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The Gift Card Debate

Monday, 26 December 2011

Shake Me Down - Cage the Elephant (mp3)
Any Other Heart - Go Radio (mp3)

A fondue set. A briefcase.

A fucking fondue set, and a damn briefcase.

My wife and I have been giving one another gifts for going on 17 years now. She knows me better than anyone save for, possibly, one or two friends. Nothing about our affection or familiarity guarantees the success of our present-buying efforts.

My wife is almost impossible to shop for. She has few hobbies, few obsessions, basic fashion sense and a practical nature that renders most traditional gifts comical. The perfume I bought her three years ago, perfume she actually likes, still sits more than half-full on our bathroom counter. (“Half-full” is optimistic unless you’re talking about a bottle of liquid purchased three years ago.)

Her friends, both sets of our parents, all of us lament the challenge of trying to find presents to please this great gal. This challenge is one of the many reasons I fell in love with her, because she was never terribly haunted by her paucity of material goods, and this was going to be a priceless and essential gift of any woman willing to marry me, if we were to remain married.

I’ve missed the mark many times, and she has missed on me as well. While I might crave new golf clubs or the complete series of LOST on DVD, I occasionally get a damn briefcase. I even had to drag the thing to my office, every damn day, for 18 damn months, just so my wife and my mother, who went in on this gift together, would think I really liked it.

These acts of false appreciation are, believe it or not, proof of love. This is what we do for those who care for us.

Sometimes love means taking a shot in the dark with your gifts. Sometimes love means acting or convincing yourself of being grateful for that which you don’t really appreciate. And I love that about love. That it would cause someone like myself, who is gifted at being selfish and self-centered, to go through such acting to prevent my mother and wife from seeing my distaste for what they so earnestly purchased.

Growing up, my two best friends and I would intentionally go and find albums or books we knew would be loathed and/or mocked (Debbie Gibson, Winger, Air Supply, etc.). It was like a clever gift card. We didn’t do this merely for the humor value, but because deep down we couldn’t really be sure what to get one another.

If it’s such a challenging if not impossible task for our spouses and parents to know what gifts might bring us true joy, what chance in hell do mere friends or more distant relatives have at pleasing us regularly?

Over 400,000 have seen the song “Present Face” on YouTube, and by next Christmas it’ll be into the 1.5-2 million numbers, because it’s so sadly funnily beautifully spot-on when it comes to people and their gifts. We’ve all made that face. It’s as ubiquitous a part of the holiday season as fruitcake and cranberry sauce.

So why do so many folks hate on the trustworthy, if vanilla, gift card? In spite of our universal acknowledgement that so many of the gifts given to us out of love suck a big hairy donkey dick, we decry the credit card as somehow deficient, lazy, unloving. We can’t have our cake, nor can we eat it.

Here’s why I don’t like shopping: I rarely need something badly enough to shop for it, not badly enough to justify, in my mind, the expenditure of my hard-earned cash. This is especially true for clothing, because I have zero confidence in my fashion sense, and with historical reason. Why should I spend my hard-earned money to make a dubious fashion decision?

But someone gives me a gift card, and the paradigm has shifted! Shopping is no longer about guilt; it’s about obligation! It’s no longer my money! It’s just this piece of plastic that has absolutely no value unless I take it to a specified location and buy shit with it! And if I don’t go shopping, I’ve not only wasted money, but I’ve insulted the person who gave me this gift and spent their hard-earned money on it!

With the exception of Starbucks cards, I prefer to Stuff cards to Food & Drink cards. Food is a necessity, so I prefer paying for that myself. Stuff is rarely essential, so gift cards are my permission slip to indulge in them. Starbucks is probably an exception because, if we're being honest, paying $4 for a cup of fucking coffee is beyond indulgent no matter how acceptable it's become for me and millions of others.

Gift cards are to presents what singles are to baseball. They're underrated. They're far more essential to a successful team than home runs. Aiming for the fence results in a far higher strike-out ratio and a lower OBP. Winning teams get on base. They buy gift cards.

So, here's my permission slip. Buy me a gift card. I won't be insulted by your laziness.

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