2012.02.08 Gag me with a present

Written by David Green.

I made it through four weeks of January and one week of February without visiting the column archive, but here’s an old one from the past.

It was first published Jan. 8, 1992, which places it rather close to Christmas. It’s a little late now to be writing about that holiday, but when I saw mention of “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,” I had to go with the old column because oddly enough, that song from 1966 was running through my head today.

By DAVID GREEN

People are still returning Christmas gifts, so I suppose it would yet be in season to write about some of the gifts exchanged at our family gathering.

We have a strange tradition known as the Gag Gift. Usually that’s “gag” as in joke, but I remember one year there were some rotten bananas that were opened and then mailed to Eat Lansing and later mailed back to Morenci. A little disgusting, but they made wonderful compost. Our garden was excellent, but you had to peel the broccoli.

Back to Christmas. After an exchange of real gifts—and after bloating on dinner and dessert—out came the gag gifts. They’re often the result of a frantic search through basements and junk drawers on Christmas day. In with the new gifts, out with the old.

We seem to have trouble remembering from year to year how they get distributed, so this time it went by the alphabetical order of first names. Everybody knows one of my brothers as Tom, but his actual first name is Alan, so he was the first to choose from the table of strange packages.

Lucky guy. He received a Barbie doll body that had a Mr. Potato Head taped onto the neck. At least it was supposed to be a gag gift. Tom’s three-year-old latched on to that one really fast. I think it became one of her favorite gifts.

Someone was fortunate enough to win a package of dehydrated scrambled eggs from 1971.  A moldy sandal, circa 1967, went to another person. My father thought he chose a toilet seat, but he was visibly disappointed when he unwrapped a hideous wreath. Myself? I received a package of candle butts.

I can’t remember who ended up with this cultural artifact from the archives in my parents’ basement: a 45 r.p.m. record of “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” by Norma Tanega. My mother thought it was my sister’s, but I knew that I was the one who bought it back in the 60s.

That set off a discussion of which records belonged to whom as we went through my sister’s old box of 45s. Some obviously belonged to my parents: “Begin the Beguine” by David Rose and his Orchestra; “Way Down South Where the Blues Began” by Bob Crosby and his Orchestra; “Star Dust” and “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller and Orchestra; “Da Doo Ron Ron” by Alpha Zoe.

Ha. Just joking. That last one belonged to my sister Diane. Hers were rather easy to guess: “Hey there Lonely Boy” by Ruby and the Romantics; “Be True to Yourself” by Bobby Vee; “Don’t Just Stand There” by Patty Duke.

A lot of them were simply marked D. Green. Diane, David or Danny? “Lady Jane” by the Rolling Stones. Dan’s or mine? “Sea Stones,” a sample for Dead Heads. I don’t remember even seeing that one before. And what about the record of sitar Christmas music by Jayram Ackarya? And who bought that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins thang?

We came cross a copy of “California Girls” by the Beach Boys that was originally owned by Judy Shoemaker. Her name was crossed out and Roger Hart’s was written on it. And now it’s in our possession. Our autographed copy of Rod Wilson’s “Back on Mulberry Road” was found cracked and chipped. It was a collector’s item.

It was a gag-filled day in the Green household. Unfortunately, I returned home with the same gift I took over: a pet cabbage. I brought it in the house on a leash and made it jump up on a chair and do a few other tricks.

Fortunately, some quick thinking by Ben got it out of our house for good. When my brother was packing up to leave for Minnesota, Ben slipped the cabbage onto the floor of the car. If it kept quiet, it’s probably still there hiding under the seat.

And don’t get any foolish ideas, Tom, because you know it’s against the law to ship rotting pet cabbage through the mail.

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