The Gift Schtick

Around gift-giving holidays and birthdays, a certain stress accumulates like northern plains snow, centered upon what others will think of our individual capacity to proffer the pretense of caring for people to whom we do not speak for the majority of the year. Did we send our high school guidance counselor a Christmas card this year? She surely sent one to us last year, proving she’s not yet dead. Did we get Janey’s son Bobby something suitably expensive for his birthday, more than we would spend on a real nephew, but not so much to indenture Janey for our birthday?

Internally, we process the possibilities like Christmas calculus and crunch the metrics of what we know about the gift recipient. We dredge memories for shared moments, hobbies, or insights into that person’s soul and spirit. We surf the intrapersonalnet, seeking the faintest rumors of needed household goods. When all else fails, we know that gift certificates offer the remote-controlled reminder of our relationship, but recognize that a gift certificate really emphasizes the obligation and not the emotion of gift giving. Gift certificates say, “We know we should get you something, but we don’t know you well enough to know what you want.”

Fortunately, amid the crush and bustle of the Christmas shopping season or the interspersion of gift-giving into our regular lives, we can honestly rely upon the honored tradition of the Gift Shtick to provide a default value for the drop-down lists of gift-giving.

The Gift Shtick represents a certain convenient gifting theme for a person that makes gift giving easy and gift reception safe. A person’s Gift Shtick offers a single collectible motif, a single hobby, decorative fetish, or offhand comment, that friends, family, and acquaintances can seize upon with infrequent fervor to provide semiannual gifts. A good Gift Shtick offers almost infinite variation, providing the potential for almost thoughtless thoughtfulness.

The Gift Shtick can be sports memorabilia. For my wife, my relatives and I have found safe haven in buying St. Louis Blues apparel or paraphernalia. Although her interest in hockey is beginning to wane, and although she can almost dress in Blues jerseys and sweatshirts every day of the week, she can look forward to more of the same. For anyone in the state of Wisconsin, Green Bay Packers dinner china makes a handsome and thoughtful gift.

My friend Brian likes Elvis Presley, a Gift Shtick you can easily satisfy. You can walk into any mall in America and find something Elvish. Whether I find a wall hanging, poster, or CD of Elvis’s first conversations recorded when he was three, I can give him something that says, “Dude, I didn’t think you had this important piece of trivial tangential material in your collection.”

I have an aunt who has a goose motif in her kitchen. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been in her kitchen to know whether she has adequate goose salt and pepper shaker sets to serve a dozen diners, all eating from goose china. My mother, bless her, provides twin bird shticks: she decorates her living room with bald eagles and her kitchen with owls. The eagle shtick has been so successful in the past years that I am going to buy her a new wall for Christmas just so she can display them all.

I let my family and friends down because I don’t provide an easy Gift Shtick for them to employ. Each gift holiday, they must ask me what I want, and I am often at a loss. I rattle off a list of accoutrements that I don’t need or a whim that I can conjure instantly. Instead, I need to create a theme for my home office d├ęcor or take up a particular hobby that comes with a lot of optional paraphernalia. That way, when it comes to paper-tearing time, I can be assured a surprise, albeit a safe surprise well within a set of established parameters and limits.

It’s better to give than receive, everyone says, but it’s certainly not easier. Anyone who’s spent the last minute buying gifts from the end caps at Target knows the flutter of fear, of panic, and of an imminent gift certificate purchase. Whereas the Gift Shtick might not help the giver avoid a reluctant “Thenk yew” when the recipient opens the umpteenth throw blanket depicting a Bengal tiger, giving according to established or imagined predilections and peer pressure will allow you to escape the holidays with your sanity, and maybe even your inheritance, intact.

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