BlackJack’s Shopping Guide: What Not To Buy

Sparks\' gift

Wow. Putting together this list was pretty eye-opening. I’ve never claimed to be a brilliant gift-giver. I’m always amazed by people I know who always somehow come up with the perfect gift. And it’s not like I just don’t care. I probably put more thought into gifts than anybody. It’s just that I become frozen. Part of the problem is that I usually wait until the last minute to procure the gifts. But a larger part of the problem is that I just have the ability to pick out the worst possible thing for any occasion. Let’s take a look.

9. Candles (given to family circa 1989)


These actually weren’t that bad, and given the fact that I was making negative dollars per hour, this was a pretty cool way to give a gift that was somewhat in the holiday spirit that people could actually use. Still, I’ve never known anybody to get incredibly excited when they open up a candle on Christmas morning.

8. Voodoo Kit (given to a friend circa 2000)


These can be really good gifts. For instance, when some friends last went to New Orleans, they brought me back a mini one of these. Totally fitting. What’s not fitting? The last minute dash to the store to find a generic gift that has no relevance to you or the person you’re giving the gift to. I’m sure this was either immediately thrown out or sat around in the box for a couple of years before being thrown out.

7. Pizza (“given” to a friend for her birthday, 2006)


Hey. Pizza is a great gift. Especially if it’s flown out from Giordano’s or Gino’s East in Chicago. Unfortunately, this is cripplingly expensive. This wouldn’t be bad at all if a) I had actually ordered the pizza and given it as a gift, and b) I had not told the “recipient” of the gift that this would be their gift and then never given it to her.

6. Generic Diecast Cars (given to nephews circa 2001)

Crappy cars

This was somewhat an accident gift. There was a blue vinyl box filled with about 24 cars. I thought it looked cool, so I bought it for my nephews. Then when I got it home I noticed how cheap it was and off-brand. But I sent it anyway. I’m sure the kids were thrilled.

5. Twice Told Tales used book (given to Dad circa 1993)


I really wanted to get something special for my dad one year. So I went to the used book store and got him a yellowed paperback of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales. What I viewed as symmetry with me giving my father the same gift he had given to me many years earlier, I’m sure he viewed it as a cheap-ass last-minute “gift”.  I never saw it on his bookshelf.

4. Ouija Board (given to friend for his birthday circa 2000)


I don’t know what I was thinking. This is one of those gifts that I actually put some thought into. I knew I wanted to get my pal a new game for his birthday. I pictured us all as a group playing this awesome new game that I’d discovered that would become ingrained into our lives much like Masterpiece or Catch Phrase. I’m not really sure how I went from that mindset when I entered the game store to the point where I was walking out with a Ouija Board under my arm. Years later I saw the game in my friend’s basement, still in the plastic wrap.

3. Old Time Radio Classics (given to my grandma circa 2002)

Slow death

Even though this is among the most recent of my terrible gifts, it’s tough to remember exactly how it came to pass. Back when I worked at the Times, I’d be in charge of shopping for incentive prizes for the sales staff. I was terrible at it, mostly buying shit that I wanted. And I’d throw in the occasional joke present, like a toilet plunger or this, a cassette tape of selected episodes of old time radio serials. I think this thing sat in the cabinet at work for over a year. Finally my boss was like, “Get rid of this,” so I grabbed it and brought it home for some reason. Anyway, that Christmas my grandmother was going to be there. She was getting along in years and wasn’t really there mentally. Nothing I could come up with seemed like a good idea. So I wrapped up this turd and put it under the tree. On Christmas morning it took real balls to sit there as this big production was made of my gift for my grandmother, in it’s tasteful wrapping with the shimmering bow. I’m not sure what people thought when my grandma opened it and turned it for all to see. There were murmurs of false approval, but nobody would look me in the eye. They knew. I know they knew.

2. Paper (given to Mom circa 1978)


This one has haunted me for almost thirty years. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was really the first year that I went out to buy presents with my own money for people. But I didn’t have much money. I went to Yeager’s, this neighborhood department store, to check out all the awesome gifts I could get for $5. There wasn’t much. What I ended up walking out with were $4 worth of scratch paper and some candy. Displaying early signs of the conscienceless audacity that I would show throughout my life whenever gifts were exchanged, I wrapped the abomination up and put it under the tree. It was but the first of many disappointments for my mother.

1. Writings (given to everybody for every occasion from 1987-Present)


Yes, the ultimate cheap cop-out gift. The thing that nobody asks for and doesn’t cost a dime. I can whip up a “short story” to slap between some staples just in time to go under the Christmas Tree, no problem. The prime example of this artform is probably my 2001 story Splat!, where a mob hitman flubs a hit and ends up thrown out of a plane to his death. Merry Christmas, kids!



6 thoughts on “BlackJack’s Shopping Guide: What Not To Buy

  1. I worked at Yeager’s for a year…the GM was taking money under the table from vendors to overstock utter crap. When that news broke, the “business model” of the place made a lot more sense.

  2. I’ve been getting better about this. Believe me, I don’t set out to give the worst gifts ever given. Some people are impossible to buy for and they’re the ones that get short-changed.

    Happy late birthday. Hope somebody remembered.

  3. Wow… Did it ever occur to you to start thinking about it months in advance, so if you’re ever out, and you think “Hey, that’s a great gift for {Insert name here}!” You buy it, and get it over with early. That’s what I do. 😉

    Today’s my birthday, and no one has wished me a happy birthday yet….. :C
    So sad.

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