The Modernist gift guide
[Note to editor: I am not calling this a “holiday gift guide” as I originally intended, not just in hopes that this piece will have some relevance on this site post-holidays or for those geeky bastards who already did their holiday shopping, but also because I haven’t gotten a good gift in years. Birthdays, anniversaries, whatevers. People need help, always. Okay? You can print this part.]
My little brother and I took German as our foreign language in high school. Four years. I don’t know why really—I suppose it was just the impractical, fuck-everything sort of thing to do if you were a leftie, black-wearing, perpetually sinister, constantly reapplying anarchy-symbols-in-white-onto-your back-pack, NIN-loving, suburban, ugly intellectual-thug nerd who hated yourself and everyone else equally. As life goes, our teacher Frau Ross, was, of course, a Nazi. Totally revisionist. So the whole thing ended up being more entertaining than we bargained. I got my only A+ in German. Astoundingly, today the only thing that sticks with me is “scheise” (which frankly, I could have picked up anywhere) and “ich habe keine Ahnung” (which means “I have no idea.”) But other than fond memories of our extra credit projects that involved abstract video art scored with Einsturzende Neubauten tracks, I do remember the Frau’s Christmas tales. She said in Germany there was an evil Santa, Kris-something-that-isn’t-Kringle, who would put coals in your stocking if you were bad. Now granted I was a 15 yr old “woman” at that point—I hadn’t thought about Santa in about a decade—but this legend gave me chills. The good kind. It made me like Germans. It made me see the subversive radness in “giving.”
Everyone in your life sucks anyway, so this Christmas send them coals!
If only we could put our benevolent phoniness on hold and do just that. But, brethren, our problem is deeper—we don’t even know how to give anything anymore much less combustible dark mineral chunks of carbonized vegetable matter. Recently I meditated on why Christmas sadly means nothing to me any more, and I thought, what is missing? Oh, what could be better than fake fat red suited guys and weird stop-motion animation Rudolph shows, and candy that you were allowed to eat in shocking excess? One word: GIFTS. Fucking pres-ies for no reason but ceremony. There was a time when everybody was doing it. But then along with the acne and low self-esteem of your teen years, suddenly all of it came to a stop—except for your parents and perhaps their annual material testaments to how little they know you. Yet another sucky way to say, “hello, adulthood!”
For a moment, let’s just pretend Bush ain’t gonna win. Let’s say “later” to this fine Republican by doing one last conservative capitalist evil thing … let’s circulate material things! Gift-giving. Let’s buy stuff! For people we like! Isn’t that so fucked up? I hate gifts! I hate when people get me things. I hate when people buy stuff instead of giving me hugs! Horrible!
Knock it off, herbs. Christmas, you’ve lost that loving feeling… admit it: nobody doesn’t like gifts. So recently in considering the season, I decided to create some gift guidelines. All I propose is when you decide to “give,” think about it from the “getting” point of view (like, as in, um, sex and stuff.) I don’t want the incidental, I don’t want what’s easy, I don’t want a nicely wrapped “whatever,” I don’t want your metaphoric STD. If the shit deserves wrapping, the shit deserves thinking.
When I was a kid, my dad said poor people routinely gave each other toothbrushes as gifts and left coupons or stamps as tips in restaurants. I once did the latter—a coupon for a free Baskin Robbins fro-yo, at a shitty diner because I was totally poor and starting to call my poor mislead trouble-making choices “punk rock.” I don’t know what happened—I dashed out and felt bad later and probably put no dent in the universe with such rebellious cheapness. However, I never gave a toothbrush or got one—I’ll admit it, I can’t bring myself to. Why? Obviously because of an ugly elitist, insecure, superficial aspect of my nature, because when I think about it, it’s not so bad. I mean, don’t we all hate buying toothbrushes? It sucks. Plus, a few years ago, a friend of mine in the UK, with a mom who was in a real live cult in Fiji, told me for Christmas the cult leader gave them all a wish list. On top of the wish list: a toothbrush. A $600 toothbrush. Awesome!
