But I thought you could use a banjo

Opinions - December 7th, 2001
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

I am not a good shopper. Many rocket scientists, business titans or pillars of the commu­nity are not good shoppers. (The problem is, I’m not one of those other things either.)

Even Vincent Van Gogh despaired of the process and ended up giving a girlfriend his own ear. That ruined it for the rest of us as we approach the gift-giving season without a clue as to what would impress our loved ones.

One must have patience and, ah, patience to be a good shopper. One must muster the time and energy to schlep through stores and boutiques like the Weekender Shopping Elfettes. I don’t’ have that… patience.

And focus. I almost forgot focus. One must set goals and then remember what they are so as not to be sidetracked by the first colorful bauble inside the front door. (“Wow, Santa Claus hats. I can wear one skiing.”)

Down through the years, I have come up with gifts that filled the bill. I’ve given my wife jewelry (usually in consultation with others), trips here and there and even a coat that is now condemned by cruelty-to-animals types. These were great gifts, but the time spent on the process has been about 15 min­utes. In total. Moreover, the sheer number of gifts presented down through the years dictates that some are bound to be right.

And some, I guess, were not exactly right. I’m still a little puzzled by the banjo. Before we got married, my then fiancee gave me an early Christmas present—a complete boxed set of Mahler recordings—then returned to Japan to get ready for the wedding. She liked music? Well, then, what could be more natural than giving her a banjo? (It hung in the window of the pawn shop next to our apartment in New York.) Bought it in two minutes. I even learned to play a few dit­ties in her absence. It did not go over.

The ironing board cover didn’t go over, either. We did need one. We were in the first year of our marriage and she had been talking every week about the problem she was hav­ing ironing. I thought it was a brilliant gift and I was lucky to get it, given the fact that there were very few stores with gener­al merchandise for sale in the Wall Street area where I worked. We nearly didn’t get to the second year of marriage.

One of the few Max Danger stories that happened to me (as opposed to happening to some­one else or simply developed from my imagination) had to do with a Christmas gift. I bought my wife a bicycle from a Bridgestone store that used to be over by the American Club. After a great deal of discussion, I mean a great deal of discus­sion, I managed to convince the store folks to keep the bicycle until I picked it up a week later on Christmas Eve. (Where does one hide a bicycle in your aver­age apartment?)

On the appointed day, I went to the store and discov­ered that the building had been torn down. Bicycle-wa doko the hell desu-ka? Saitama, it turned out. I went there. By cab. The fare was one-third of the cost of the damned bike.

After four hours of pedaling the thing back to central Tokyo, I was nabbed by the cops in Kudan (the far side of the Palace) and charged with (1) entering the gathering dusk without a light on the bike, and (2) not having my You-Know-What card on my irate person. They chained the bike to a radiator in the police place and gave me a ride home so as to examine my You-Know-What card.

The next day, Christmas Day, I rose very, very early to go to Kudan to pick up the bike. (Did I say very early? Any “early” after a Christmas Eve party is early, but this was very early.) I wanted it under the tree when everyone else woke up.

The police in Kudan, howev­er, had already sent the bicycle… back to Saitama. (“My good­ness,” I said.)

Without going into detail (buy the book!), I got back to Tokyo with the bike. My wife took one look at it and asked why I had purchased a “used” one. (She also refused to go shopping with it, and we later got a second car instead.)

The point is, the gift didn’t seem to go over the way I had intended. I guess I’m not a good shopper. Or patient. Or focused. Or something.

But this year will be different. I’ve already obtained the perfect gift. Whole sets of them. And I have done it on the Internet. (No distractions by colorful baubles just within the door.)

My wife will love it. It’s time­ly, special and cannot be dupli­cated in the immediate future. All right, there should be a fun­damental interest in the events beforehand, but I figure the media here will take care of that. In fact, I’m already directing her attention—with great subtlety— toward the unfolding drama. She may not appreciate the gift at this exact moment or even when Christmas rolls around, but enthusiasm is certain to mount. This may even change her life. Give her new things to wonder and worry about.

Besides, how often does one get to attend World Cup games in one’s own country? Oh, boy! I can’t wait.