Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No. No one needs one of those, either.

Despite what the last post implies, whenever I’m perplexed about what to buy someone, I usually solve the problem by visiting a bookstore. I ask you: where else can you shop for people on your list who have interests that might range from Harley Davidson to Jacques-Louis David?

Which is why I cannot understand the items you find near the checkout in bookstores. Well, yes I can, from a purely marketing perspective. Like all retailers, booksellers design “cash wrap” displays specifically to appeal to buyers on an impulse level, and entice us to pick up just one more item on our way out the door. We’re already in line, credit card or cash in hand – why not add the little bonsai in a box kit or a startling little journal called “All About Me?”

Impulse is one thing. But from a “what can I buy Aunt Alice this year” perspective, I just don’t get it. Browsing this eclectic display, much less buying anything here, makes no sense to me when the bookstore itself lays the entire universe at our feet.

Sadly, this selection of “gifts you might never ever think about buying someone” isn’t a bookstore-only phenomenon. You can’t navigate any retail establishment this time of year without bouncing off a kiosk packed full of “does anyone really need this” right next to the ”I’m positive no one needs one of those.”

I’d like to go on record here but before I do, let me say this: If you already own one of the items that follow and simply love it to pieces, God bless and enjoy. If you’ve purchased one or more for someone on your list, may they live long and happily with it. The spice of life, and all that. But for me, I’ll know I’ve inexplicably reached the “she’s impossible to buy for” list if I ever receive any of the following:

1. A pillow with the word “dream” stitched across it. Or “love” or “serenity” or “breathe” or “vision.” It’s not that I begrudge these feelings or states of mind, but embroidering it on a pillow doesn’t make it so no matter how much we all channel our inner Julia Roberts. [Yes, I do sometimes wonder where I’ve misplaced my estrogen.]

2. One candle and one bottle of bath oil packaged up as something called “spa in a box.” I’m far from the most worldly, the most cosmopolitan woman on the planet but if this is a spa in a box, I’ve been sadly led astray about the spa experience.

3. And if only because it sets my teeth on edge, I don’t ever want a “pocket ‘brella,” although it might come in handy during the next ‘understorm.’

But far be it from me to suggest you bypass those “great gift ideas!” kiosks you’ll run into over the next few weeks. You never know what gems night be hiding there. Just be aware that some enthusiasts are better served than others. Golfer on your list? You’re all set. Buy a golf business card holder, a snow globe containing a golf ball, a mini-golf bag designed to carry toiletries, a barbecue set where the handles look and feel like golf clubs, a talking pop-up putter cup, golf club bookends, gold ball finder glasses, or a golf picture frame.

For the wine lover on your list, create a gift set with the battery-operated corkscrew (“no more twisting or tugging!!”) and the electronic pocket wine master, so he or she will always select the perfect wine in a restaurant. I’m sorry, I thought that nugget of information was exactly what a wine steward lives to discuss with you. Not every single bit of information in the universe has to be captured in a handheld device, does it? How did something so organic – wine- become so gadget-laden?

Moving beyond the special interest groups, let’s review the annual standards: the ubiquitous lock de-icers, electric windshield scrapers, and electronic tie-spinning racks. All useful enough, I guess, but each one cries out: “You’re so hard to buy for! I finally picked this up after I spent four hours wandering around the store.”

But not one of these are quite as useless as the basketball shot glass game, the mini-helmet display case, or the diaper dude pacifier pouch.

But I suppose it’s true enough that one woman’s lavender aromatherapy is another woman’s sleep sound pillow, so to speak. At this forgiving time of year, I’m trying to remind myself that the magic of the gift-giving season lies in the joy behind the giving, even if that joy comes wrapped as a mounted, singing, plastic bass. So if you know someone who will absolutely cherish the Chihuahua who dances to “Oye Como Va” at the touch of a button, knock yourself out. The smile that morning is what you’ll remember, long after the present disappears in the yard sale next spring.

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