By ROBERT RECTOR
JUST in time for Christmas, I bring you the results of my highly unscientific, maybe even unreliable, but curiously on-point survey of gift giving in the U.S. and assorted other foreign lands.
And the winner for the most detested present received during the holidays by all races, creeds and colors: socks.
That's right, folks, if you want to alienate your spouse, kids, in-laws and friends, bundle up an arrangement of socks in myriad colors and styles for them to discover underneath the tree.
Socks triumph over underwear, fruit cakes and nose hair trimmers as gifts that say, "Hey, I was in a hurry, and it was cheap."
The feelings that wash over those who receive the gift of socks could last a lifetime.
Other memorable gifts culled from a sampling of people who apparently have been dealing with the ensuing issues for many years:
"The Man Catcher Voodoo Kit: Nothing says `I think you are reaching the point of desperation' more than a gift of voodoo charms meant to attract a mate."
"Hankies. I was nine years old, and very unimpressed. It didn't help that the hankies were printed with festive Santas carrying bulging sacks of presents that were obviously not hankies."
"My father got me the complete works of William Shakespeare. I was 7 at the time. Another Christmas, Dad gave me a diet book, an etiquette book and a book on how to attract men with a card that said `with the hope you'll grow into a proper young lady.' I was 24."
"Our family of two small girls plus mom and dad received a family gift from my mother-in-law. The package was carefully wrapped. ...Who should get to open the gift for all of us? Finally, one of the girls began the ripping and tearing process with all of us cheering and expectant. Boy, surprise, the letdown, how odd and inappropriate, a home electrolysis kit!"
"One walkie-talkie. Ordinarily this might be a cute idea except the gift-giver definitely did not have the other one nor know the whereabouts of it."
But it could be worse. A cursory cruise though the Internet offers oddities like Twinkie-flavored lip gloss and guitar pick earrings, not to mention the pregnant trailer trash doll and a doormat that reads, "nice underwear."
Then there's the disappearing civil liberties mug, which is covered with the complete text of the Bill of Rights. But when you pour in hot liquids, the rights that are infringed by the Patriot Act vanish before your very eyes.
Too liberal for you? Try the talking Ann Coulter action doll. Just press her belly, and listen to Ann spout her own special brand of anti-liberal opinions. You'll hear Ann's own voice attack everyone from swing voters to the Hollywood elite. All in all, Ann mouths 14 different conservative comments.
Tacky? Sure. But what are the holidays without tacky? And while we're on the subject, nobody does tacky like the entertainment industry.
Consider this example from writer John Scalzi who recounts it in a piece called "The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time," a tales which may or may not be true:
Listeners of radio's Columbia Broadcasting System who tuned in to hear a Christmas Eve rendition of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in 1939 were shocked when they heard what appeared to be a newscast from the North Pole, reporting that Santa's workshop had been overrun in a blitzkrieg by Finnish proxies of the Nazi German government.
The newscast, a hoax created by 20-something wunderkind Orson Wells as a seasonal allegory about the spread of fascism in Europe, was so successful that few listeners stayed to listen until the end, when St. Nick emerged from the smoking ruins of his workshop to deliver a rousing call to action against the authoritarian tide and to urge peace on Earth, good will toward men and expound on the joys of a hot cup of Mercury Theater of Air's sponsor, Campbell's soup.
Instead, tens of thousands of New York City children mobbed the Macy's Department Store on 34th, long presumed to be Santa's New York embassy, and sang Christmas carols in wee, sobbing tones. Only a midnight appearance of New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in full Santa getup quelled the agitated tykes.
Welles, now a hunted man on the Eastern seaboard, decamped for Hollywood shortly thereafter.