A Guide To Gift Giving

The season of gift giving has arrived! As we elbow our way through crowded malls, ruminating over prices and searching for the proper present, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What if she already has this? Would he be a large or a medium? Wait. Did she say she was or wasn’t allergic to peanuts?

While I certainly cannot provide assistance with all of these common shopping dilemmas, I can share some gift giving wisdom I have learned throughout the years.

1. If the gift is to be opened in front of a large group of people (say an office party, or a gathering of extended family members), avoid giving underwear. As a teenager, my grandmother gave me a pair of white brief underwear the size of Alaska. As I unfolded the underpants and held them up at arms length, an awkward silence filled the room.

2. Regifting is tricky. (Personally, I can’t help but feel the person who is receiving the regifted gift has been duped.) If you are a regifter (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”) remember to keep track of who originally gave you the gift. I know someone who received the gift she had given that person. That’s right: The regifter regifted the gift back to the original giver.

3. Gift Cards are safe, safe, safe. Somewhere along the way, gift cards developed the stigma of not having enough thought put into the purchase of them. Huh? Picture being in a store and someone handing you fifty dollars to spend in the store at that moment. How luxurious! However, just be careful and make sure the gift card is appropriate for the recipient. Giving a pacifist an annual membership to the NRA would go over like a lead balloon, as would presenting your vegan boss with a gift card to Omaha Steaks.

4. For those friends/family who have birthdays around Christmas/Chanukah, never, ever do a “this is your birthday AND Christmas (Chanukah) gift! Unless, of course, the gift is extravagant. (I’m talking new car extravagant.) Handing someone a tin of flavored popcorn while singing, “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!” makes the receiver feel a bit gypped. Trust me, by combining these two events, you’re not fooling anyone.

5. When buying gifts for children, decide who you want to like you more: the kid or parent. While practical gifts are generally despised by children (my husband still remembers sulking over the bathrobe he received as a Christmas gift when he was eight years old), they are very appreciated by parents. Toys that kids love – drum sets or life-like sounding fire engines –  can drive parents batty. Prior to purchasing a gift for a child, decide beforehand what you want to accomplish.

In conclusion, as much as we may think that we’ve received some bad gifts over the years, if we’re honest with ourselves, chances are we have given just as many bad gifts too. So we need not get indignant and hold grudges. Basically – don’t sweat it. There is always next year.

The Fur Ball

I knew we ‘d arrived at our destination based on the bumper stickers in the parking lot:  My Cat is My Best Friend, Who Rescued Who?, Don’t Buy and Don’t Breed – Adopt a Homeless Pet in Need!

My husband, friend, and I were attending a fundraiser for an animal rights organization. We liked animals, cared about their welfare, and (to be honest) the event was being held in a boutiquey hotel we were curious to visit.

As soon as we entered the lobby, I felt simultaneously overdressed and underdressed. There was a woman wearing a glittery evening gown with pendant diamond earnings swinging from her lobes – her hair was swept into a French twist. Next to her stood a woman in a cable knit sweater, jeans, and Birkenstock sandals.

My husband, friend and I moseyed around the ballroom, surveying the items on display for silent auction while munching on organic crackers and cruelty-free cheese. It was clear meat of any form was not going to be consumed at this gathering.

“Hey look!” I said, nudging my friend so that her wine sloshed in her glass, “You should bid on the massage.”

“Um … that isn’t a massage for a person.  It’s a massage for your dog.”

“Oh.”

We sat at our designated table and proceeded to introduce ourselves to the others already seated.

“I’m Dina,” a woman with red hair said, “I’m a cat whisperer. And I’m gluten free.”

“How interesting!” my husband – always the socially gracious one – said.  Dina beamed.

A dinner of vegan lasagna was served.  (After demanding proof that her lasagna was not only vegan but also gluten free – Dina accepted her plate.) Board members from the organization began their presentation. The organization was desperate for money, and there were simply too many abused and homeless animals for them to help.

Whether it was the slideshow of the abused animals or the cardboard-like consistency of the vegan lasagna – I was having difficulty swallowing.  When a disturbing picture of a malnourished Doberman was flashed on the screen, the speaker paused and began to cry. Several people jumped out of their seats and surrounded her.

“Vera has a very special connection to Dobermans,” one man said, leaning into the microphone so that his voice was muffled.

Vera was led off the stage. Another board member took over for Vera (who was weeping in the corner of the room). As more unsettling images were flashed on the screen, a man sitting at the table behind us shot out of his chair.

“And what about the chickens? And cows?” he yelled, “When you-all buy milk? And eggs? Do you ever give thought to how those animals are treated?”

There was the briefest moment of silence before a round of applause erupted. Apparently, public disturbances are accepted in animal rights organization fundraisers.

The auction began. The first item, a beautifully framed watercolor painting signed by the artist, received no bids and was eventually tossed to the side.

“Next, you have the opportunity for your cat to be on the cover of our organization’s national brochure.  Do we have any bidders?”

Chaos erupted.

“Three hundred dollars!”

“Four hundred dollars!”

“FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS!”

“ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS!”

There was screaming, shouting and tears. Two people began to argue.  At last, a man won the bid for $2,500. He collapsed into his chair, exhausted but smugly triumphant.

After peace was restored, the auctioneer continued.

“How about a weekend away in the mountains? A delightful little cabin. Starting bid at $25.”

Silence. The auctioneer peered around the room before shrugging and picking up the next item, which resembled a miniature lounge chair.

“We have,” the auctioneer boomed into the microphone, “What appears to be a settee for your beloved pet.”

Around us people sprang out of their chairs, hollering and waving their arms over their heads in a frantic attempt to win.

When at last the auction ended, one of the board of directors took the podium as dessert (sandy tasting vegan cupcakes with vegetable shortening icing) was served.

“And now, the moment we have all been waiting for,” he said, “Our special guest: Tiki, the rehabilitated dog! Tiki lived in a shelter where he was rehabilitated and eventually adopted.”

We turned to see a black, Standard Poodle enter the room. Several people slid off their chairs and crawled toward Tiki, reaching out to touch his curly coat. It reminded me of the scene in the Bible where the Lepers reach out to Jesus Christ for healing. People were whistling, coaxing Tiki to come their way.  Tiki seemed more interested in sniffing the dinner tables, but then gave a disgusted snort of disappointment. Apparently, Tiki didn’t care for vegan food either.

“Give Tiki some room!” the president said, “We don’t want to frighten him!”

As if admonished, the people crept back to their chairs – except for one woman who curled into the fetal position at Tiki’s feet. She held her palm up to Tiki in offering. Tiki gave her a bored glance before moving on to the next table.

“Can we go now?” I whispered.

Before the words were out of my mouth, my husband and friend grabbed their jackets and we rushed out of the room. The cold night air felt refreshing and familiar.

“Ya know,” I said as we climbed into my husband’s car, “I’m still really hungry.”

“How about some steak?” my friend suggested.

And we pulled onto the street in search of some cow.