“What’s the difference between an elf and a slave?”
- Brittany Pierce
Most days I’m a friend to the Christmas spirit. Let’s face it; I’m a kid at heart – and what kid doesn’t absolutely love, love, LOVE Christmas? I love trees and lights and shiny decorations and the conveyor belt of baked goods that magically appears each December to fatten me up. I’m crazy for piles of presents under the tree and the jolly ol’ fat man on his sleigh jingling those bells. I even like Christmas music – in moderation. I sing out loud with Bruce every time Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town graces my radio. And is there a catchier holiday tune than Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses? I’m faithfully devoted to the Christmas specials that have been around since I was a kid and I’ll watch them whenever I can. I know that Cindy Lou Hoo was no more than two and that’s the Grinch’s dog was named Max and I laugh every time I see the first time Max tugs that sled down the side of Mount Krumpet. I can practically recite A Christmas Story line for line. I have an authentic Santa hat that I am not shy about wearing, even if I’m home alone. And I can name all the reindeer. Yes, I am a sucker for Christmas magic. But there is one day each December when I find myself really looking forward to January.
A few days ago began my annual gift-wrapping fiasco that we’ll just refer to as my Holiday Nutty.
I have a gift-wrapping disorder. Anyone who has ever received a gift from me will attest to that. If you got thirty gifts from thirty people, you would know exactly which one came from me. It would be the one that looked like it was wrapped by someone with no thumbs. Or scissors.
My DNA is utterly devoid of the crafty chromosome. For the entirety of my life, any time I’ve tried to manufacture something in the ‘arts and crafts’ family, what I end up producing is what most would call a crime against humanity.
Remember in second grade when you made that house from popsicle sticks? Everyone else in my class tackled the assignment beautifully. They built luxury 3 bed/3 bath colonials with screened-in swimming pools and two-car garages. Me? I had no concept of dexterity, architecture or the glue-to-stick ratio so my finished project looked like a dilapidated outhouse that oozed vanilla icing. By the end I was covered in paste and had to be pried from my desk. I went home with so many popsicle sticks stuck to me that my mom thought Old Man Wilson shot me with his bow and arrow so she called 911.
One summer when I was about ten, Mom signed me up for a three-day arts and crafts “fair.” Mom knew about my uneasiness with both strangers and art, so she persuaded our neighbor to sign up her daughter Ellen. Ellen and I had been friends forever so Mom hoped that her presence would ease my anxiety.
The first project was turning a milk jug into a piggy bank. Easy enough, right? Yeah. Unless you’re me. I’m not exactly sure how I mangled that particular project. All I know is that Ellen laughed at it and called me stupid so I stabbed her pig with a pair of scissors and she ran crying to the teacher who promptly instructed my mother to come get her son.
My ineptitude at the whole artsy thing extended neatly into my wrapping of Christmas presents. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a curse, but I am without question the single worst wrapper of gifts in North America. I mean I’m not just bad at this; I’m a freaking disaster. For starters, I can never get the damn wrapping paper started. It’s like they glue it on there with some industrial strength piece of scotch tape. And why scotch tape? Why would you secure something as ornate as wrapping paper with transparent tape? I know I’m going to butcher it anyway. Can’t they at least make it easier to find? How the heck am I supposed to see the edge of transparent tape when there are 36 different colors running underneath it?
I can never get the tape peeled away without mangling the paper. I try with my fingernails, but they’re not long enough. Then I have a go at it with the scissors, but they’re too thick. Before long I’ve broken out a nine-inch Ginsu knife and a pair of needle-nose pliers because I can’t outwit a piece of tape on a ninety-five cent roll of wrapping paper.
By the time I get the roll freed up the front edge looks like it’s been dipped in a shredder. And then, when I unfurl a swatch of paper big enough to fit the first package, I loosen my grip and the paper recoils like a Burmese python strangling the center roll of cardboard and I have to start over. Because I don’t want to get up, I start looking for objects within arms’ reach that will secure the paper. Eventually I’ll settle on things like a stapler, a vase and the goldfish bowl. Then I’ll go to cuttin’.
The crux of my disorder is the inability to make a decent guess about how much paper I need to wrap the package. I inevitably commit to a length of paper that is either far too long or too short. Then I spend the next fifteen minutes channeling my inner MacGyver in a vain attempt to correct the initial mistake.
