Some assholes don’t even try to buy decent Christmas presents. One year, a boyfriend gave me My Little Pony stickers. Can you believe that? I know what you’re thinking, that must’ve happened in grade school. Nope, college. A fully-grown, adult male with no observable mental disabilities gave me stickers for Christmas. I remember that December day well. I finished my final exams early and met him at a cafe near campus, feeling all warm and tingly. On my walk down, I admired the festive lights strangling the trees. You knew I was in love, because I never did shit like that.
Let’s call this guy Michael. He looked pretty fine–sandy blond hair, athletic, smart, nice. We worked at this little gym together, and our first kiss happened after a four-mile run. Yeah, sweaty, a little gross. Except not gross. It was hot. Very hot. Athletic wear has always turned me on. I might or might not have a compression shirt fetish.
Anyway, three months of friendship and three additional months of dating had shown me that Michael wasn’t the most thoughtful person. The worst part? He thought he’d done well that year. Yes, he thought I was going to flip out over the stickers. Maybe fuck him right there on the espresso machine. He handed me a thin envelope with a bow on it, this expectant smirk on his face. At first I thought the best presents come in envelopes. What was inside, tickets to a concert maybe? I began to tear and slide.
My face froze when I saw the ponies. You know, that placeholder smile when you’re trying to figure out what the hell you’re feeling. After a few seconds I said, “Thanks…?” His nervous laughter followed.
He said, “Did I screw up?”
I hid the stickers under my mug. “Not exactly.” But yeah, big time.
Somehow, he’d come to believe that I liked My Little Ponies. Not just liked. Adored. As an adult. He thought I’d talked about my love for this cartoon several times. But I hadn’t. Not once.
Our post-gifting conversation revealed something interesting. Some other girl had blabbed on and on about how much she still loved those fucking unicorns. Not me. Cue the GIFs. Awww, hell no.
So it was really a two-for-one shit gift. He’d bought me something lame, based on his conversations with another girl, who he was thinking about more than me. Adding insult to injury, this girl still watched My Little Ponies. I couldn’t compete with a girl who still watched cartoons? Really? That cartoon’s not even meant for 18+. You can still like Loony Tunes as a grown-up. Those cartoons were originally meant for adults. But My Little Ponies was meant for kids. Michael had feelings for a girl who still watched a cartoon meant for kids. Such disbelief. It’s a wonder I’m not in therapy.
That was probably the first moment in my life I started sharpening my sarcasm. I glared at him over the froth of my drink and said, “I’d tell you that it’s the thought that counts, but in this case that also failed.” Then I gave him his present. A $100 sports watch. Fucker.
Oh, I can hear the trolls now: Give the dude a break. Women are hard to shop for. You girls and your handbags and your shoes. What was he supposed to do? My answer: a book. That would’ve been nice. A fucking book could’ve saved our relationship.
And so begins my little meditation on gift giving. Holidays are hard. So much pressure exists in our culture on gifting. Some people are easy to shop or, others not so much. One thing is always true: we always judge people on the quality of their gifts. A truly bad gift is hard to forgive. Even if your ass is broke, people expect you to come up with something. In fact, being broke is the worst. That means you have to come up with something original. Not just fancy or expensive. Or (gasp) you have to make something.
The worst present I ever gave? I once gifted my mom a charcoal portrait of Fiona Apple. I don’t even know why. Actually, I do. I hate my mom. That’s why. See my other blog posts on her. By contrast, she would probably tell you the best present she ever got was a Tickle Me Elmo. Her mind was trashed on medication that Christmas. Watching my mom, a 40-something and still quite attractive, laugh and play with an Elmo doll like a 6-year-old girl ranks among my Top 3 Saddest Moments in life.
Another boyfriend, in my 20s, bought me a set of satin bed sheets. That wasn’t too bad, because an hour later we were fucking on them. That might’ve been the first Christmas present that made me feel like a true adult.
Gifts are a lot like tweets. You never know which ones will hit. Take my dad, for example. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on that jerk. When I was 21, I bought him a framed print by his favorite photographer. The whole thing set me back almost $300. It sat unhung behind the couch for a year. Another Christmas, I bought him one of those remote car-starter kits, which he never hooked up. His new car has one pre-installed, so fuck me. I did succeed one year, with a cheap Barack Obama ashtray. He burst out laughing when he opened it, and made jokes about the thing for weeks. Seriously. All the ties, cuff links, electronics, and art I’ve bought him over the years, and it was an ashtray that endeared me in his eyes. Go figure.
I’m trying to replicate my success this Christmas. I bought him a Donald Trump ashtray. Fingers crossed, ladies and gents.
You’d think my dad would suck at gifting. He doesn’t. In fact, he’s the master. Every year, be buys me something I didn’t even know I wanted. But when I open it, I come to understand I’ve yearned for this thing my whole life. My dad bought me my first espresso maker, my first digital camera, my first iPod, my first Kindle, and my first GPS device. On the other hand, I do wish he’d stop trying to give me clothes. It must be a parental obligation to buy your daughter ugly sweaters that she’ll donate to charity in three months.
My boyfriend is the easiest to buy for. He reads a lot, and keeps a huge public list. He’s into Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Star Wars, all the nerd stuff. Buying presents for nerds is like shooting fish in a barrel. It almost isn’t fair these days. I just type in “Star Wars” on ThinkGeek or Amazon and buy stuff that he’d like. Star Wars glassware, Lego sets, books by prominent intellectuals. I’ve accumulated a stash of presents for him in my office. When an important event approaches, I just pull something out of my file cabinet and wrap it.
Distant relatives win my award for shittiest gifters. My boyfriend and I always drive or fly home with two boxes of utter crap from his aunts and uncles: Chocolate candy that I’ll throw away. (Dark chocolate or no chocolate, am I right?) Those ridiculous chocolate tangerines. Socks. One year, a business card holder shaped like Han Solo. Candy canes. Homemade soap. Lotion. Pez dispensers. Sock puppets. Paper weights. My boyfriend’s too nice; he makes me cram it all into a box for the trunk. Last year, we couldn’t fit all that junk into our luggage, so we had to FedEx it back. I was pissed. This year, we sent a heads up that their Christmas presents were bankrupting us. Stop.
Buying presents kinda sucks for young people. Unlike our well-off relatives, we don’t have tons of extra cash. I’m just now making a decent living with a salary of about $70k. (Other broke comedians, please don’t hate me.) I have, like, lots of student debt eating into my paycheck. I try to keep my total Christmas shopping below $500. Immediate family gets the most attention, then my closest few friends. I avoid fucking around with obligatory gifts for distant relatives and such. I have an unspoken agreement with many of my good friends against gifting. It saves us all money. Sometimes the best gift is the release from pointless social obligations. On Christmas Eve or thereabouts, we just go somewhere and get wasted together. So much fun. Merry Christmas. Hiccup.