Two days to Christmas. Still trying to get into the spirit. Tried to kick start the season's magic this morning by surprising a few of the people I encounter during my everyday work routine.
First stop, the gym. I’ve been going to Gold’s in Southie for about six years. Up until Dave began working at the front desk, there’ve been a handful of stooges who never look up or acknowledge your arrival/departure. But my boy Dave is always friendly and chats if you engage him. Poor guy opens the gym at like 4 a.m. every morning. Hardworking kid.
Today, I was stoked to give a card to Dave with a bunch of scratch tickets. I walked in and sure enough, one of the original stooges was covering for him – of course with her head down reading her phone not saying a word to me as I passed by. O for one.
Next stop, the garage across the street from my office. There are two wonderful attributes about the garage where I park. Number one, it’s cheap. Twenty dollars a day. That’s pretty damn good for downtown. Tough to beat. Number two, this place looks like it could fall apart any minute. Customers aren’t even allowed in the basement anymore. It would be an absolutely perfect scene for a zombie apocalypse movie. The structure is so decrepit and creepy. Water dripping randomly from ceilings. The occasional rat scurrying from one dark corner to another. My spidey sense is always tingling if I’ve worked late at night during the dreaded walk to the car.
To access a parking spot in the morning at this place is a total shit show. There are about six men who simultaneously coordinate where to move your car. Usually, I park on the third floor roof. Generally, the handlers bark orders to you in heavily accented-English until you move the car to a spot where a different guy yells at you about why you’re parking there. When you tell him that so-and-so behind him told you to park there, an argument in a foreign language inevitably ensues. It’s awesome. Seriously, though, the guys work through all of the crappy rain in the spring and fall, freezing temps in the winter, and stifling heat in the summer. Their only refuge is a small shack with a desk, two lawn chairs, and a space heater or fan depending on the season.
So for the garage guys this morning, I bought six hot chocolates from Dunkins. When I walked the trays of cocoa over to the elder statesman of the crew, he shrugged me off because he was upset one of his underlings did not instruct another motorist to pull his car further up, thus leaving too much room between parking spots in one of the aisles. I continued on to one of the friendlier dudes and offered a cup. He looked at me slightly befuddled, not quite understanding what I was doing. I placed the trays on the desk in their shed and walked away. Merry Christmas. O for two.
Final stop, Boloco. I order a large “Truck Stop” burrito on a wheat tortilla with eggs, cheese, salsa, potato, and bacon with a large coffee every morning I work in Boston. And I mean every morning. I’m addicted.
Usually, I am greeted by the store manager Beatriz or my man Laz. Both of them wrap a mean Truck Stop. We’re at the point now that they start making my order before I’ve even placed it. We chat small talk as I pour my coffee and they work their magic on the goods. The crew is super nice. I look forward to the familiarity of our routine as we begin our work days.
The night before, I stuffed ten scratch tickets into a Christmas card. I wrote a note to Beatriz and Laz that they have full discretion to distribute the tickets as they see fit. Unfortunately this morning, Boloco was a little busier than normal because my stop to get the hot chocolates set the whole schedule back. Laz was not in sight but luckily Beatriz was present, and she seemed pleasantly surprised. I didn’t swing and miss this time, but it was more like a foul tip to stay alive. Alas, the Christmas spirit was still sputtering inside me. At least I have Christmas morning with the kids to look forward to, which is a good segue.
Greta watches this cartoon show called Olivia. (Damn, the theme song is stuck in my head now.) Olivia is a little girl pig who’s got a great imagination. Every episode, she takes a quick pause in the action to declare one of her rules in life. I’ll take her cue from there.
Rule of life number 700. Here’s my philosophy on gifts. Keep in mind, I freely admit I am a high maintenance pain in the ass when it comes to receiving a gift. But I try to apply these same rules when giving a gift.
A. As Paul McCartney so eloquently put it (at least I think it was Sir Paul), the best things in life are free. Homemade presents are almost always the best. They’re thoughtful. They’re creative. They’re cute. And, as is self-evident, they don’t cost anything. Translation: they don’t impact the Teravainen Family budget. While I may not have appreciated the “free” kind of gifts when I was single and child-less, I do appreciate a cost-free gift when it looks like THE WIFE has purchased enough toys to entertain a small village’s entire child population.
