Review the Gifts

Another year has passed, and it is time for me to show off my presents on the Internet. But first, let me share a Christmas scene with you, a scene that somehow encapsulates all that the holiday season is about. This year, the girlfriend’s mother decided to order this enormous buttercream Jolly Wink Santa Cake from the Swiss Colony, which you’ll notice in the picture resembles less a cake than it does a giant plastic mold. Having never ordered something from the Swiss Colony before, the girlfriend’s mother’s only criteria upon deciding which cake was whether or not it was cute. I suppose judging the cake by this standard alone, it did not fail. He is winking, after all, and that is adorable.

Santa arrived in the mail in a precarious frozen state, which I’m convinced is similar to the slow mummification process of frozen fossils. He sat on the counter for hours thawing out his eight layers of buttercream icing. When it came time for dessert on Christmas, the girlfriend’s mother insisted on having a sort of ceremony before cutting into the cake. Perhaps it was the Christmas spirit, cake insecurity, an attempt to embarrass her daughter in front of me, or a combination of the three—but the girlfriend’s mother decided we should sing before cutting the cake.

“Are you serious, Mom. We’ve never done this,” the girlfriend said.

“Come on. Here Comes Santa Claus. Let’s sing it. I won’t sing alone,” her mother said.

Her father conveniently continued to shuffle around in the kitchen looking for a knife. Her brother, perhaps ready to sing, and perhaps not, sat at the table texting. Buttercream Santa waited. I waited, too. I wondered if we would really sing.

“What is with you this year? Are we showing off in front of guests again mother?” the girlfriend continued her pleas.

“Here comes Santa—” her mother began. “Come on now, I won’t sing by myself.”

I realized that it was going to happen, and we just needed to get it done with. I joined in. Her brother looked up from the phone and joined, too. So, reluctantly, did the the girlfriend. HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS RIGHT DOWN SANTA CLAUS LANE!

Then each of us abruptly stopped, none of us knowing the next line. Blitzen and uh….Blitzen and da da da da….Children singing? Is that next? Bells are ringing… ALL IS MERRY AND BRIGHT….

I resorted to humming. The brother resorted back to texting. The girlfriend and mother continued slugging through it. It was weird. Then her father walked in with a huge knife, and sawed Santa’s still-frozen head off with a subtle bit of enjoyment.

The icing was more like a coating, Santa’s protective outer layer of inedible frozen wax. We chipped through to get to the cake and buttercream layers inside—but no one could agree on which part was the cake and which part was the buttercream. Was any of it cake? Sources unclear. Ask again later. But maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a cake. Instead, it was a vessel, a way that God delivered a message about the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not the gifts that count. It’s the moments, the ones you remember your whole life, for better or worse. Those moments may be thrilling, bittersweet, sublime and sometimes sad. And then there are incredibly strange moments. That’s Christmas.

This year, a lot of gifts were jointly given to both me and the girlfriend. I found that this generally translated to a gift that was something for the house. For the girlfriend, who has aged gracefully into a full-fledged adult, this was perfect. Calphalon pans are her new reason to wake up in the morning. I don’t get expensive pans. They lead to Christmas moments like this:

SCENE: Morning, making eggs, eggs are sticking to old pan.

GIRLFRIEND: I hate these old pans.

ME: Why aren’t you using the new pans we just got?

GIRLFRIEND: Because I have to condition them!

I’ve never heard of a pan that requires a gentle massage and sweet talk before using. I’m not sure that the new pans are even for cooking. I think they’re just for having.

When I was a kid, I wanted nothing but toys, and I wanted variety. Surprise. Shock and awe. Miracles from Santa. That big gift in the corner. And this year, there was a HUGE one in the corner. Too big to fit under the tree, it was wrapped haphazardly and topped with a red bow. I didn’t care what it was. It was the size of a mini-refrigerator or perhaps a child-size life-like doll. I’d take it. Even a child-size doll. I’d name him Steve. He could live in the guest room. The bed in there has nice sheets.

My parents played up who the big gift was for all afternoon. It might be for my sister. It might be for me. The box didn’t have a label. There could even be a ringer. It might be for the dog. But finally, after dragging it out long enough and saving it for last, my parents unveiled that the big one was in fact, for me. YES. I sauntered casually over to the big one. I didn’t want to appear too excited as I tore off the wrapping paper. The first thing I saw were the words Rock Band. Wow, had my parents shelled out for the Rock Band 3 deluxe package with instruments? Rock Band, yeah! Even better than Steve!

Then, I saw it was not Rock Band. It was the Rock Band storage ottoman.

Not that I don’t like it, but nothing quite lets the air out like the words, storage ottoman. I mean, it ain’t a bad piece of furniture for the game room in the basement. And hey, it stores the game controllers in a stylish way. It’s nice. It’s useful.

But most of all, I love useless things. My sister is always good for a few useless things, and this year, she came through like always. She is a mastermind of picking out perfect gifts just to my taste.

Rock and roll nutcracker! Dog and fire hydrant salt-and-pepper shakers!

One word: CLASSY.

R2-D2 Cassette Player!

The girlfriend picked this one out. One word: LOVE.

Video games!

I’ve never played Dragon’s Lair, but I love Don Bluth animation, and of course the laserdisc video game was a milestone in arcade and gaming history. This is the faithfully-ported Wii version, along with the two sequels, Dragon’s Lair II and Space Ace.

