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Ralph Gardner Jr: Holiday Gift Ideas

Ralph Gardner Jr.

This year’s holiday shopping season – that hectic wallet-emptying interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas – is about as short as it gets. So I thought I’d share a recent gift that’s made a major difference in my life. You may want to consider getting one for yourself or a friend or family member.

By the way, have you noticed that when you’re dating someone there’s no limit to his or her gift-giving creativity? One example: my future wife made me a scale model of our swimming pond that featured a live baby snapping turtle. The reference was to the much larger and more terrifying snapper that actually resided in our pond.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the baby snapper was only a rental. Debbie had to return it to the pet shop where she picked it up.

But she certainly got kudos for thinking outside the box.

These days all my gifts seem to fall into the same category: home improvement. My spouse may as well have bought them for herself or for the house rather than in answer to my birthday or holiday hopes and prayers.

An example of this is the attractive metal rack that allows one to stack wood by our wood-burning stove.

I won’t deny its usefulness. Before its acquisition our split wood, and its attendant shards, chips, twigs and dust sat in a messy pile on the sunroom floor. Now it knows its place.

However, such a gift doesn’t provoke the joy, the thrills, the ecstasy I experienced when my parents gave me a handsome toy lawnmower that actually worked for my fourth birthday.

And isn’t that euphoria what we should all be aiming for when we give a gift, even if the average adult has outgrown those frenzied, unfiltered emotions?

Which brings me to the best, most fun gift I’ve gotten lately. This device combines the childlike thrill of the toy that initiates you into the competencies of the adult world – another example of that were those handsome toy tabletop dashboards with working horn, steering wheel, turn signals and windshield wipers – with something that actually improves your life, however modestly. And is not a cashmere sweater.

Not that I’ve received a cashmere sweater on Christmas morning lately. And I could – hint to Santa -- certainly use a new one.

I’m talking about my new battery-powered leaf blower. I’ll be honest. When I received it I didn’t exactly jump up and down. It took me a few months to cozy up to it. To appreciate its full potential as both a tool and a toy.

Because isn’t that what it’s all about – fun. As much as I could use a cashmere sweater and enjoy the warmth and comfort of cashmere, I wouldn’t call a sweater fun.

Also I think it’s important that my new leaf blower is rechargeable for a bunch of reasons. Probably the most important isn’t its planet-saving benefits, even though I enjoy being able to congratulate myself that I’m not further enlarging my carbon footprint, but that the gas guzzling landscaping devices I own – a chain saw, weed whacker, lawn mower – fill me with anxiety. After sitting idle in my garage for weeks and months at a time there’s no guarantee they’ll start and if they don’t I have no idea how to cajole them.

My leaf blower, on the other hand, runs at full masterful power for a full fifteen minutes without so much as a belch. When it dies all you have to do is remove the battery, slide it into its charger and let it recharge itself.

I know what you’re thinking. How much leaf blowing can you do in a quarter-hour?

That’s not the point. The point, as I said, is experiencing that sense of dominion that eludes us in so many other aspects of our lives.

Allow me to give you an example. Our gutters. No matter how often one clears them – and getting up on a ladder isn’t without its own perils – within days or weeks they seem to fill up with leaves, seeds, and other organic matter that decays into a sludge and dams up the gutter.

Now all I have to do is aim the nozzle of my leaf blower at them, hit the switch and the debris scatters “as leaves before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky.”

For months I assumed the waterfall that cascaded from the roof onto the steps outside the sunroom was the result of a clogged drainpipe. Turns out the drain hole was choked solid. Once I’d dispatched several seasons’ worth of leaves the drain worked beautifully.

But the highest realm of fun is an activity that has no useful purpose. Or at least its usefulness falls secondary to the sheer enjoyment, pleasure, amusement that one receives from the activity.

And there’s something deeply satisfying, even therapeutic, about dispatching leaves and returning your lawn, gutters, what have you, to their previous splendor.

And when they fill up again, as they inevitably will, you’ll have an excuse to head outdoors with your trusty leaf blower, hit the switch, and show them who’s boss.

So this holiday season give those you care a battery-operated leaf blower. They can always exchange it for a cashmere sweater.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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