Buying gifts during the holidays tends to be a double-edged sword for me. It’s actually quite fun and novel for me to find things for people I don’t normally buy gifts for – friends, colleagues, and those who have hard jobs helping people like me out (eg: the staff at my doctor’s office who normally get chewed out by fussy Santa Monica housewives). I like to figure out what they need, what they wouldn’t buy for themselves but would enjoy, etc.
BUT when it comes to my family, gift -buying is somewhat stressful. It’s because I need to find something different every time and over the course of several years, my creative gift giving well inevitably runs dry. And I’m just not big on giving gift cards to family – it’s worse than giving them nothing because for Chinese folks it’s like giving them cash with restrictions. I also am too sentimental and American to just give cash or buy something impersonal yet practical like underwear and socks. And when it comes to my husband, it’s the mother of all challenges. He’s got very rarefied tastes and is a master hunter of vintage ephemera and collectibles – so the average shopping mall or amazon.com will rarely deliver for me here. Instead it’s an investment of time and lots of luck at flea markets and eBay. What makes it harder is that he manages to find cool stuff all the time and throughout the year for me. It’s the stuff that only exists at 6am at the flea market after beating off hordes of Japanese dealers, douchebag hipsters, and cheesy Hollywood stylists who intend to flip these goods from double to triple digits.
I’ve been usually good and lucky at finding something special for him, but this year did not give myself enough lead time to score something that hit the mark. Sadly, it’s kinda lame and generic. The worst part is that I can’t just cheat and drop a bunch of money on something extravagant. He cares less about how much I spend than how much thought and time I put into finding and curating that special thing. And as he manages to pull it off every time for me, I risk coming off like Ralph in The Honeymooners hoping Ethel doesn’t catch on that I fumbled my way through Xmas this time because I got busy. These are one of the few times where I wish my spouse had generic tastes that were easily satisfied by a gag gift at Spencers or Ed Hardy t-shirt. But then again, I’d never marry that guy…or even make it past the choice of movie or dinner on the first date. I’ll just have to learn my lesson and start today for Xmas ’12…
What was the most thoughtful gift you received or have sweated out to give to someone? What is it like to receive a gift that exhibits a lot of thought about your particular tastes, wants, and/or needs?
JEROME: Firstly, ‘douchebag hipster’ is redundant.
Secondly, I’m way too pragmatic to deny cash money its place at the top of all gifts. Hate to be the cynic that rains on the parade, but I’m pretty good at finding what I need and want and funding my search is probably the kindest thing anyone can do.
The worst part about this robotic approach is that if someone does get me something other than cash, I can’t help but agonize about whether or not they shopped smart for it. I start to feel awful imagining that they paid MSRP for it. Yes, I’m insane.
I’m still open to receiving something I didn’t know I wanted or needed at some point in my life, but nothing really sticks out.
I did get a towel with the words “Cum Rag” on it once. Maybe that counts.
QUENTIN: I have given up buying gifts for my mom who has everything and refuses to take any gift from us other than a box of nice chocolates. My ex bought me and himself each a Gucci wallet for the Christmas we met. He has already lost his but I still use mine everyday… and it has been 6 years! You just never know what gift will become useful or meaningful over the years.
ALFREDO: Danette and Matthew, dear old friends of ours who live in Boise, Idaho with their young daughter Iris, each year send us the same thing, and each year I’m touched: savings bonds for our children which, A) I didn’t know existed since World War II ended, and B), sorta like A), are just charmingly Capra-esque.
And knowing my sweet tooth, Danette also sends me hand made preserves and marmalades in mason jars and labels them with the most exquisite handwriting on the planet. A post-it note by her hand is a something to behold.
When I first met Danette, she was my boss at DiMattia’s Pasta Cafe in the Glendale Galleria back in the latter part of the 20th century (I rolled pizzas, she managed the joint). She had come to LA to work peripherally in the rock ‘n’ roll biz as a sound engineer. Thankfully, the sleaze of it all turned her off, she went back to Idaho, back to school, and has been a nutritionist and teacher and terrific jam maker ever since.
And those six jars of jam she sends me every Christmas? They keep me thinking of her well into spring.
PHILIP: I agree it’s not about how much money one spends on the gift but the thought that went into. The best gifts I’ve gotten are things like books that people thought I’d like or “mixtapes” with music that means something to the giver and/or receiver.
One of the best gifts I ever got didn’t cost a penny. Years ago for my birthday, a friend was working on a movie with Sir Anthony Hopkins and somehow convinced Hopkins to record an outgoing message for my answering machine as Hannibal Lecter from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. That was the coolest.
ANDERSON: I hate shopping and tend to buy things in bulk to send to friends. I, for one, love Amazon and iTunes gift cards. I’m an entertainment consumer and every little bit helps. When it comes to my family, I put more thought into it, but usually it’s stuff I order online. Except for my dad, who is a big wine guy, so I usually get him a nice, expensive bottle, which he appreciates and it’s usually opened Christmas night to be shared with family. That’s pretty cool.
ROGER: I went on a tour of China with my family fwhen I was in the 8th grade. There were about 25 other families on the trip. Near the end of the trip was my birthday. To my surprise, the tour group threw a party for me when we were in Beijing. To my fantastic luck, a girl on the trip who i thought was beyond hot (she was 22) was the one who lit the candle to my cake and led the group in birthday singalong for me. My present – a nice, mushy and wet kiss on the cheek from her. I got my first boner from physical contact. And it was from an older woman. Solid.
