2013.01.16 Becoming a SPUGist

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I had a question for my neighbor, Adam Johnson, a week or so ago. I think it was the day he came into the Observer office seeking support for the Rex Riley Soup and Pie Supper program book.

Adam and I are neighbors in a couple of ways. We're residential neighbors because our back yards meet. We can steal each other's tomatoes in August. We're business neighbors, also, because after the Dunbar Auction house was demolished, there's nothing but a little grass and asphalt that separates the Observer from his hardware store.

We're also vehicular neighbors because we often travel together to sporting events. I go for photographs; he goes for...why do you drive these distances, Adam? I guess he's just a true fan—one of those rare people who have no relatives on the court but show up for most games anyway.

It was during our fall season car rides that we occasionally discuss movies and I told Adam that he has to watch "The Wire." He used to live on the East Coast. He used to be a policeman. "The Wire" would be perfect for him.

This is why, when he visited the Observer a few days ago, I asked him what he got for Christmas. It was a leading question because I called his wife one day suggesting that she buy season one of "The Wire" for him.

He mentioned several gifts that he received, but not what I was expecting. I finally had to say, "Did you get any DVDs?" and then he confirmed that he was ready to watch the Baltimore police department vs. the local drug gangs. Yes, "The Wire" was under his Christmas tree.

And then he asked me what I got for Christmas and I could only stand there with a blank face before breaking into an embarrassed smile and saying that I didn't remember.

Don't feel sorry for me. It's my choice. I've been working my way out of Christmas presents in recent years. I'm not one of those people who helps the economy grow. I want to thin down, not accumulate.

I told my children last year that I wanted only items that I could consume or use up. It was great. I received cane sugar from Louisiana along with some grapefruit. I got some Apple iTunes credit and some geocaching material to send out across the world. One of the little items they call travel bugs was left in a cache in Morenci and is now in Florida.

This year, Adam, I received a pair of heavy-duty socks and a mold that makes "The Scream" ice cubes. I have a package of falwasser crispbread from Australia and a book about wetlands, a little headlamp and photographs. 

I admit it, I've become an unofficial member of SPUG—the Society for the Prevention of Useless Gift Giving. SPUG was founded in New York City exactly 100 years ago last month by Eleanor Belmont and Anne Morgan. 

Eleanor's husband, August, described SPUG as an effort to "eliminate, by co-operative effort, the custom of giving indiscriminately at Christmas, and to further in every way the true Christian spirit of unselfishness and independent thought, good-will, and sympathetic understanding of the real needs of others."

Don't buy stuff (from China, most likely) just to buy stuff, and better yet, give something to those who really need it.

I understand there are people who don't agree with this notion at all, and I know there are many who agree, in principal, but can't break free of the cycle. That's OK. I'm SPUGish, but I don't expect anyone else to feel that way.

By the way, I forgot to mention that I also received a bottle of Sarson's barley malt vinegar and a bottle of Camden's Blue Label Catsup.

For lunch one day last week I fried an egg from one of Kevin Arquette's chickens and reached for the catsup. I shook it up, gave it a squeeze and nothing but liquid came out. I shook it even harder, gave a squeeze and nothing but catsup liquid. What could be more disgusting?

There is something. It's when you grab the wrong bottle and pour malt vinegar on your egg. Of course I ate it anyway. A SPUGist isn't about to waste a drop of a rare Christmas gift.

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