Conscientious gift buyers are, as usual, dreading coming to grips with this same old problem - which has, if anything, become more acute in the past few years, due to high prosperity and the concept of Total Fun Living. Gadgets and frivolities which once were prime gift material are now basic living requirements. This phenomenon has caused the wrappings themselves to take on great importance. Superhuman effort and ingenuity is called into play in order to evoke the slightest flicker of more than polite gratitude when the gift is presented. Often the present itself is a genuine anticlimax after the magnificent wrappings have been enjoyed and finally removed.
It is easy to foresee the day when the wrappings will become an end in themselves. Great artists will be commissioned to create magnificent packages. Picasso, De Kooning, Dali-all will find a new outlet for their creative talents. Naturally, schools of wrapping will develop and aesthetic wars will rage. Abstract-Expressionist wrappers will tilt with Neo-Dadaists for juicy corn-missions. Of course, there will always be those who will say, "I don't know much about wrapping, but I know what I like. Give me a gift that looks like a gift." For them, there will be Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses. All this means, of course, that the gift itself has become almost meaningless. To those who will say that it is the spirit and not the gift that counts, I can only point out that the spirit flags quickly when boredom sets in. Countless gallons of rare perfumes and thousands of diamond bracelets are practically forgotten a few days after the tree has come down. This is sad. The urge to give and to express love was there, but the imagination was lacking. As we pointed out a few years ago in these pages, the real problem is that we just don't give enough genuine thought to what people really want.
There are many things we all want that we will never have in our lifetime. Things that conventions or discretion prevent us from buying for ourselves, regardless of our means. This is the area to explore for really meaningful giftings. Offerings that far outdistance the routine Flemish ice tongs, Toby mugs, and Early Victorian cameo brooches. I will never forget the man I knew who received a magnificent Japanese samurai sword. After the first flush of excitement wore off, it began to gather dust on the wall of his den and now has become a source of positive embarrassment, since his den was done over by Saarinen. His wife had outdone herself to buy the one gift that she felt truly expressed her love for her mate, but she had failed. This in spite of the fact that she knew what really was lacking in his life. She could have given it to him and created the Christmas of Christmases.
The matt was a lifelong Civil War buff. And, as is the case with all who are so afflicted, he had eventually begun to feel the urge to publish a book in order to add his voice to the growing clamour of amateur Civil War experts who are represented on all publishers' fall lists. In fact, he had begun to collect notes his theory that Lincoln's hat maker was actually a Confederate spy who was personally responsible for the cavalry disaster at Pitt's Landing. But with tit r pressures of business, lack of writing talent, and one thing and another, he had never quite got around to completing his work on The Book. Few people outside the industry are aware that here is a small but thriving concern that is specifically set up to fill just such a need. Headed by two enterprising young associate history professors who teach at Midwestern universities, the organization is equipped to turn out a Civil War book on any given theme, or theory. The manuscript is deliverer to the buyer complete with index, footnotes, and bibliography. For an additional fee, a thin second volume of addenda cross indexed can be supplied as a nice extra touch. All the happy author has to do is affix his sig-nature, send the manuscript off to a good solid publisher, and wait for the invitation to have tea with Bruce Cat-ton. The Combine, as they are known to the trade, has been responsible for over sixty-five per cent of the Civil War literature that has been published in the past three years. They are discreet, reliable, and are able to provide a Christmas for the deserving that would never be forgotten. Incidentally, this gift costs less than $5,000, and delivery of the final manuscript is guaranteed within thirty days after receipt of order. This is but one of many opportunities for creative giving that are available for truly gala giftings. Here are a few others to think about:
There are many women who, although successful mothers and wives, have felt tiny twinges of regret over lost theatrical careers. These people, who perhaps starred in free-form drama at Bennington, should never be given a season's subscription to a theatre club. This gift, though well meant, invariably aggravates the sense of loss rather than assuages it. To the secret actor, watching others act is pure hell. I can supply the name of a producer who has made a thriving business of curing this affliction. For a surprisingly reasonable sum, he will provide a package of well-known director, southern decadence play, and Broadway opening (two performances guaranteed). For a slight additional Investment, at least one good personal review will be provided by one of the Big Seven. Imagine the delight and joy that will overflow when on Christmas morn a telegram arrives from a famous producer reading, "AM ANXIOUS TO SEE YOU IMMED STOP SAW YOU IN TWO PERF OF IN TRANSIT (CQ) AT BENNINGTON STOP HAVE ROLE FOR YOU STOP WIRE IMMED" Who could ever forget such a gift?
