East of NORMAL

The glorious gift of gotcha

I live a pretty active life, and I enjoy it. Trouble is a lot of it doesn’t pay much. I write articles for this magazine, and that’s a little money, which is nice. I do a radio show Monday mornings on WXNA, and I love it, but it don’t pay a dime. I play gigs in town, and most of them are pass-the-hat. You might make $150, you might make $30; you don’t know ahead of time. I play gigs out of town, and that’s some money too, but then there’s the gas, the hotels, the Snickers bars — the overhead piles up. And then there’s the occasional royalty check, which can range from $600 to $42.50, and you never know ahead of time what it’s going to be.
      That’s why I have to start ahead of time for Christmas shopping. I try to start saving money on or about Dec. 15, and get my shopping started around the 21st. Not everybody always gets what he or she wants, but fuck ’em. Do I always get what I want? Hell no. Or at least not all the time.
      One Christmas about 25 years ago, Mom gave all us four siblings the same thing, and we all had to open our presents simultaneously so it wouldn’t blow the suspense for the slowpoke. Four blue-green tubes of Luzier Foot Creme. I shit thee not. Foot cream. That was our present. “But it feels so good on your feet!” my sister exclaimed, being grateful for the four of us. Well, I would certainly hope it feels good! If it felt bad, that wouldn’t be a good thing, would it! I was expecting an R.E.M. record, or maybe a blue-green tube of weed. But no. Foot cream. And Mom was serious. She was the most good-hearted person I’ve ever met, and she had nothing but our best interests at heart. Her only wish that Christmas was to make her children’s feet supple and smooth. I later gave my tube to my sister. And I’m sure she used all of it. Women.
      But there was ONE time about three years ago when I actually did save some money ahead of time. Quite a lot, actually, by my standards. It took me about six months of saving before I could launch my sortie at Best Buy. Christmas is, of course, all about Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men (and women, and dogs), but that year, for me, it was all about shock value — I was going to get my family good.
      We were drinking coffee in the living room around 8 or 9 a.m. on Christmas morning. Nathan was 16, Beth was, well, you know, old. Me, too. Our ancient cathode ray television was on with the sound down, we had our coffee next to where we were sitting, and we opened our presents. We each had two: one about a foot wide and tall (with the thing we’d asked for) and one small one, probably a wallet or some shit like that. Whoopee. We sat for a moment, surveying our bounty, and then, after another moment, I got out of my recliner and said, “I’ll be right back,” as if I was headed to the john or something.
      I went to the master bedroom and knelt down under the bed. I pulled out a box Beth had been sleeping over for two weeks without knowing it. That box was huge — four feet long by three feet wide by around nine inches thick. I struggled to get it out from under the bed, and when I did, I stood it up. Then I got behind it and push-scooted it out of the bedroom, across the kitchen floor, and into the living room. When Beth and Nathan saw the word SAMSUNG in big letters on the box, I watched their faces melt, into goo, dripping on the floor. I got ’em. Oh, I got ’em good. It was tasty.
      That was one of the best Christmases ever, not because of the receiving (although I did get the Sennheiser headphones I wanted), but because of the giving, the centerpiece of the season. I stood there in my sleep pants and my KISS T-shirt and soaked it in as they sat there gobsmacked. A 28-inch, HD, flat-screen, internet-ready television like all the other neighbors had. It was a sweet moment, the giving, and that’s at least part of what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.