Forget toothbrushes—there’s a whole slew of other things in this category that we hate to buy that are like laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, trash bags, but look a (very slight) notch classier when given…a Brita pitcher. IKEA wood do-hickeys. Target plastic storage knick-knacks. Expensive(-looking) frames. Fancy hooks. You know.
Recently I splurged and bought myself a Dirt Devil for $30! Dirt Devils are a wonderful—and now that I really consider it, entirely indispensable—part of a hygienic home. And now in their truly devilish shiny red, aesthetically pleasing as well. When I consider this against a gift for myself that I most regret—a $330 Tufi Duek white leather beach bag, in a moment of PMS insanity, back in the old late 90s “wealth” bubble—I think, yes, there is something to the simple things in life. A Dirt Devil reminds me that I care about good investments and the abolishment of day-to-day accumulating household dirt; the Tufi Duek bag reminds me of the inferiority of woman and their stupid shopping impulses and certain obscure high-fashion Latin American designers that are battling the global market predicament by making sweatshop workers out of us, the consumers.
A lot of people think these things, like wedding registries, are so grody. Believe me, I understand, but let’s look at the real message behind this gift. What’s better than someone saying, “my taste is never going to be anywhere as good as yours, you’re complicated, difficult as fuck, rather regal in fact, so the best I can do is make a guess at a place where you would want to shop—and even that was stressy, you fancy-pants!—so here, here’s a piece of paper with a dollar value that says ‘on me!’” Loot. I mean, if it´s for someone who plays video games, they´re probably going to the first place that comes to every gamers mind, mycsgoboosting.com. That’s pretty awesome. Sure we’ve all pretended to be “disappointed” when someone close to us gives us the thin envelope, with the cheesy card and gift certificate tucked inside…but really, it was just the cheesy card. Go, GC-ers. The only better thing: MONEY.
No matter what anyone tells you, no matter what people try to say this symbolizes, no matter how your better judgment says tipping is for your superintendent, please know: there is zero shame in this game. Nobody doesn’t love your benjamins. (Note: Hamiltons and Lincolns not only don’t sound as good, they won’t suit your lovelies’ trembling hands as much upon envelop-rip.) And it’s unique! Face it, none of your friends give this gift. Cut the middleman—and hey, give them a way to get you something!
A Gift You Made
Our culture tells us this is the sweetest thing of all. You know what our culture is basing that on? Your mother, circa kindergarten. Face it, your mama would have rather had a Rite-Aid Designer Imposter than that crappy, gluey, glitter-ridden, paper-mache heart-esque atrocity you presented to her, but she loves you in some surreal extra-human way, so no one can compete. Nobody likes arts and crafts by professionals, so what makes you think they’ll like your amateur art or craft? Sure, it may elicit a “chuckle,” a nostalgic sigh, a fond shake of the head, a mantle-piece placement, but your pottery, your charcoal portrait, your weird wood-box-Martha-Stewart-thing, is a cop-out. Nobody wants it. Kids know that. When was the last time a parent gave their kids shit they made? Kids won’t put up with that bullshit. Their wish list is at a strip mall near you. Put the felt and needles down, sweet stuff—don’t let your poverty and kind heart (a dangerous combo) distort what giving is all about.
Hardly as successful as the 20-something plague that is Friendster, there was however, a time that this trend was spreading like crabs among unemployed, un-laid city hipsters. I swear. Many people have blocked this one out—no doubt due to how embarrassing it was—but I promise you, more than one person you know got/gave it. The verdict: hell no, Romeo. Leave the written-word creamery to Danielle Steele. That shit needs to be delivered—regardless of “owing.” I don’t want to have to turn in a fucking construction paper ticket to get a BJ from your coy, creative, lil cacatalkin’ glossy mouth. Grow up. And don’t fret: I am sure we can find a way to get it on regardless, I promise.