IRIS: My father was the most difficult person to shop for. Every Christmas and birthday used to be a real challenge. Most of the time, he would go through the motions and unwrap the present, but then left the gift abandoned and still in its box in the living room, until one of us eventually decided to return it to the store we got it from. I don’t know why we even bothered, but somehow it felt wrong to not get him anything. We tried a stereo system, an electric toothbrush, karaoke records, ties, golf accessories, all to no avail.
One year, I went to his office to check what was wrong with his computer and I noticed how extremely uncomfortable his chair was. He had been complaining about back problems, walking somewhat askew, and it was no wonder to me. This chair was probably the same chair he had been using since he opened his practice about 25 years ago. It was an ugly, green, plastic thing that creaked when you sat on it, was duct taped over where the original cushioning used to be and then covered with a throw cushion. My back started hurting after sitting on that chair for just an hour.
“Aha!” I thought. I knew what to get him. I went to Staples, got him a very professional and ergonomic-looking office chair. It had a black leather seat, a breathable mesh back, adjustable height and adjustable arm rests, tilt features–the works. I had it assembled in the store so there would be no fuss putting it together, somehow managed to stuff it into my car (which was no small feat), and rolled it through the streets of Little Tokyo to get it to his office.
“Ha!” I thought, “There’s no returning this.” I told my father he NEEDED to use this chair, if for no other reason but for the sake of his back. I rolled away the green menace and put the new chair in front of his desk. But when I went back to check a few weeks later, of course, the new chair was left abandoned in a far corner of the office and he was back to using the old chair! There was just no winning with him.
EMMIE: I hate having to shop in a hurry, so I keep a Google Docs spreadsheet of gift ideas (yes I am a nerd!!!) for the people I’m supposed to shop for, and try to purchase the stuff way in advance. One year I think I finished in July (this year, I finished 28 hours ago). I list everything that each person likes, so that when it’s time to shop, I don’t have to furrow my brow and try to remember what I should be trolling for.
From reading your question, Elaine, I’ve just realized that everyone on my list is super easy to shop for. They’re either easy to please, or practical. The easy to please folk get their straightforward gifts (cookbooks, jewelry, cute Japanese items, dishware), and the others get Amazon gift cards (I’ve just found out that you can give Visa gift cards too) or gift cards for places where they like shopping. Or they get food that they like. I understand your sentimentality thing, and obviously it’s important to your husband that you find the right gift for him. I’m picky as well, but I’d prefer to receive boring, practical gifts over gifts that I don’t want (even if the person put thought into it).
For your husband, you might want to take little shopping excursions to random countries (no problemo! I know you’re not busy at your job or anything), and/or invest some time (maybe a couple of hours each month) looking through design blogs – they’re always full of awesome links and websites. You’d find great stuff that way. Also, it might be handy to keep a list of shops in LA that carry unusual and excellent gifts.
The best gift I ever received was from my little sister. I think I’ve already told this story somewhere on this blog before, but I’ll go ahead and repeat myself.
I was a teenager, and had just read about the all-new Gillette Sensor for women. It sounded awesome, since back in the day, razors sucked hardcore a** and I was always shaving off parts of my skin. I told Annie about this incredible new razor that was touted to shave your legs with no painful cuts. The designer had perfected it by shaving her own legs in a careless, sloppy hurry until she received zero nicks from her shaving. In the article, she said that she had cut herself a bazillion times. Thank you, thank you, nameless Gillette Sensor for Women razor designer!
Sorry, I digress. Anyway, I forgot about the razor (wasn’t sure when it was being released). On my birthday a while later, I unwrapped Annie’s present and found a beautiful new green razor. It was fantastic. Annie was 8 at the time, and I was very touched that she had remembered my enthusiasm, gathered together 3 dollars, and biked down to the grocery store to make the purchase.
Years later, she also bought me an iPod. She’s good at identifying stuff that I need and would want, before I know that I want it. Thank you, Annie.
Not sure about the best/most thoughtful gift I’ve ever given. My memory is pretty bad, so I can’t remember what I’ve given people in the past. Off the top of my head, I recall that I used to do paintings for people. One painting took me 100 hours, I think. It was a bit of a disaster, though, so I wouldn’t call that a great gift.
ANSON: Finding the perfect gift takes a lot of brain power and sometimes an even thicker wallet. But I remember when I was in bootcamp we couldn’t really buy things to send but cards from the base exchange and for some reason they only had “Get Well Soon” cards. I’d have to cross out the messages like “Feel Better” and write “Happy Birthday”. But the rest of the message would make sense. “We’re thinking about you”. And I’d change “ Hope for a speedy recovery” to “ Hope for a drunken celebration”. And this may sound nerdy but I use to top it off with my own personal poem. Usually a 6-10 liner and just ridiculously creative. Poems were sorta my thing back then. My friends loved them because they looked so ghetto but so funny. So to this day, when I give anyone a card, I always give them the wrong occasion on purpose and tell them it was the cheapest one on sale.
DHH: I’m finding this a tough one to answer. Maybe I’m ultimately not so into gifts — at least, not the kind you can wrap for the holidays. If anything, I treasure experiences, which hopefully become happy memories. I remember trips I took with my parents & siblings, as well as with girlfriends, the girl I eventually married, and my own family. And, this may be rather off-topic, but there are the times when amazing people have given me gifts that have helped me do my work: producer Joe Papp giving me my first production, former NY Times head critic Frank Rich supporting my more recent plays, etc. I am deeply moved and grateful for such generosity. This year, my family is gifting me a renovation of my home office, which kinda brings together experiences, work, and the holiday. So this might end up being my favorite gift yet!