During the holidays there is nothing like the present. There is also nothing like jeopardizing the chances the right present gets into the right hands.
Like most roads to holiday if not quite hell than at least a small antechamber of stress, the trip begins with good intentions. Those intentions were fulfilling toy wishes for needy children. This required a trip to the mall, which is sort of like hell but less fun, to pluck tags from the Salvation Army tree.
Last year’s do-gooding ended up with two bikes for two girls so this year I figured I’d balance the gender playing field and go for boys. Besides, the boys’ number one and number two requests were more palatable than the girls who all seemed to want freaky half-human, half-horse My Little Pony or Monster High dolls. For the uninitiated, these dolls make Barbie look chaste. I wasn’t going to be the gift giver that foists educational books and socks on kids who don’t want them but neither was I going to encourage pre-pubescent whoredom.
One tag was for a 5-year-old. Number one wish, remote control car. The other boy was 8 and wanted a scooter. Perfectly acceptable presents from a secret Santa and easily attainable. If only choosing gifts for my actual family members went this smooth.
A slight hiccup happened at the store. Which remote control vehicle? The sports car looked cool but the Jeep was pretty sweet, too, with a bigger control which seemed a better fit for 5-year-old fingers. The Jeep battery was longer lasting but the sports car — maybe I’m tainted by the Hot Wheels of my childhood but who wouldn’t prefer silver paint and flame decals?
The scooter was equally challenging, at least once I found one in the right price range hidden behind boxes of equipment priced somewhere around an average car payment. Then more questions — the boy didn’t specify a theme so do we go with “Iron Man 3” or the plain red? Do you think he lives in a gang-infested area where red would be a poor choice? How does Santa ever manage to figure this all out?
Eventually, toys were bought and put in a house corner for safekeeping while wrapping other gifts. Wrapping mess was cleaned up, the gift tags were tucked away for safety and the next day my Christmas partner in crime was to drop the toys back at the mall. Then the call came — um, where are the tags?
Next came the fingerpointing: On the table. Not on the table. Have to be on the table. You must have thrown them out. You threw them out. Maybe you burnt them with the newspaper? This is your fault. No, yours. Ah, how the holidays bring out the best in all of us.
That night was delightful. Tore apart the house. Donned latex gloves to rifle through the outside recycling bin. Nothing. Next to the inside garbage which of course was topped with coffee grounds and leftovers. No dice. Back to the outside garbage can which was dimly lit and permeated by the smell of a decaying pumpkin like an unwanted ghost of autumn holidays past. Still nothing.
We resigned ourselves to the very real possibility the tags were inadvertently shuffled into the fireplace and the next day the toys were dropped back off to the Salvation Army with all the possible information remembered summarized on a Post-It. Hopefully, organizers can match up the toys with the boys through process of elimination and seeing which tags are missing.
Fast-forward a few days — days still filled with the occasional “What in the heck could I have done with those?” and “Why do you want to ruin Christmas for those little boys?” — and I pulled two boxes from a plastic tub of holiday gift wrapping necessities. Guess what was stuck between them, taunting me with glittered borders and jaunty ribbons from which they hung from the tree?
So much for holiday tags. This year, it was more like a holiday slip.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.