It is not generally known that there are several lesser Cabinet posts available that make truly majestic corporate gifts. The prices vary according to cabinet ranking and the pitch of competitive bidding. Here, as in most other affairs of men, demand controls price. It is suggested that a presentation of this magnitude serve as a Christmas surprise as well as a retirement gift that will pale any amount of gold putters or capital inventory stock transfers. In a sense, it is also a gift that the board is awarding itself. Here is a fit-ting way to get the old man out of the road at last and a splendid opportunity for him to utilize his genius for obstructionism for the good of The People. A discreet contribution to the Party's fund, a couple of calls to the right people, and Christmas Day will find the old man hearing over the wire, "Mr. Bullard? One moment please. The President wishes to speak to you from the White House -"
We all know individuals whose anonymity is the blight of their lives - those who cherish clippings of house organs wherein they are mentioned as attending the office party, who have their portraits made by Bachrach, only to hang them in their own studios; whose proudest achievement is getting their initials on their license plates. To these, fame is an end in itself. They have no desire to act, write, or win heavyweight titles. All they want is fame. Actually, in a Celebrity Society such as our 1960 American World, this craving for notoriety is the most common of all areas of unfulfillment. It provides us with a veritable virgin field for thoughtful festive yuletide giving. Usually this type of person has never been able to make the successful transition from Junior Prom Queen or from a fraternity presidency to private secretary or assistant account executive. A taste of fame is worse than an addiction to heroin. Oddly enough, thin bookish people often have a dark yearning for wild applause. They usually com-pensate for this aberration by affecting somber clothing, English accents and an almost maniacal attention to details. Don't let their manner throw you off. I might add, as a warning, that offerings chosen in this field must be done with taste and imagination. Only the experienced giver with a good knowledge of the giftee's soul should venture into this area.
For them, the range of gifts at reasonable prices - and some are truly bargains - runs from overnight total acclaim to subtle public recognition. For example, $750 buys the services of an individual whose name is a byword in certain circles, who will provide favorable notations in Dorothy Kilgallen's, Earl Wilson's, Leonard Lyons, and Eleanor Roosevelt's columns on successive days, climaxed by a guest shot on Jack Paar's TV show. This is a highly spectacular gift and is recommended for young ladies. The old-fashioned baguette watch or diamond pendant mold not possibly be as effective as this gay Christmas surprise. One word of caution: this gift has been known to break into a chain reaction resulting in the giftee's making movies in Spain with Frank Sinatra. Except in very special instances, this may not be in the best interests of the donor. You just have to know your beloved.
There is a novel gift that has just been made available in time for this Christmas. For the discriminating few, here is a special treat! A nationally known "sick" comic, currently the rage of the Hi-Fi and sports car set, will attack anyone you choose to name for $250. For an additional payment, the blast will be immortalized on his next LP and. As a bonus, there is the possible Inclusion of the quote in Time or in a New Yorker "Profile" of the comic. These cannot be included, of course, in the original list price, for the right young man, such a remarkably inspired gift could not possibly be topped. The language of love speaks straight to the heart.
The List Is Endless
These other items are briefly noted: A Lexington Avenue bureau will secure genuine personal invitations from a large list of personages ranging from Rocky Marciano to Aldous Huxley. The events run the gamut from simple at-home cocktail parties to intimate first-night waiting for-the-reviews-with-the-star midnight penthouse affairs. A catalogue that lists more than 1,200 choices for all tastes is available. Special mention is made here of the inclusion of a week end at the West Indies estate of a world-renowned Duke and Duchess. The quoted fee does not include transportation or meals, of course, but, for the proper couple, it could be a triumphant product of Santa's workshop. Also in Santa's bag this year can be found a new publication that fills a real void. It also makes a fine little surprise to tuck down in the toe of someone's discriminating stocking along with an orange and a peppermint cane. It is the Outsider's Inside Newsletter. Mailed in plain, sealed wrapper, it gives almost in. fallible tips on what will soon be IN long before it is discovered by Esquire or Playboy. It also telegraphs what will be OUT a good six to eight weeks before the avant-garde of the Greenwich Village set senses it. The obvious advantages that this delightful gift will give a cocktail party devotee are sure to he truly appreciated and will mark you as a gift giver who cares.
The list is endless, and there is really no reason why this shouldn't be a yuletide that will be remembered for years to come. Pass up those musical liquor decanters this year, those silver military brushes, and allots your imagination to go to work. Happy Giving! And keep asking yourself, "What does he or she really want?" There is an answer every time.