“I’m terrible at shopping for gifts. What should I do?” —Giving Gary
The holidays aren’t really about getting and giving great gifts. At least I hope not. Because I am one of the lamest gift givers in the world. I do my best shopping on Christmas Eve, when there’s only a few things left and I am at an airport news stand. Last year, I wrote Ben a poem—that’s how lame I am. I also bought him some weird Christmasy things at the local Goodwill. One was a weird foam reindeer. The other was a weird plush frog nutcracker with a paperclip sword.
He rarely likes the kind of things I buy for him. Usually some version of fleece hoodies from the university bookstore I work at or Detroit sports team loungewear. My only holiday hope for Ben is that he is warm. This year I bought us Christmas Eve tickets to The Phantom Thread which will be weird for me because I don’t think there are any super heroes in that movie at all. But it’s supposed to be beautiful and during the holidays when the days are short and dark we could all use a little beauty. Falling snow, shimmering lights, fancy costume drama.
The only person I am any good at shopping for is my mother. She loves to read books. And I’ve worked in bookstores for forever. So we’re a good match. She likes travel books, memoirs, the occasional novel. She’s a librarian. I became a bookseller because I always thought people should pay for books. That they should keep them forever in bookshelves and that they should lend them to their friends for a while. “Oh, I just read this! You’ll love it!” I guess you could do that at the library, too, but they don’t let you talk there. I always get shushed. One of the happiest love affairs I ever had was with a page at my mother’s library. We would make out in a deserted part of the third floor. I would kiss her neck and she would shush me.
I guess with the people we love it doesn’t really matter what kind of gifts we give each other. I rarely ever wrap mine. Usually I’ll just wrap the bag tightly around the book. Or grab up someone else’s torn-apart wrapping paper and slide my gift for you right in there. I’m just usually broke, I procrastinate buying gifts and then end up scrambling at the very last second. Thankfully I don’t have a ton of people to buy gifts for.
For me, a terrible gift-giver, gifts are not the main thrust of the holidays. I just like having time off of work, getting a chance to travel home and take it easy for a few days while eating my Mom’s cooking. Last year I traveled to San Diego on Christmas Day and spent a few days with all of them. No gifts were exchanged. Well, my parents footed the bill for me to fly and stay in a hotel. But the giftless Christmas did not change the season. When my nephew threw up in the bathroom of a Cheesecake Factory, I bought him a ginger ale at the Hotel. “Merry Christmas!” I offered. He looked like he was going to throw up on me.
So, Gary, it’s late capitalism, as they say. Gift-giving is really just to keep the economy afloat. Imagine if we suddenly stopped? It would be the end of the world, or the beginning of one of those dystopian children’s book trilogies they make movies out of. Starbucks gift cards are fine gifts. Just buy everyone one of those. Even the kids, soon Starbucks will start selling Adderall and Ritalin. They might as well. And a $25 Starbucks card gets you a few treats. Who could ask for more? I had one of their Christmas Tree frappuccinos and it didn’t taste like a tree at all! It gave me a minty ice-cream headache. But it was worth it. For an hour I felt grimly buzzed, and forgot about all of my other problems because of the headache. Soon, coffee will be extinct. And Starbucks gift cards will be worth more than bitcoins. Because if anyone has any coffee stashed away anywhere it’s the green mermaid lady. Then who will your favorite uncle be? The one who grabbed up all those Starbucks cards at the airport while he was waiting to board his plane, that’s who.
Anyway, the best day to shop for gifts is really the day after Christmas. You can fill an entire Walgreens bag with weird holiday stuff that’s like half off. And hide it someplace for next year’s gifts. The problem in our apartment is always, where did we hide the Walgreens bag? We’ll find it when we move again, I guess.
But this year is pretty simple: there’s a new Star Wars movie. Just buy everyone on your list an action figure. Or a lightsaber. Or take them to the movies. Everyone loves going to the movies during the holidays. Just hanging out in the dark with the people they love. And all their Star Wars pals. The greatest gift we can give during the holidays is to not give a fuck. Instead of trying to make everything perfect for the people we love, just be together. Imperfectly. May the force be with you.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a different bookstore now.