My birthday gift coupon from Tiffany said, “My brother-in-law Mark is yours for 24 hours.”
Most people are hard to buy for, unless you count collectors of Disney memorabilia. Then it’s just hard to buy those things for them. I’ve been the lucky recipient of brand name gifts like Cartier, Baccarat, and Mark. You might not know Mark, but that was my gift one birthday from Tiffany. Not Tiffany’s, but a friend named Tiffany who had no money or little time to shop.
I opened her birthday card to me and pulled out a little coupon. You know those charming coupon books that people craft and gift to you? A co-worker might give you one that says, “I’ll take the heat next time you break the copier by xeroxing your butt.” A lover’s might say, “Good for one complaint-free dinner with your family.” A neighbor’s? “I won’t call the cops on your party.” Coupon gifts are handy like a gun. You never know when you are going to need one.
My coupon from Tiffany said, “My brother-in-law Mark is yours for 24 hours.” At first it sounded like a threat, but quickly moved into confusion. I tilted my head as if I spoke Mandarin but was reading Cantonese. I held the card with the same disappointment and shock a kid has when he unwraps a gift of mittens.
As I raised my head she saw my pageant smile. Tiffany explained that her brother-in-law was totally into the idea of being gifted, and in fact excited. I was used to people trying to get access into my lifestyle, but this was extreme. At least it was temporary, not like a puppy or a tattoo. I had seen pictures of Mark, and he was agreeably cute. The tempting offer of a human sacrifice made me think about what gifts meant, both to me and the giver.
My cousin Sean was once summoned to the side of his very wealthy and possession-laden grandmother. Her father was the governor of Texas who famously invited the entire state to her wedding reception, so she had lots of swag. She gathered her grandchildren, gave each heir a pack of different colored peel-and-stick dots and told them to place claims on what items they wanted. They all raced about the house slapping stickers on trumeau mirrors, pairs of blackamoors and over-size fireplace pokers—it looked like a reverse Easter Egg Hunt.
Sean took his dots, walked away and looked around the room. Soon he turned around, walked back to his grandmother, and handed her the package. “I don’t want any of your things, I don’t want you to be gone.” She looked up at him, squinting, unable to see his face through the glaringly bright angelic halo emanating from his head. He was already loved, but now forever regarded in a special light, by her and those hearing the story. And that’s why there’s a St. Sean Day and we all eat ham.
In sharp contrast to Sean, I accepted the gift of Mark. He was dropped off about 4PM, and was mine for a day. He was an attentive date at both my birthday party, and to satisfy inquiring minds, the party in my pants. We both kept our expectations under control—he didn’t go shopping on Rodeo and learn to eat escargot, and I didn’t get attached to his piercing blue eyes or take him to the opera in San Francisco. I still took full advantage of the gift, but it was good to have a time limit, otherwise, the goodbye could have been awkward.
If you are an optimist, or a kitten hugger, you might be persuaded to believe that every moment is a gift. I believe that every moment is a surprise, and those surprises can result in heart attacks and dropped jaws. For me, every time a waiter places an amuse-bouche in front of me, I am caught completely off-guard. I never expect it, and always think, for just a second, that the chef made this tiny not-on the-menu bite only for me. It’s a private message to me that he knows I am there and he is secretly in love with me. I pick up the bite, almost expecting the key to his seaside palazzo to fall out. I savor the morsel and wonder if we will be happy or if I will just get fat. I begin to think maybe I shouldn’t have accepted Mark, that perhaps now all gifts are ruined.
The chef at the Bauer Hotel in Venice took the cake, or served it rather—he sent an amuse-bouche to the table between every course. He came out of the kitchen to say hello and probably see for himself who the hell ordered all of that food. It was Italy, so he was a tall, attractive man who surely sweated Armani and gelato. I was so appreciative of the little gifts he sent me and only me that I squeezed him a bit when we were hugging for the camera. I got a little attached and figured that his gesture of coming out to meet me was the personification of an amuse-bouche and that he was now mine. But he just gave me his tips for a perfect risotto and returned to the kitchen. I notice now that he does look a little threatened in the pictures of “us.”
Later, I heard a knock at my hotel room door. I opened it, but no one was there, just a box of the chef’s line of packaged foods. I looked down the hall, wondering if perhaps he went to get a cart for my luggage. He never came back. I hoped that upon check out there might be a note with instructions for our life together. I looked over my shoulder as the Vaporetto sped away.
I saved the foods for a special occasion, but I missed the expiration date and had to throw them out. I did it with reluctant disbelief, like I was tossing dashed hopes and dreams. Then I realized that the most valuable gifts are the people in our lives.
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Image of a gift box with a beautiful ribbon courtesy of Shutterstock