It’s much better to give than to receive

Unless you’ve been snoozing on a mud flat in Potato Slough for the past two months, it should be abundantly clear that the frantic Christmas shopping season is closing in on us faster than Gov. Gray Davis swooping down on a campaign contribution.

Once again, holly jolly retailers are urging us to open our hearts and our checkbooks and rampage through the nearest shopping mall in a relentless search to secure just the perfect gift for what’s-his-name.

And, when January rolls around, we’ll once again find ourselves up to our necks in debt following ill-considered, last-minute purchases of electric nose hair clippers, George Foreman grills and extra large coffee mugs emblazoned with caricatures of intoxicated reindeer.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

There are plenty of strikingly unique gifts out there to be had for a song if you’re willing to take a little extra time to seek them out (or wrest them from the hands of an unwary U.S. Customs agent).

Here are a few suggestions that will keep your name on the lips of thunderstruck gift recipients for years to come:

* Wool. No, not a woolen sweater or scarf, just a generous bag of fresh-off-the-sheep wool. It’s the kind of gift that says you care enough to start with quality basics, giving recipients the opportunity to personally create their own woolen clothing, seat covers or accessories. (Fashion note: Extra-scratchy, naturally dyed wool cummerbunds were hot, hot, hot on the Rancho Mirage party circuit last summer.)

* Seattle Seahawks team jackets. Once you find a stash of these, they usually go for about $8 each and, since no street gang member will be caught dead wearing one, the recipient will never be mistaken for a thug (or a football player). Best of all, since there are only 325 registered Seahawk fans nationwide, this jacket can be worn year ’round – baseball season, basketball season, it doesn’t matter. (“Seahawks’ fan, huh? Yeah, those boys sure know how to play hockey…”).

* Nuts and screws and fasteners. Hey, everybody needs screws, and you can get a whole mess of them for about $5 in a cool little plastic compartment case at most discount hardware stores, discount drug stores and several retail outlets whose names end in “Mart.” If you shop around, you might get lucky and find one of the assortments that has thumbtacks, brads and molly bolts (the latter of which are good for leaving big, honking holes in plaster and sheet rock walls). If you want to dress up this gift, throw in a hammer and a screw-driver. Don’t worry about what kind of screwdriver – none of them ever fits the screws in those little plastic boxes anyway…).

* Colorful fishing lures. Your gift recipient doesn’t have to be an avid angler to enjoy these. They’re eye-catching, look like annoying insects and they come equipped with little barbed hooks which make it easy to hang them from chandeliers or from one of the aforementioned molly bolt holes. An acquaintance of mine uses an assortment of them to secure the headliner in his Jeep.

Now go forth and shop, secure in the knowledge that it is infinitely better to give than to receive…

Originally published December 8, 2002