And then there's Nine. Nine doesn't have a lot of money to spend on frivolities. What she does have in abundance is a free-wheeling determination that she's going to enjoy the giving. She listens to her subjects, analyzes their personalities, budgets her gift fund, and researches the market. Then, when one of her astonished beneficiaries stammers, "How in the..." she smiles conspiratorially and says, "Thuh intranet is mah friend." A few examples:
Thanksgiving, several years ago. A bunch of us are in that overstuffed, after-dinner glow, sitting around the fireplace reminiscing about our childhoods, and the warm fuzzies we remembered. My turn came around, and I told the tale of the game I got for my 13th birthday. It was an electronic wonder by Mattel, similar in concept to Battleship, but involving the stalking of submarines. The players hid their subs under their respective halves of the translucent sonar screen board, and on your turn you used the center dials to move a cross hair to a spot where you might expect a sub to be lurking, pressed the firing button, and if a sub was there, the flash of an explosion announced a hit. You won by sinking all of your opponent's subs, but be careful! Four mines were scattered among his subs, and if you hit one, the raucous buzz! of the damage alarm jerked you out of your contemplation. Hit all four and you lost, regardless of the current score in subs sunk. An ingenious, and especially enjoyable feature was a small periscope on each side of the board that allowed you to watch your opponent taking his turn under the board. Shortly after this release, it was eclipsed by games with rudimentary computers, and it went the way of the dinosaur fairly quickly. There weren't many of them made by industry standards, and if you look up Mattel Games on Wikipedia, this is one of the few that has no additional information to offer.
At Christmas two years later, as we took turns opening our gifts, and ooh-ing and ah-ing over each others' treasures, Nine handed me a large, flat box, and I peeled the paper off to find a fully restored copy of Sonar Sub Hunt, every piece accounted for, every system working flawlessly... And in its original box, no less! I was in awe, and it still takes my breath away.
I once mentioned a movie I had seen at the age of 18 at an open air theater on a tropical island. It was a movie about a tropical island, called Kona Coast. It starred Richard Boone, one of Hollywood's true fire-breathing badmen, as one of those waterfront characters who owns a boat in Hawaii. He's willing to putter around minding his own business until a rich dabbler in recreational drugs kills his daughter with an administered overdose, upon which he reverts to character and lays waste to half the population. The movie wasn't as great as I remembered, the perspectives between 18 and 63 being a mite different, but it was great nostalgia, Bonzo loved it, and the point is that I mentioned it around Nine, and some months later, opened a gift and there it was. The movie has never been for sale on home video of any medium, and when I saw the over-the-counter writable CD in the package, I thought it was maybe some converted grandkid movies. Nope. Don't know how the hell she did it, but it's mine now!
Finally, I have a sneaking admiration for the steampunk subculture. I love that whole Victorian, skewed technology, exploring a mysterious world in a dirigible scene. If I was young; well, young and good-looking; and, let's throw in popular, as long as we're fantasizing, I might wear some of the clothes and accessories. That's not going to happen, but Nine is aware of my guilty little pleasure. I have a decent collection of fantasy weapons, and though you may be ahead of me here, for my last birthday, she added the Consolidator to it. What else need I say?
This, then, is the art of gift-giving, as espoused by the Nine. When she was a wee little girl, she accompanied me on a shopping expedition to buy a special gift for my beloved Bonzo. During the trip, I explained that the perfect gift is something the recipient will love, while still reflecting something of the giver. Little did I imagine what that one sentence, poured into that questing little mind, would grow into! Nonetheless, she embodies how you do it. Her gifts are always special acquisitions, kept safe in places of honor and shared with special friends, and that's because of what she puts into it. It doesn't require a ton of money to be the Wizard of Gifts; I know this, because I know she doesn't have access to a ton of money. Here in the age of the Internet, it doesn't require endless slogs from store to store. Some attentiveness, a little facility with a search engine, and you can be that special relative who's known, loved, and talked about for your gift-giving acumen. The lovely side effect is that it turns a huge chore like Christmas shopping into an adventurous scavenger hunt worthy of any steampunk-themed graphic novel. I know. I'm still learning from my former protegee, and it gets more enjoyable all the time.
Take this attitude on your next shopping trip. You'll know if you've truly mastered it, because you won't be "fighting" the crowds any more; rather you'll be "flowing" in a mystic zone of treasure hunting for loved ones, and enjoying every minute of it.
Well, that's it, friends. Look for me in about a week; actually, if I can hold to my schedule, it calls for posts every Tuesday through December. Now, get out there and live life like you mean it!