Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I  AM OZ, THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE. Those who come before me cannot help but to cower and quail at my flaming visage. But I still have limits on my credit cards, and during these recessionary times, even mighty despots with enormous Heads have to count their pennies.

If someone can sell me some Courage, I'm going to save it for my personal stash.

I’ve said before, I’m a very good man; I’m just a very bad wizard. So, when people expect magic from me during the holidays, I have to get creative if I want to avoid disappointing my loved ones or taking out a second mortgage on the Emerald City. I mean, even if you set aside the ethical concerns, which I’m perfectly willing to do, it’s expensive to get a Brain or a Heart on the black market, and if someone can sell me some Courage, I’m going to save it for my personal stash. With so many people asking for so much stuff, I need to have a comprehensive gift strategy. My secret: when people ask for expensive and impossible stuff, I give them cheap trinkets and priceless life-lessons.

For example, my nephew wants an Xbox 360 with new Kinect motion-control system for Christmas. That costs $350, and there’s no way I will be laying out that kind of cheddar. I’m still paying off my giant, gem-studded throne. The guy who sold it to me said there’s no interest for six months, but the finance charges are just killing me. So, no video games for that kid.

Instead, I’ll find a cardboard box about the same size as the one his Xbox comes in, and I will wrap it beautifully and leave it empty. When my nephew opens it, I’ll tell him it’s filled with the boundless wonders of his imagination. After all, kids don’t need gizmos and gadgets and whirligigs to have fun. The coolest hardware comes standard with the human mind, and the greatest joy is the kind you find within yourself.

Fun doesn’t come in an Xbox, or in any kind of box; fun defies containment by its very nature. Fun is a thing that reaches its purest form through the preservation and cultivation of a constant sense of childlike wonder. By not buying my nephew that infernal contraption, I’m saving him from its depredations and offering him a whole, better world, in 3D and high-definition. When I explain that to him, he’ll have no choice but to thank me.

Anyway, I saw some people playing that Kinect, and it just looks like a bunch of spastic twitching and thrashing. If my nephew wants to flail around like a monkey with its wings cut off, he shouldn’t do it in front of a television set. He should do it outside, in the sunshine, where it doesn’t cost me anything.

With that out of the way, at a net cost of roughly zero, I can move on down my list. My brother has been dropping hints about this racing bike he wants. I’ll show up, instead, with a six-pack of High Life and tell him a bunch of crap about the immeasurable value of the fraternal bond. Maybe I’ll give him some Munchkin porn DVDs, you know, as a gag. I’m sick of watching Lollipop Guild 4 and Follow the Brown Brick Road, so I guess he can have those.

My girlfriend, meanwhile, has been asking for designer shoes. She’s green with envy over the ruby slippers her sister’s jackass husband shelled out for last year. Just because that guy is bad with money doesn’t mean I have to go deeper into hock to keep up, though. I can only afford one major purchase right now, and I have my eye on a flat-panel television.

When a woman asks for jewelry designer shoes, what she’s really saying is she wants to be made to feel desirable and valued. So this year, I will give my girlfriend the gift of my adoring gaze, in the hope that she will realize she’s been beautiful and worthwhile all along, and that she never needed symbolic baubles as proof of her transcendent loveliness. And if that doesn’t work I’ll have somebody throw some cold water on her, and maybe drop something heavy on the sister.

Daniel Friedman is the author of the upcoming novel Don’t Ever Get Old, coming in 2011 from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. His writing has been published at McSweeney’s, The Big Jewel, and Science Creative Quarterly, as well as on his blog.

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