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It's Better To Give
The Audacity of Soap*
“Not bad,” I say to myself, taking inventory of this year’s Christmas spoils. It’s the “night after” and I’m standing next to the nine-foot loblolly pine felled from the woods out back. I’d had my eye on the thing since the dog days of summer and finally gave it the axe the day after Thanksgiving. After a good, proper and practiced “TIM-BERRRR”, I managed to wrestle the tree along with its sticky, cumbersome limbs through the front door to a spot inside, a few feet from the fireplace.
Under the tree is this year’s Christmas haul: enough new Fruit of the Looms to last a months – even if I change twice a day; an autographed copy of Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s bestseller, The Audacity of Hope; a drugstore box set of soaps on a rope; a Christmas sweater depicting a mural of Santa playing golf with Rudolph and two elves; and a new-age golf putter that looks vaguely like the Starship Enterprise.
“…not bad at all.” The comment is made in a self-satisfied way and to no one but myself. There is a no small measure of satisfaction in my voice but I remind myself that while I am grateful for all gifts—great and small–satisfaction has not come easy this year.
The soap on a rope is a stocking-stuffer of sorts from my cousin, Reynard. It took him mere seconds to dump the small, brightly colored box in my hands and then disappear into the throng of Cantrells’, Williams’ and Flannigans gathered for Christmas Dinner. I didn’t know what was in the gift box at the time of the drop but my suspicions were aroused when I saw him looking right back at me from the other side of the crowded room, grinning ‘Gotcha’.
Cousins born four months apart, Reynard and I grew up thick as thieves and remain so today. The bald-headed naked truth though is that no grown man should give another grown man toiletries for Christmas – no matter what their relationship. It just isn’t done. Says as much on page 73 (paragraph 1) in the Testosterone Manual: The Male’s Guide to Life on Planet Earth.
If Reynard had pulled this soap stunt in our younger days, I’d have complained to the authorities – in this case his mother, now in her late eighties.
“Do you know what that idiot son of yours gave me for Christmas, Aunt Vernie!?” I’d say to her.
Chances are though before I’d have uttered those words, I would’ve capitulated and done absolutely nothing, suddenly remembering why Reynard and I practically invented the ‘Outside I-285 Rule’ (which is roughly analogous to the bromide about “…what happens in Vegas, etc., etc.”) Brief movie type trailers of the boondoggles, junkets, ill-conceived road trips, mishaps, misadventures and capers – would’ve also flashed before me and rendered me helpless to complain about ol’ Reynard any further. The story behind some of those scenes still has my Aunt Vernie seething almost a half century later. (This includes the time we’d ‘borrowed’ her middle age crisis car, a brand new ’67 candy apple red Mustang, and gotten it –and ourselves– impounded while we were trying to talk our way into Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority house at Spelman one night after curfew.)
‘The Audacity of Soap’, I’ve taken to calling Reynard’s gift (sort of like anti-The Audacity of Hope). It is a last minute, ‘I’m running out of time and quite possibly cash, after-thought’ kind of gift if there ever was one —and a clear violation of the Testosterone Code. For one thing, the stuff doesn’t smell at all like ‘new car’ which I figure if you’re going to give another guy soap, cologne or some other toiletry product in the hope of making him smell better, ‘new car’ would definitely be the fragrance to go with. It’s universally accepted that no one can resist the new car smell, especially young women —which if there is a reason to go to the trouble of smelling better, young women is as good a reason as there is.
The thing is, Reynard knows better. The soap on a rope is his idea of a minor prank, a small down payment in return for some trick I’ve played on him, no doubt. And while I understand the concept of retribution, the absolutely infuriating, maddening fact about the soap gifted from my cousin is that it’s a re-gift – and the exact, same gift I gave him last year!
The seemingly endless supply of new Fruit of the Looms is a gift from ‘the management’ (as I call her behind her back). There’s now a veritable snow storm of white cotton underwear underneath the tree. Stacked end to end, there is likely enough to reach to the horizon. At least.
“I just got sick and tired of looking at those raggedy boxers of yours. They are pre…pre…..preposterous, Billy” the management says after I open the GIANT size box that contains nothing but new snow white underwear in my size.
“So, this is really a Christmas present for you!?
