You present me with a gift bag as if legions of angels will descend, trumpeting your thoughtfulness in remembering my [insert celebratory event here].
I’m gracious, of course.
You shouldn’t have!
And I mean that. You shouldn’t have. Because now you are stepping over the line.
We are simply:
- mothers with children at the same school
- neighbors with dogs
- old-friends-from-college, or
Regardless, we are not on gift-bagging terms. Especially the kind you immediately re-gift to other peripheral friends: scented candles, cheap chocolates, fuzzy socks, calendars, coffee mugs.
You shouldn’t have!
Because now I need to remember if you were born in March or April. I need to invite you to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory and overpay for complicated chicken salads and Diet Cokes. We will debate for a nanosecond about ordering a slab of artery-strangling dessert. We will joke about cheesecake being high in dietary protein. Yet when the waiter returns from clearing our half-eaten salads, we will trill together in unison: Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake! (What’s a little heart disease amongst gift-bagging friends?)
You shouldn’t have!
I’m holding the gift bag in my hands, both of us standing with frozen smiles on our faces.
You are expecting me to open the gift bag—like there isn't a googolplex of more important things that I need to attend to. But who am I to hold up the unveiling of your selfless act of generosity?
Let’s just open up the frickin' bag, shall we?
Since you coughed up $13.99 for one of Hallmark’s finest, I take my time, appraising the bedazzled foil and colorful ribbons, as if it were the work of a 19th century Post-Impressionist. As expected, animal-related puns are splattered across the front: “Thinking of Ewe!” “Feline Fine!” “Let’s gopher a drink!”
Isn’t that clever? We both agree that it is.
Between forced chuckles, I wonder when we, as a society, quit taking the extra four minutes to thoughtfully wrap presents? At what point did we, collectively, agree that it was socially acceptable to shove gifts into a bag, not even bothering to remove the clear plastic hanging tag? And as a follow up, what’s the point of gift bags for wine?
All questions for another day. It’s time for me to cull through the vibrantly-colored tissue paper—fuchsia, electric blue, chartreuse—and see what treasure there is for me at the bottom. Midway down, my fingers touch what you’ve selected.
Good god, woman.
By the size and heft of your gift, it’s clear that you’ve purchased me a book. On purpose.
Let's get one thing clear: I like to pick out my own books. I have a stack of them by my bed that I'm never going to read, and now I have to add yours to the pile. To compound insult to injury, you're going to ask me about this book when I see you again.
I use all of my remaining bandwidth to pull out this publication from your gift bag, read aloud the title like a sacred scroll, and then find some authentic way to say thank you for the worst present ever.
In the meantime, let me ask you one thing: What were you thinking?
I mean, let’s just say you bought me a cookbook. Neither you nor I am going to master the art of French cooking in our lifetime, and I don’t think I need Giada De Laurentiis’ hot take on grilled cheese. At this point in American cuisine, we have given up. We’ve ceded dinner to DoorDash or whatever overpriced shit is shovelled into the Home Chef or Blue Apron box, prepped in an airport hangar, ensconced in enough ecologically-toxic packaging and dry ice to make me think twice about driving thru Chick-fil-A for the third time this week. Look. Neither of us is mincing garlic or zesting an orange peel. Even if I do like one of these sixteen-part recipes, I’m going to have to hunt down tarragon at Food Lion, use an eighth of a teaspoon, and then let the rest rot in the back of the pantry. Pass.
Poetry? If you purchased a book of poetry for me, it’s probably one of your friend’s or relative’s timeless works, and you’re just abusing the Amazon algorithm to jack up their sales. And fun fact: unless you are physically intimate with someone, it is illegal in most states to gift books of poetry. That’s just the law.
True Crime—as opposed to fake crime? Dominick Dunne and Erik Larson notwithstanding, I don’t think I need to slog through the sick underbelly of mankind. Isn’t that what HLN is for?
As for a mystery? At my age, most things are a mystery: the sociopolitical landscape, what’s going on with my neck, my spouse, the viability of my career, my belief in God, what my children do on the internet, and my cat’s ability to throw up exactly where I step. Why complicate a complicated world even further? I don’t need any more surprises. Keep your mysteries off my nightstand.
Fantasy. OMG. If you bought me the first instalment of any fantasy series, I will drive to your house and burn it down. Of course, it is part of a sprawling six-part hexalogy with a companion guide listing all of the neologisms (with maps!) Why wouldn’t I enjoy an excruciatingly detailed realm with a hundred characters and settings? Although I appreciate the intensive world-building some author has conjured up in his parent’s basement, I’ll wait until Netflix buys it, effectively ruining it as only Hollywood can do, by ensuring there is a video game tie-in and family-friendly plush toys.
Science fiction? Re-read the above.
Romance? I mean, that is just cruel. You and I are far past the bodice-ripping stages in our lives. No one with abs is sneaking through our garden gate. And I’m less worried about the Deviant Duke of CastleWaterBridge tingling my nether regions and more concerned about my 401(k) being ravaged by inflation.
Short stories? I'll write it myself if I want paper-thin characterization, clichéd themes, and a hint at a plot.
No no no no no.
I can no longer hold my smile as I choke back waves of nausea.
You did it.
You bought me the #1 New York Times best-selling self-help book.
You shouldn’t have!