of gift-giving as an opportunity to indulge in conspicuous consumerism. It’s the act and gesture and spirit behind a gift that I care about—or the lack thereof.

I was talking to my fake husband about how difficult it is to write about what you got—because everyone will come away with the conclusion that it’s their crap you had to exchange.

He had a lot of advice—as usual, none of it very practical (he can go on for hours about how every year he keeps a trunk-full of “the perfect gift.” Last year, it was the “cinnamon broom”…Whereas, in my trunk, are multiple copies of Black Hawk Down.)

If I were rich, I would’ve given him an iPod or satellite radio this year, but I’m not, so he got a bunch of other cool things instead. I’m more of a “stockin’ stuffer” kinda gal anyway (y’know what I’m sayin’).

I pointed out that if I HAD given him those, that would be the kind of rejoinder he could use when people say (as they frequently do), “what do you see in THAT bitch?”

But alas, he says now his answer has to remain, “well, if she were wealthy, she’d be THE bitch who gave me the iPod and satellite radio.”

When he asked me what price you could really put on love, I said “$58.95,” because that’s what the remote-car-ignition cost on sale at Sam’s Club (which I did not get).

But because he does have such a long, illustrious, and flawless history of selecting presents that never fall anything short of perfection, he is Exhibit A in my refusal to believe that the art and talent of gift-giving and presentation comes down to gender.

Although that was certainly the rationalization thrown my way by more than one guy this past holiday season, by way of explaining the fact that their “gifts” gave every indication of having gone to some store and aimlessly assailed a clerk with the plea, “do you have anything on hand that says, ‘for the girl I plan not to know two weeks from now?’”

My fake husband observed that their next visit will probably include the question, “where do you keep the laser sights, and is ammo sold separately?”

I don’t mean to seem ungracious, but I put a lot of time into finding and doing the right things for the right people—and I’d certainly rather be passed over entirely than be “gift-bombed” with something so careless that it sucks every morsel of joy out of the ENTIRE process.

When somebody’s response to a gift is, “you shouldn’t have,” take them at their word. You probably shouldn’t have.

Luckily, my better half didn’t just come up with a meticulously chosen array of presents for me, he gave me the ultimate gift in that he took over some of my obligations and shopped for my parents as well —a feat that took multiple trips to Nicholasville Road, at peak hours, in freezing weather.

Forget jewelry—I get misty anytime somebody who’s not my mother goes out of their way to make my life easier. (I know plenty of real husbands who don’t put forth that kind of effort for their real wives, and I think there’s a word for them; I believe it’s “divorced.”)

I love my folks. And I like to believe that I would’ve done it myself. But I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than brave the holiday traffic at an electronics store.

So he did it for me, with only minor grumbling to his brothers—who were along for the ride—about what he has to endure as my bitch. Fortuitously enough, he also decided that what my parents were getting was also the perfect gift for his mother—who loved it. (Though he conveniently managed to forget to give me credit. Which is why I’m taking it here. I’m not going to go to all the trouble of picking out the exact right thing for Rose Kennedy only to have Teddy louse it up.)

The other man who came through for me this year in a dazzling display of devotion, was my Uncle Don, who gave me …a side of beef. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I really love meat (my coworkers got me “bacons from around the world” for my birthday, so that should give you an idea).

The rest of the men in my family spent the entire holiday working on my car. Going home feels an awful lot like a NASCAR pit stop: I pull in; a lift pole mysteriously slides up from the driveway; wrenches start whirring (zhhhr, zhrrrr), as bolts are removed and tires seamlessly rotated while fluids are all simultaneously topped.

Occasionally, they’ll lean and ask me where my Allen wrench is, and I’ll have to admit that KateSpade doesn’t HAVE an Allen wrench compartment in this year’s line.

Sure, this all might not sound that emotionally touching, unless you know that we are not a demonstrative, affectionate, or even mildly expressive family.

So nothing says lovin’ —to me— quite like vehicle maintenance and a trip to the slaughterhouse on my behalf.n

Reprinted Ace 2001.