“Wellllllll… er, you could say th…”
“Aha!… kind of self-serving, don’t you think. And what about my lucky Georgia Tech boxers…the shorts that have the yellow jackets buzzing all over them. They are a little drafty but surely you’re not suggesting …”
“You’ve had those ridiculous shorts since you were in college, for god sakes. You might as well be going commando! I’ve tried to throw the damn things away any number of times when you weren’t looking, but you keep finding them and pulling them out of the trash.”
“Listen,” I say “I don’t want to sound ungrateful or anything but do you have any idea of what you could’ve bought me instead with all the money you squandered on a truckload of clean underwear? It’s the one thing I’ve wanted more than anything else… ever? Why you could’ve bought me a Tay…”
“The underwear is a much more practical gift, Mister. Besides I’m not made of money, ya know…”
‘Practical’. The best gifts are typically not at all ‘practical’. Or even ‘educational’. Practicality has its place on the spectrum of gift giving considerations I suppose, but the best gifts, I figure, convey thoughtfulness, originality, cleverness, imagination and …er, a minimum level of monetary expense. The best-est gifts also carry at least a hint of ‘wretched excess’, the thought of having ‘gone overboard’ and if at all possible, the full blown occasion of sin. The gift shows that the giftor has been… well, ‘paying attention’. Liquor, Cuban cigars, negligees from Fredrick’s of Hollywood (for her), winning lottery tickets and poker chips redeemable in Vegas or Biloxi are examples. So are marital aids, tickets to the Super Bowl, some varieties of bar-be-que, Hostess Twinkies and most objects preceded by the word ‘French’ – but certainly not soap products from other grown men, even if said grown man is your first cousin.
The documented all time best Christmas gift is the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun as chronicled in the movie, A Christmas Story. The movie is a modern classic and is played over and over and over in an endless loop every Christmas Day by cable-TV networks too lazy to run any other ridiculously old celluloid through its projector for twenty four straight hours. Throughout the film, Ralphie, the hero/protagonist and would be owner of the Daisy Red Ryder special gets on everybody’s nerves by incessantly asking for the BB gun from anybody who’d listen, even though they all tell him “No, you’ll shoot your eye out kid.” In the end though – one of those typically Hollywood endings– Ralphie gets the BB gun, although predictably, his parents wait until the end of the movie before they finally come through with the goods.
I figure everyone has something they want more than anything else –ever. You say to yourself if you could just have it, all of your dreams would come true, and you would achieve nirvana and could now die happy. (Or at least until the next year’s new object of one’s affection comes along.) For Ralphie, it’s the BB gun. For others it might be that Leo diamond those people at that retail mall jeweler’s are always hustling. Maybe it’s ginzu knives. In my case it was the Taylormade Ghost Spider 33” Right Hand Single-Bend golf putter which, I am convinced will surely elevate my standing in the community of mediocre golfers from weekend hack to King of the Links as I’m sure God and Tiger Woods intended. Like the felled conifer sitting in my living room, I’ve had my eye on said implement at the Edwin Watts Golf Store since the dog days of August (although I’m sure that ol’ Edwin would not appreciate me coming in there –into that forest of golf clubs– with an axe and taking one out without paying.)
Unfortunately, unlike the hero Ralphie who eventually got his Christmas wish none of my teachers, friends, relatives or the people who live at my house took any of my Ralphie like pleadings seriously. Given that my plethora of hints, ‘good gift for Will’ ideas written on various and sundry bathroom walls, my various implorings and completed on-line wish lists had fallen completely on deaf ears, it was obvious I was not going to have one of those Hollywood endings as far as the Ghost Spider putter was concerned.
Consequently, I took matters into my own hands and bought the damn thing myself on the day after Christmas.
So at present, there sits below the Christmas lob-lolly pine along with the Mount Everest of skivvies, the Santa sweater with Rudolph and the elves playing golf, the book, The Audacity of Hope, the audacity of soap and the Taylormade Ghost Spider 33″ Right Hand Single-Bend putter. As well as a satisfied owner of all of the above.
In the literature, ‘self-gifting’ is sometimes described with adjectives such as ‘self-serving’, self-gratifying and even sel-fish. And I admit, my handling of this situation has had a mildly Republican tinge to it. But there are occasions when a body has to take matters into his own hands.
Satisfaction doesn’t always come easy.
*From Cantrell’s archives, 2007