Thursday, December 23, 2010
My mother's favorite movie is A Christmas Story because my aunt gave me the similarly-awful gifts as the aunt did to Ralphie. And, as these occurred in the years prior to the movie, her gifts weren't some sort of homage - they were simply horribly inappropriate.
Before I turned 4, she gave me a bottle of non-alcoholic wine. Except...it wasn't non-alcoholic. It was a Cab Sav. I drank "the funny-tasting grape juice" from my sippy cup, taking careful measures not to spill any of the special juice. 30 minutes later, I took a tumble down her stairs in Arlington, VA, adding a noticeable scar to my head and a look of shock from my poor mother when she realized her sister unwittingly fed my pre-school alcoholism.
The next year, I got a pair of bright pink denim jeans with the cartoon character "Ziggy" on the back pocket. I know it was 1978, but I was a boy, and Ziggy was hardly a symbol of youthful pride. Ziggy also looked like he was grabbing a feel down my drawers.
The next year, I got a silver bell that had a music box in it. It played a stamped-tin version of "The way we were." Looking back, I'm convinced my aunt wanted me to be a drag queen.
In 1980, she got me a subscription to "Omni" Magazine. A magazine about science, discovery and the future aimed decidedly at adults. I was a smart 6 year old, but...damn. This magazine was over scientists' heads, much less a kid who couldn't make the t-ball team.
The next year, she continued on the science theme and bought me a microscope. Not a Fisher-Price microscope, or something geared for kids, but the type you'd have used in a good high school biology class or in college. Here's the kicker - the thing was missing a piece in the lens assembly, so everything I looked at was black. She thought she unlocked the secrets of the universe for me; and I thought that I was losing my vision at the ripe old age of 7.
She then decided to get me books on ridiculous subjects over the next few years. French Impressionist Art designed for a college student, not a finger-painting 8 year old. A technical cookbook. A medical textbook about anatomy, thinking I'd be a doctor. The kicker was a bunch of reproductions of Civil War battlefields done up in a horrific oil paint style akin to that of tourist trap sea shells.
My mom eventually remarried, and my step-dad had his flaws, but he was a very good gift giver. When he saw my aunt get me a ridiculous gift for an 11 year old boy - a book on saving for retirement - he basically called her a freak. "Buy the kid a toy!" he exclaimed. She replied "they're a waste of time for such a fertile mind! No child needs a toy."
Thank goodness she never reproduced.
The next year, she bought me biotech stock from a horribly mismanaged company. Any casual observer knows that stocks *generally* go up. This stock was purchased at $7 a share over 20-some years ago. It was last trading on the NASDAQ for less than a dollar before getting delisted a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, the same amount of money she pissed away could have bought Dell - then a penny stock! - and I'd have had about 5000 shares of it by now. Or even Microsoft, which has split several times since then. Either one could have bought me a car, or a house, or paid-off my student loans. Her quote -"'nobody will remember them in 2000. Biotech is the way to go!"
She eventually decided on a few years of checks at the urging of my mother, and at the constant badgering of other members of the family. However, she couldn't let my college major of Radio and Television Broadcasting with a journalism and history minors go unnoticed. She bought me a series of books about legends in broadcasting and print - Dan Rather, Ted Turner. All the President's Men. She'd finally gotten me appropriate things to my life! However, she told me not to bother being a local sportscaster or a morning show deejay - both of which I ended up doing - but to *RUN* a network. So, she bought me the William S. Paley biography. He ran CBS for years, and was a titan in the industry. To be fair, it was actually a decent read, and had awesome historical photos of the early days of the CBS empire.
It was so awesome she bought it for me again THE VERY NEXT YEAR.
Same book. Same version. Same printing. Same cover. Everything.
I received another book the next Christmas. I'll give you a hint - the paperback version of the William S. Paley book.
The next year, my mom and my aunt were poking around the mall, and stopped in a bookstore. My aunt was going to get me a book for my birthday.
Yup. You guessed it.
My mom said "how many f*cking times are you going to buy him that book?"
My aunt actually had no idea that she'd bought me the same thing three years in a row.
I'm now 37, and I received her package in the mail for Christmas this week. I'll open it Saturday, and I can already tell it's a book.