When anyone else wraps a gift, you can at least tell the shape of the package. If someone wraps a box, it looks like a box. If someone wraps a baseball bat, it looks like a baseball bat. If I wrap a baseball bat it looks like Fred Flintstone’s club. Or an oboe. Or a prosthetic leg.
There were two times in my childhood when I felt like a complete outcast: Algebra class and Christmas morning. Everyone else’s presents would be there under the tree looking tidy and impressive, like they’d been packaged by an elfin consortium of licensed wrappers. And then there were the ones I wrapped - hideously disfigured box-monsters, grotesquely misshapen and looking like they’d been slept on. The paper would be wrinkled and torn. I would try to cover the rips by taping on scraps of matching paper, which explains why I go through roughly a roll of tape with every present and why a lot of my gifts bear an alarming likeness to ransom notes.
I could never figure out the measuring thing. Sometimes the amount of paper was less than the box required, leaving amateurish gaps. They usually weren’t quite big enough to give away the entire contents of the package, but on some of my finer works my mom could still read big portions of the product description, such as ACUUM LEANER.
But more often than not my measuring mistakes are ones of gross excess. It’s customary that on most boxes I use enough wrapping paper to hide a body, giving my packages their signature feel of a goose down duvet. I could wrap a shoe box and you would swear that someone had left a bear cub under the tree. That’s why my sister would always poke air holes in my gifts. I once gave my dad a cigar box and he thought I had stolen the pillow he liked on our trip to South of the Border. It’s really that bad.
One year, when I was twelve, I bought my parents a set of wine glasses. On Christmas Eve, as I ran barefoot through the house to deliver them underneath the tree, I stepped on one of our dog’s three dozen bones, lost my balance and sent the box hurtling end over end through space. In that horrifying instant, as I lay helpless on my stomach watching that package fly through the air in torturous slow motion, the only thing dancing through my head was the seven weeks of allowance I had spent to buy the damn things. But then something remarkable happened. The box hit the ground without so much as a clink. For all my parents knew I had bought them a dozen pair of wool socks. I had used so much paper I could have dropped that box off the Sears Tower and nothing would have broken. It was a Christmas miracle.
Another celebrated part of my holiday ineptitude is the annual misplacing the scissors. I’ll be there, just sitting in precisely the same spot I was thirty seconds ago when I finished wrapping the last box, and POOF!, the scissors have magically vanished.
I do the mandatory 360 hand-pat along the floor like someone who has dropped his house key on a dark lawn until I realize that there’s no escaping the inevitable: I have to stand up. I hate that part. Now I’m standing in the middle of a ring of presents and other assorted holiday clutter, spinning in circles, trying to convince myself not to look under that scrap of paper because I’ve already searched there, wondering what maniacal force visits me each year and HIDES. THE DAMN. SCISSORS.
Eventually I find them underneath a scrap of paper I’m 100% certain I’ve already looked under five times. At which point I sit back down to resume wrapping and then realize that now the scotch tape has run away.
Where’s the tape?
Where’s the tape?
Where’s the freaking tape, fat man!
If I don’t find the damn tape in like two seconds this gift is going through the television and the Christmas tree is gonna be firewood. Before you know it I’m tossing scraps of wrapping paper in the air like a madman rifling through a dumpster for the wedding ring he accidentally left on his tray at Taco Bell.
The tape is always in the same spot. Always. It’s camouflaged on top of a gift I’ve already wrapped and I can’t see it because it’s freaking transparent! Oh I curse you, maker of scotch tape. You and your invisible ways are the bane of my holiday existence.
Eventually the gift is enveloped in a cocoon of bright paper pieces giving it more layers than a blue ribbon Vidalia onion. It’s bad, but it’s as wrapped as it’s gonna get. I’m not proud of what I’ve done. Despite my high hopes for the contrary, my wrapping has not improved since last Christmas and this gift looks as bad as any of them ever have. I surrender to my mediocrity. Wrapping isn’t my thing. It’ll just have to do.
I reach for the bow and the tag to put this project out of its misery and move on to the next. It’s right about then when I realize I haven’t the slightest idea of what I just wrapped or who it’s for.