Then we have the Michael Jackson Experience, which is ridiculous, in a good way. Upon popping the game disc in and pressing start, the game has just one instruction: mirror Michael’s movements. Which is impossible. I basically just stand there and wildly flail. I mean, this game has you doing the freaking Robot, all kinds of miming, moonwalking, and yes, that Thriller zombie dance. Good fucking luck. Mercifully, the game also includes some ballads like Heal the World, which only requires grandiose hand gestures. I scored like fifty million points on that one.

I also got Super Mario All Stars for the Wii, which contains the first three Mario games as well as the Lost Levels game. I never got around to downloading the Virtual Console versions, and I’m a sucker for limited edition packaging. This version also comes with a soundtrack CD and history booklet.

Drink stirrers! Beer bands!

What are they? What are they for? No one really knows. But now we are going to have a party where everyone’s drink will have a stick in it and a band around it, and it will be fun, damn it.

Rolling Stone Cover to Cover!

I now have every single issue of Rolling Stone–ads and all—stored on my hard drive. I love Rolling Stone. I’m a pop culture addict, and I read everything, even if I have no particular interest in the subject. Random reviews of Seal albums, here I come.


I wasn’t sure what to make of that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Treasury when I saw it on Amazon, but I added to my wishlist anyway. It’s basically a picture book of the different toys that have been available. And they’re not quality pictures—they’re scans of things that were printed on a black and white copier with the ink running out. And that’s it. In the context of the Internet, this book existing doesn’t make much sense. But I’m not writing off this book just yet—there is going to be a night when looking at pictures of Ninja Turtle toys may be the only thing my brain has the capacity left for.

I love reading The Onion, and A Book of Jean’s Own is written by the Onion’s fictional human interest columnist, Jean Teasdale. Basically, it’s one long joke about a Midwestern housewife with a soft spot for chocolate, cats, stuffed animals, and exclamation points. Jean’s hobbies include shopping for corn-shaped corn cob holders at Dollar General and ghostwriting her cat’s diary. Somehow those brilliant writers at The Onion manage to make Jean a sympathetic and human character—not a pathetic caricature. It’s great humor writing and I’m inspired by it. I don’t care. Consider me a “Jeanketeer”.

Hit Men. Another one of those things I classify under the I’ll-read-anything-music-related, Hit Men was the shocking expose in 1990 of the greed and mafia connections in the record companies. Today, the book ought to read like a postmortem of why the record companies toppled.

Showgirls on Blu-ray!

Forget what you might think about this movie. Forget that you have ignored this movie because you have good taste and political correctness. Showgirls is truly The Greatest Movie Ever Made. This is actually the first Blu-ray I own now, and if it was the only Blu-ray I ever owned, it would be worthy. I’m going to quote comedian David Schmader here on one of life’s great truths: “Paul Verhoeven’s critically savaged, thoroughly diastrous stripper drama is the most amazing, inadvertant comedy in the history of cinema, and with some slight contextualization, the funniest movie ever made.

David Schmader is the reason to buy the Blu-ray, which includes his epic-length commentary. This guy is hilarious as he talks through the film and provides a proper viewing context in which to appreciate it. Example: In the film, there is a disturbing, infamous pool sex scene where Elizabeth Berkley has an orgasmic seizure that causes a tidal wave. She flips back and thrashes her upper body in a way so graceless, and so alarming, you have to wonder whether anyone connected to the production has ever actually had sex. “Insulin!” Schmader pleads on the voice track. “Someone give that woman insulin!”

I am serious. Go buy this disc. Pick up a six pack—hell, twelve pack—of your favorite alcoholic beverage. Watch with commentary. YOU WILL crack a rib laughing.

And I think I’m going to end my haul post on that note. Other gifts of note: shoes, socks, shirts, and um, Snuggie slippers.


12 thoughts on “Review the Gifts

  1. I bought that Rock Band storage ottoman for myself a few weeks ago. I like it, but my George Harrison Rock Band guitar doesn’t fit inside it. I was diappointed.

  2. My wife would love a Rock Band storage ottoman. We have “instruments” occupying the entire right side of our living room. Doesn’t bug me much, but she hates it. I suppose three drumsets are a bit much ( I swore I was done after RB2, but who could resist the Beatles drumset?). The Artoo cassette player is the epitome of awesome! And Showgirls never stops being fucking hilarious. Nice haul!

    1. oh yeah, the girlfriend loves it. we were keeping the controllers in the closet, but she hated even that, because the closet is for coats. what is the coat rack for then?

  3. As an amateur editor, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I found an error in grammar.

    Now, who can find it?

    (I’m ducking the cyber-punch in the mouth that I deserve for nitpicking. Believe me, I read this post through and through to be very sure it didn’t contain errors! Ha!)

    As for the gifts, I think the R2D2 cassette player is so WIZARD.
    (please note the robot chicken III reference)

      1. criterion

        (seriously… sorry… not meaning to bust chops. I can’t help myself. I’m amazed I’m still married.)

  4. Pizza- Let me know how that TMNT book turns out. From what you’ve written about it, it sounds like a pass. When I first saw it, I was thinking of getting it, but the whole thing about pictures made with a “black and white copier with the ink running out.” thing had me second guess it. Oh! And Happy New Year!!

  5. Man.. I wasted a small fortune on Dragons Lair and Space ace. Showgirls Blu-ray.. God I’d buy one in a heartbeat if I knew I could keep it hidden from my bride. LOL

    1. I can see how that’s possible with Dragon’s Lair. It’s hard as hell. And all you have to do is push buttons on cue. I’d have easily spent a few hundred by now if I were the playing the arcade game. That’s makes this Wii version pay for itself.

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