I know you got that at Urban Outfitters. Okay? Ha, hipster brownie mix, poo art, a blow-up doll, a weird dirty action figure, a hula girl lamp, one of those monkey-sock thing—guess what, your lameness is the equivalent—and deserves the expression upon receipt—of the term “kewl beans!” Nobody is laughing more than your poor purged wallet. This is the fruitcake of all gifts. The joke is on you. You are Martha Dumptruck and the whole world is your Heathers, cackling, at the caricature that is you.
Okay. I say okay. I’m not one to turn down booze. Who is? Food is a little lower down the tier, but if it’s not some ironic atrocity—ha, ha the fruitcake (but joke is on you bastard, because I am one of these weird birds who loves that shit)—it will get eat. Okay, so you’re poor and unimaginative and busy, fine. I know that it is my responsibility to consume whatever you got me anyway, or the starving children in Africa will carry on with that starving-in-Africa stuff, right?
Gifts That Are Really Gifts For You
Dinner out (with me)! A vacation to an amazing exotic locale (with me)! I love you so much-and I love me so much! So, because normally I am a masochistic deprived bored bastard with friends who will never think to get me a cool thing like this, I am going to involve both of us! The only catch is you have to deal with me through it. I say, Italy: ok; dinner with you at the trattoria where you work at (cause you get 50% off): no, nobody is getting laid.
Gifts From Faraway Places: I went to ___ and all I got you is this dumb ___
Wow, I am so glad to be friends with all these jetsetting cultured global types—I LOVE getting mass email blogs about what you’re up to in Singapore and Bali and Croatia. It is so cool to be a white person who can go to these shithole paradises and actually make money because their country is sooo poor and so shithole that your dollar can buy a condo, if only the poor fools had them to sell! Awesome. Look, I’m not going to refuse those Moroccan old man slippers, Hawaiian macadamia nuts, French undies from Pigalle street vendors, an orange wood rocking horse from Sweden. It will all sit on my shelf and rot and remind me of how I am so lucky to be friends with people luckier than me! I swear, friends, it will make me like you more and hate me more at the same time. Rad. But in all seriousness, there are some gifts from far-away that have some value: if you can find the possibly fictional “real” Prague absinthe, or those mythic used schoolgirl panties from Japanese vending machines. But think creatively and pragmatically. In high school, I traded a piece of The Wall that looked like—and really may have been—a piece of any wall, for my friend’s used Doc Martens, and do you think I regret it? Sometimes the follies of youth are actually right the fuck on.
Gifts Inspired By Hatred
Sometimes we have these friends out of obligation. What can we do? They’re our “friends” but they suck too. In a way, we’d love it if they’d get the hell out of our lives, so we wouldn’t feel like cell-phone-screening, email-ignoring, antisocial mean bitches. So sometimes, in an act of passive aggression, we want to dish out the proverbial coals and ruin someone’s day with a “gift.” This is often a thought, a theory, not everyone can put this in practice. But if you could—wow, you ubermensch! But I warn you if there’s an off chance that karma exists this one can hurt. In a fit of rage, I once got an anorexic friend of mine cookies and a scale. Okay, I’m lying. I almost did that. I came as close as humanly possible in Walgreen’s at the Entemann’s and “ThinkThin” scale sections. But you know what? I feared karma, not hurting this “friend,” and I didn’t do it. You see enough of karma’s dirty full circle in everyday life. Remember, you are a “giver.” Twisted spirituality need not be involved.
I’ll be the first to raise the ol’ hand and say I’ve been given (an eightball of cocai—okay, let’s just face it, laxatives—for my birthday) and I’ve gotten (a chocolate-covered shroom for Valentine’s Day.) Dude, it was crazy.
A-OK, you self-destructive law-breaking desperado, you!
Lowest on the list: marijuana. It says: hello, I’m a scummy Phish-loving hippie who has some excellent weed connex, and sometimes I call it Mary Jane! Most acceptable if in the form of a holiday confection.
Ectasy: hi I’m a little sketchy, but awfully happy and friendly, and I swear this shit if from SF via the UK via Amsterdam. 100% MDMA! Smooth not speedy. Let’s roll! Only acceptable if you still own your old raver pants; your gym shoes are overpriced, European and very techy; and have some place to go that you would actually fit in doing that shit. Viva la 1997! Embarrassing but who cares—you’ll be nice for a night, and have an excuse.
