Screw it. Buy the fez.

Ah, the joys of holiday shopping. Nothing like making up a list, looking down the list, and realizing you have no idea what to get any one of these people. I always have particular trouble with my dad. I'm not quite sure what it is about him that makes him difficult to buy gifts for, but every year, I rack my brains trying to figure out what to get him that he'll actually like, and that he'll enjoy beyond the moment he unwraps it at Christmas.

Knowing this, The One And Only recently sent me an e-mail. The e-mail contained a link, and the words "Don't you think this would be perfect for your dad?"

Intrigued, of course, I followed the link....which took me to the Masonic Buyers Guide, and more specifically the fez section of this store. There were some beauties - I particularly like "the exalted shrine fez" - and what's more, I could actually see my dad wearing one. Not to work - at least not regularly - but I suspect that there are a few boring dinner parties he'd quite enjoy livening up with a well-applied Masonic fez. Unfortunately, at $118, it's a bit too expensive - but I was tempted, and that alone should give you an idea of why my dad is hard to shop for.

The cats, of course, are much easier. All it takes to make Zora happy is a roll of paper towels. They are her favorite thing, maybe even more so than the scratching post - which, come to think of it, was my dad's present to the cats last year. (He gives great presents, my dad, including homemade ones, which makes coming up with a gift for him even harder.)

Zora, loving paper towels. Not a link.
Here's Zora, loving her paper towels.

Ah yes, her paper towels. How exactly does Zora love her paper towels? Well, sometimes she'll wrap herself around the roll and just start tearing it apart. Other times she'll creep up on it and, when it's not looking, pounce and start tearing away at it with her little teeth. Occasionally she'll bat it around a little before ripping into it. But it's the tearing apart that really makes her day. The One And Only used to complain about all the shreds of toilet paper that tend to be strewn on our living room floor. That was before he actually saw Zora in the act of tearing. When he did, he turned to mush, just like I do.

The One And Only: "Oh my god. That is so cute."

Me: "Yep. She loves her towels."

TOAO: "Oh my god! No, she's really cute!"

Me: "See? This is why I never stop her."

TOAO: "Wow. She's just thrilled."

Me: "Doesn't she just look so incredibly happy?"

TOAO: "Wow. No wonder you couldn't tell her to stop. She's so cute! And so happy!!"

If only everyone on my list were that easy. All I'd have to do is go buy a huge package of paper towels, gift-wrap them, and be done with it. Unfortunately, I doubt most people would be quite as pleased with this simple pleasure as Zora, so instead, I have to keep looking.

Another shopping problem is that I send presents to friends in Germany. This usually happens at random times that have nothing to do with holidays; a while back, I sent my friend Anja a package with a variety of presents, each neatly labeled: "Birthday 2000." "Christmas 2000." "Birthday 2001." "Christmas 2001." Obviously, the timing isn't important - it'll get there when it gets there, and we all know that. But the transatlantic shipping does provide some challenges, because not only do I have to find things they'll like, but these things also need to be portable, lightweight, and not breakable. Since there are only so many bookmarks you can reasonably give a person, this means creative thinking. TOAO sent me another link, and this one's very tempting: patches from the Salem police department, with a little witch on them. Funky, portable, lightweight, and definitely not breakable. And also definitely not something they can find in Germany. Of course, they all know each other and I can't give them all the same thing... but it's a start!

Salem police department logo patch. Link.
I'm not usually one for policewear, but this is pretty cute...

My mother, thankfully, is fairly easy to shop for. She reads a lot (including this website - hallo!), and I've gotten to know her taste in books pretty well, in part because we share some reading interests. I'm also fairly confident I know the sorts of music she likes, too. By contrast, my dad's taste in music is very eclectic, and I'm never wholly sure if he's actually going to like the particular CD I've picked out. Sure, I mean, he'll like it because I thought it was good and he always wants to broaden his musical awareness - but the question is if he'll actually like it in more than an intellectual-appreciation kind of way, and I'm never sure what the answer to that question is.

Mostly, I rely on local art markets for gift shopping. Thankfully, Austin offers plenty of those around the holiday seaon - a couple weeks ago there was one in a local grocery store parking lot, last weekend there was an art fair downtown, though it was better last year. There are a few more coming up, including the nicely named Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. I like the fact that they're local, and - Austin being "The Live Music Capital of the World" - tend to involve some good local music as well.

And at these fairs, the folks doing the selling are either the artisans themselves, or their significant others who are filling in while the artisan goes and gets coffee. There's no giant Wal-Mart acting as our middleman, we're paying the people who are doing the work, and they've put a piece of themselves into the work. It's as close to unalienated labor as we're likely to get, my inner Marxist insists. And since these days, my inner Marxist tends to lose out to my consumerism - which really just wants to go shopping - I need to let her get a word in from time to time.

Meanwhile, until the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar opens, I'll keep pondering gift-giving alternatives to paper towel rolls and $118 fezzes.

10. December 2002


Holiday Gift Guide
The slightly different shopping list. (Thank you, TOAO!)

Did you know there was a Museum of Questionable Medical Devices? No? Well, they have a gift shop, too - get your own Personalized Bogus Medical Degree here!

Looking to offend? Look no further! The 9-11 Trading Cards are sure to raise eyebrows and add that touch of tension to family gatherings!

Not just for big corporations anymore: The Pocket President. Now you can hold your own against Enron CEOs and oil barons - you too can have George W. Bush in your pocket.

Want to become your niece or nephew's favorite crazy relative? Here's how: Buy the Pimp Daddy Suit Child Costume. It'll definitely make a kid stand out in family photos...

Looking for the perfect gift for someone who has everything? Well, here you are: Provided they live in the L.A. area (and if someone has everything, that's likely where they'll be), get them the High-Speed TV Chase Notification Service. They'll alert you by pager, phone or cell-phone whenever a live chase is being broadcast on TV. Hard to imagine how Angelinos have survived without this for so long.

Nothing beats smokin', drinkin', and then workin' out, and that, I imagine, is the principle behind Punk Rock Aerobics. With their t-shirts you'll be the coolest of the cool punk rockers, I'm sure.

And for the perfectly Christian Christmas gift, try Betty Bowers' ("America's Best Christian!") gift shop. Haven't you always wanted a cap that says God Told Me To Hate You? (And yes, she's kidding.)

In keeping with that Christian theme, how about the biblical gift ideas from your friends at the (satirical) Landover Baptist Church? Need a WWJD thong? Or t-shirts that say "Behold, I shall corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces" (Malachi 2:3), or "Suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Timothy 2:12)? This is the place...

And for the serious paranoiac on your list, how about some silver-lined undergarments to "shield [you] from powerline and computer electric fields, and microwave, radar, and TV radiation." What more can you say?

But now, two things I've actually bought myself:

I've bought one of these not only for myself, but for several friends and family members: my Karate school's I Fight Like A Girl t-shirt. And it's not just for girls, either - I know a number of men who quite enjoy wearing theirs.

And of course, doesn't everyone want a Fightin' Whities t-shirt? This intramural team from the U of Northern Colorado was sick of Indian sports mascots and decided to fight back their own way - and so the Fightin' Whites were born. All money raised goes to support scholarships for Native American students. And if you're worried about people getting the wrong idea, you can always get the t-shirt that includes an explanation of the name.

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