Sat | Dec 3, 2016

The gift that keeps on giving

Published:Thursday | February 26, 2015 | 8:22 PM

It is said that today is God’s gift to man. That is why we call it the present. It is argued that the best gift or present for anyone is a watch, and for families an alarm clock, because there is no time like the present and no present like the time.

There are some people who would disagree from time to time and try other objects to express their guilt, joy, pleasure, support, solidarity, sorrow, surprise, sympathy, relief, remorse, thanks and all the other emotions that prompt gift-giving. Many prefer the hard cash.

John D. Rockefeller Sr, the American oil magnate who established the famous Rockefeller charitable foundations, once found out that his family had ordered an electric chair as his surprise birthday present to enable him to get around his estate more easily. “If it’s all the same to you,” said the multimillionaire, “I’d rather have the money.”
The French actor, Paul Meurisse, renowned for his taciturnity, once saw a sign in the shop window of a florist which read, “SAY IT WITH FLOWERS.” He went in and asked the attendant for a rose.  “Just one,” he insisted, “to be delivered to this address with my card.”

The girl picked out a delicate red rose and asked, “Is there any message?” Meurisse took the flower and plucked out all but two of the petals, “There you are,” he said, handing back the mutilated flower. “And even then, I wonder if I haven’t said too much.”
I wondered what to say, without saying too much, when I thought of returning a Christmas gift to someone. It is not like going to the store and saying that the item does not work. When I once tried returning an item to a store, saying to the female clerk it was not working and wanted to return it, she told me bluntly, “I have a husband like that but his mother wouldn’t take him back.”

I also had to consider the 'cattle-boil' conundrum. When I was growing up, we believed that if you gave something to someone and took it back, you would get a 'cattle-boil', or huge swelling, generally around your eye. Is there the reverse of a 'cattle-boil' for receiving a gift and then returning it to the giver? Not a 'boil-cattle' but some other worse disaster? 

Arturo Toscanini, the famous Italian conductor, got a cake every Christmas from Puccini, the composer. One year, even though they had quarrelled and were not on speaking terms, Toscanini still received his cake. However, the next day he received a telegram from Puccini which read, “Cake sent by mistake.” Toscanini replied, “Cake eaten by mistake.”
My wanting to send back the gift was no mistake. The reason had to do with the expectations of the person who sent it and the possibility of my being compromised. It was not like the comb given to the bald-headed man. He could not part with it. I could, particularly since it was given by someone who has turned out to be among the lowest of the low.

“Instead of sending it back,” I told my wife, “maybe I could send him a crunch bird.” “What’s a crunch bird?” she asked. So I told her the story.
A woman went into a pet shop and saw the ugliest bird she had ever seen in her life - short, squat, with dumpy little wings, a dirty grey colour, and the biggest, sharpest and most fearsome beak.  “What’s that ugly creature?” she asked the pet shop owner.  “Madam,” he replied, “that’s a crunch bird.” “Yeah, right,” she replied. “But what does the bird do?” The man said solemnly, “Madam, it is the most destructive creature known to man.”

The woman was extremely sceptical, “Why, that little thing? Surely, you jest.” The man was adamant, “Madam, I repeat that the creature is extremely dangerous. Let me give you a demonstration.”

He then looked at the crunch bird and commanded, “Crunch bird, my table.” The crunch bird waddled up to the table and started to eat it, “Crunch, crunch, crunch …” The woman was stunned. “That’s impossible. A bird eating a table?”

The man said, “Madam, it is not impossible. Let me give you another demonstration.” He looked at the bird and ordered, “Crunch bird, my chair.” The bird’s eye gleamed in delight as it attacked the chair, “Crunch, crunch, crunch.”

The woman was totally impressed. “I want to buy the crunch bird.  How much do you want for him?” she asked impatiently. The pet shop owner was mystified. “Madam, that bird has only one purpose in life, destruction. Why would you want such a creature?”

The woman exclaimed with malicious relish, “My husband is a very, very coarse, jealous and suspicious man who doubts everything. He questions how much I spend on food, on clothes, where I go, who I talk to. So I will buy the crunch bird, put it in the house where he could see it, and wait for him to ask me what it is. I would then tell him, ‘It is a crunch bird.’ Knowing him, the first thing he would say, is, ‘Crunch bird my butt!’”
My wife laughed but reminded me that, unfortunately, the crunch bird does not exist. I thought for a while and then jokingly proposed that we send back the gift with a nice little message. It would say simply, “Thank you for your very thoughtful gesture.  Unfortunately, we have no place for it. I am sure, however, that you have an appropriate and adequate location up which to shove it.” 

-  Tony Deyal was last seen explaining that presents are superfluous at weddings since they come with their own gifts - showers for the bride and curtains for the groom.