Cocaine: Hi I am a hot rich bitch, with fucking awesome shoes, an old modeling career to provide endless entertainment for my loser friends, I am head to toe in designer and in debt, and I have a fucking bad temper, but you want to fuck me so here. Roll me a hundred and take me to the toilet rim, slim. Acceptable. Imagine the stylish packaging options. Imagine the sexiness, the violence. Imagine the disappointment, the unfulfillable hard-on. Your coke fix will be done for a year or two. That’s success.
Heroin: Hi I am a very dirty degenerate who is dying inside and I want to alienate you by giving you a Jack Kevorkian type pressie, mercy killing, life sux and then you die, here lemme introduce you to shooting up, junk rox yeah yeah yeeahhueiriei83r8e8rudhfjs. Acceptable: are you kidding? This jokester is gonna die! But then again, so are you one day… hmmm…
Cigarettes For New Yorkers
These hooked fools are standing outside their bars in the 2am 20-degree cold, smoking their $8.50 a pack and Phillip Morris wants to tell me this shit isn’t addictive? At a third their price, your Delaware Parliament carton is gonna make this neurotic NYC mess real happy… for at least a couple days.
Really REAL gifts
Hey, I got this friend Sallie Mae who I’d love to pass on a hearty five figures too? Wanna give her that gift from me? That would be real. Making my dear Sallie Mae happy.
Hey, you know that hot shit job you have? The one where you don’t do anything and get paid shitloads? I remember you saying you were feeling guilty about that paired with the trust fund. No worries. Put in a good word, and I’ll deal with it. Really now.
Look, we all know what we all “really” want. Sure: Love. Happiness. Totally. I want to be guaranteed employment and retirement for the rest of my life; I want you, hot-asshole who I am having a thing-thing with to make like a Morrissey ballad and tell me that you love, tell me tell me that you love me; I want my menopausal mother to stop her whining on the phone, her tearful life-hating everything-obliterating 3000 mile away plaintivity about all humanity; I want my 20 yr old brother with his perfect grades and perfect girlfriend and perfect rock band to step outta the perfection for just one sec and remember to call me so I don’t become a menopausal mom calling with all sorts of pathetic plaintivity about all humanity; I want my parents to remember I didn’t ask to be born and send me money aka love; I want friends, real friends, not the type that end in “–ster”; I want an agent; I want my dog to stop wanting things all the time, food-this, walk-that, pee-pee-this, poo-poo-that, and remember this fucking dog ma rescued you from a goddamn racetrack where in infancy you were forced to eat dangling bloody rabbits and bust your goddam chops at 60 miles an hour for a friggin good word, asshole; I want Al Quaeda to quietly come, quietly “take” Dubya, and leave; I want really good-tasting food for really fat people to eat without getting fat; I want children with cancer to stop getting molested by Jacko; I want the Forbes 400 to start a starving artists fund; I want Brooklyn to be affordable again; I want to know we all have a chance at dying of “natural causes”; I want to rewind before that first cigarette; I want a heaven; I want to wake up with a fresh-baked lemon meringue pie outside my door and no note; I want everyone from Tupac to Elliot Smith, and even that kid from “The Neverending Story” to pop up and say “just kidding, just messing with you,”—oh my god, I guess I do want world peace.
Start slow, that’s what I tell myself. I want you to put down that UO Paul Frank Astroturf-cased wooden bong and pick up that The Oral-B® CrossAction® Vitalizer™ Advantage® Plus Control Grip®, and think. Think does me + $$ + holidays = this? Then make your move. It’s up to each and every one of us, in yet another season of upwardly-rising-suicide-rates and socio-psycho-culturo-geo-economic depression, to put a lil’ pleasin’ in the season.
Or, go the classic, forever, deserved route—as we’ve all been very bad this year, again—just get ‘em coals.