A sub-paragraph to this section also includes the classic “This coupon is redeemable for a foot massage” et cetera that every lame husband or boyfriend will cut from construction paper and color with markers when they were light on funds and/or made it to the store just after it closed the day or hour before said gift-giving event was to occur. (Seriously, who doesn't like a foot massage?)
One other codicil in this arena is if the gift giver possesses a special trait for which they’ve received special training or education. For example, the guy who knows how computers work. If and when I ever win the big one, I will definitely hire a full-time help desk employee who is immediately accessible and does not begin our conversation by asking if I restarted the computer. At this time, I have an iTunes account on three different machines with overlapping but not universal databases of downloaded music. I stand a better chance of explaining the theory of relativity to a CVS cashier than I do of somehow consolidating all of the songs onto my current laptop. I digress.
B. “Things” are a dangerous hit or miss. I pretty much possess any tangible item that I either want or need. In other words, if there’s something I want, I go and buy it for myself. (Again, see the disclaimer above as to my pickiness.) By extension, I loathe trips to any stores that don’t sell either liquor or books. Consequently, a trip to a location with parking for more than 1,000 vehicles, long lines at a customer service desk for exchanges and returns, or decorations for a holiday taking place three months from now, is generally not what strikes me as a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
A sub-paragraph to this section would be how I detest clutter. If I was ever a contestant on Fear Factor, I could handle lying in a coffin full of snakes or centipedes (though it would be extremely frightening.) I could even endure standing at a very tall height, which gives me vertigo or initiates what I imagine the beginning of cardiac arrest feels like. So if you wanted to give me the bends and incite a severe anxiety attack, lock me in a hoarder’s bedroom. When television shows depict homes for sale and there’s hardly anything in the place except furniture and a token decoration, that’s my nirvana. Thus, fewer things means less clutter.
When applying this rule to children, you get a mixed bag. Greta will probably build a mound of all the toys she gets from Santa this Sunday, and roll around in them like she's just won the lottery. But Gus will probably enjoy rolling over bubble wrap with an equal amount of glee. Rule of thumb: go with your gut.
C. Edible/drinkable gifts are definitely appropriate. Presents that may be consumed can also double in the (A) category to the extent that homemade perishables can be considered free, if the ingredients are already lying around in one’s pantry or crispah (that’s Masshole for fridge.) Plus, a cake or cookies only take up space temporarily. Hence, no clutter - phew.
Bottom line, food and drink are functional. Alcohol and desserts are fun. They’re even better when others can share in the experience of enjoying the gift together. And if you can somehow combine booze with sweets, an orgy may ensue.
D. Here’s my blatant contradiction to section A above, which also carries the hit or miss risk of option B. The adventure-slash-experience gift. Vacations, tickets to a concert or sporting event, and insert your creative excursion, are cool and exciting. However, these types of cadeaux generally lean heavier on the checking account.
A further obstacle with type D gifts for married men and/or fathers, however, is the amount of coordination required to lock the event on the books. Military strategists have easier times planning an assault on well-defended targets than some males do when attempting to schedule events that do not overlap with their significant other’s rigid calendar of social appearances and family obligations. Let's face it, guys like to propose a "let's meet for beers tonight" by e-mailing each other at work around 3 p.m. and taunting those who might have problems getting clearance. Ladies prefer a six-month lead time, though one year's notice is better because it might be book club night and they're supposed to bring an appetizer on the night you want to get drunk with your stupid buddies you "see all the time."
E. When in doubt, cash is king. Yes, this option may be impersonal. Money isn’t fun to wrap, per se, but honestly how cool would it be to open eight boxes containing single bills in different denominations? Wait a second, I think I have a game show idea.
Cold hard cash also clearly undercuts all of the philosophical considerations that make the “free” gifts warm and fuzzy as explained convincingly in the aforementioned Section A. But everyone has bills to pay, mouths to feed, and rounds of mudslides to buy when you're lucky enough to meet with the guys at The Backroom, right?
By extension, gift cards are not a bad idea.
While my tongue-in-cheek diatribe above may suggest otherwise, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. After a roller coaster couple of years, my family of four and a half has truly gained an appreciation for the important things in life like good health and happiness. My sincere love and affection to all of our immediate and extended family, which especially include those of you we are fortunate to consider as friends. I hope THE WIFE and I are able to give back to all of you in 2012 and beyond as much as you have given to us during our years together. Cheers.