It’s Because I’m Just Not Material

I’m not a good gift giver. It’s a truth I’ve accepted only recently. For the longest time I thought I was quite adept at it given the time, not to mention the money, I’ve invested in finding the right token for someone. I did all the requisite preparatory work of a savvy gift giver. I kept my ears tuned to the subtle wishes that escaped someone’s lips. I noticed what caught their fancy when perusing a store. I took stock of what they envied from the pages of a magazine. And I wrote it all down on a piece of paper that I kept tucked inside my wallet. That way, when my computerized calendar issued the first alert a few weeks in advance of the upcoming event, I could set out in calm and orderly pursuit of the items I’d recorded.

The problem is that the digital notice never sounded. Because I never entered the event I needed alerting to.

Rather than being made aware with plenty of time to procure the desired item for an upcoming birthday, I would realize at the last possible moment in the least desirable of environments. The typical sequence of events occurs in the grocery store while heaving a cart, bursting with children, down the aisles, staring at a piece of paper fished from the depths of my wallet, puzzling over the kind of dish I was planning to make with an argyle scarf and a candelabra. The realization that I am staring at a wish list instead of my grocery list sends me into a fit of hyperventilation in the produce section. With a vice grip on a gourd, I look at my phone’s calendar to confirm that the birthday I had vigilantly prepared for was now in progress. Add a few hours if you go by Pacific Standard Time, which I always do, irrespective of the reality that neither I nor the recipient of my gift lives in that time zone. I name the pimply-faced produce stocker guardian of my children while I commence pacing frenetically over sticky linoleum. I intermittently throw oyster crackers at my kids while yelling into my phone at a hapless operator, “You know, the place! That shitty place that constructs, like, busts of historical figures and endangered animals from strawberries and pineapples and chocolate!”

Then I return home with the kids to select a mawkish e-card serving the dual-function of being both a card for a birthday and an apology for the Edible Arrangement.

The only person in my life who gets even worse gifts than a fruit-molded orangutan and an E-card is my husband, G. The man doesn’t eat fruit, which surely suggests a psychosis, like carrying a copy of Catcher In The Rye in your dash. Plus I would never consent to paying a delivery fee to my own home unless it’s for Thai food.

He didn’t always get terrible gifts. I really blew it out of the water the one birthday we celebrated before we quickly became married. I barely knew him then so it’s not as though my gifts were filled with shared history and nuanced with inside jokes and references only we would know. They were bolstered by money. Because I had some then. The one great advantage to having a job beyond health benefits, interesting adult interaction, and a reason to wear a bra, is that I had my own money with which to buy gifts. Now that I’ve stopped collecting wages, my only contribution to our joint account comes in the form of ritualistic chants to the Heavens to metaphysically replenish the account. Adding to the discomfort of using what is technically his money to buy his gift is this beastly iphone app that infringes on my civil shopping liberties by alerting him to each transaction in real time. I’ve barely cleared the threshold of the store when the text missile is in the water: What did you buy from the outlet mall?

This year’s birthday, which occurred on Sunday, should have been the simplest one yet since G told me – in no uncertain terms and in front of neutral witnesses – I needn’t bother getting him a gift since he wanted to buy himself a set of golf clubs. Well, slap me on the wrist and call me a rule follower! I, the lucky worm, took that as my chance to wriggle off the hook and high-kick all over town with my good fortune.

Until I spoke to my mother.

She lowered her voice in that foreboding maternal whisper, heavy with the wisdom of 40 years of marital quagmires, and told me that it would be unconscionable to give him nothing for his birthday. When her voice assumed that ‘you cannot move back home with three children when he throws you out’ tone, I grudgingly unfurled the worn piece of paper containing the items G had discussed longingly over the last year

Membership at the private golf club, a sailboat, a herd of Alpacas, tickets to the Kentucky Derby, and a Christmas Tree Farm.

I reminded my mother that I would need a government bailout the likes of the one AIG received to purchase any of these items as a few grocery store cash back skims off the checking account wouldn’t suffice. Undeterred she suggested buying a ‘teaser’ gift to compliment the bigger item that he could buy on his own. If I interpreted the strategy correctly, I should buy him a shovel with which he could hoist the pounds of hypothetical shit left upon his imagined fields by his theoretical herd of Alpacas. Or I could buy him, say, a pack of golf balls to outfit the club membership. Considering, though, that I won’t consent to joining a golf club before undertaking a kitchen remodel, it felt disingenuous to herald a gift that may not arrive till he is regularly getting colonoscopies and addressing his dentist as ‘kid.’

Because a floppy hat (Derby)or a Santa suit (Christmas Tree farm) also seemed undesirable, I settled on the only thing I could approximate from his list of things Warren Buffet buys on a Tuesday: a sailboat ride. If I couldn’t buy him a sailboat, I could settle for a tour on someone else’s sailboat. He is tentatively reserved, due to unfavorable weather, to take his nautical jaunt this week.

If my alert reminds me to call in the confirmation.

(Are you good at buying gifts?  Is your partner hard to buy for?)