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2004 Gift Guide
Gifts for the festive film lover
Holiday gifts for the Paris Hilton wannabe
Musical cure-alls for the difficult giftee in your life
Clutterless gifts
My big fat art books guide
Scandalous gifts for the lusty angel in your life
Expert gift recommendations for your favorite workplace prankster
Holiday happenings


Presents of Mind

From foreign trees to foreign animals to tank rallies, give the gift that does not clutter


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A PERSON can't really say this in public without appearing spoiled or ungrateful or mean-spirited, but let's face facts—the winter holidays are a mixed bag of nuts, one or two nutty favorites tossed in with a bunch you don't like and a few others you are desperately allergic to. While it is undeniably sweet and pleasant to spend holiday time talking with and being in close proximity to our loved ones and family members—with certain conspicuous exceptions, of course, and you know who you are—there are countless drawbacks to the annual holiday season. It's no accident that visits to psychiatric professionals see a sharp increase around December. Vast numbers of us will suffer long months of post-holiday stress and mirror-trauma wondering how to remove all those extra pounds of flesh we packed on during all those holiday dinners.

Worst of all, though, is the tradition of giving presents to people you know very little about, and its flip side: having to deal with all that "stuff" you were given by people who know very little about you. In other words, while it might be fun watching football games next to your ever-napping Uncle Bob, and while you will always treasure the memory of being whipped by your precocious cousin Cleo in a game of Trivial Pursuit, sooner or later the fun will be called to a close, and you'll suddenly have all those damn presents to deal with.

Simply put: the clutter must end! Fortunately, there are a number of unique and thoughtful gifts in this world that are perfect for those people on your list who either have enough dust-collecting stuff already or who appreciate a creative and unusual gift-giving effort when they see one. Some are patently dumb but metaphorically apt, like the whole Name-Your-Own-Star-After-a-Loved-One phenomenon. Others, like the hundreds of Adopt-an-Endangered-Elephant or Adopt-a-Frightened-Sea-Turtle programs, are a bit more practical in that they actually do some good for another Earth-based life form—though not necessarily the Earth-based life form to whom you are giving the gift. What such presents excel at, of course, is managing to be essentially nonexistent, without physical form or substance and unconditionally impossible to clutter a crowded closet with.

This, then is your Clutterless Gift Guide.

(Memorize it, and then recycle it as quickly as possible.)

In America, where peaches sit waiting in cans, soaking in raspberry syrup, next to containers of cinnamon-flavored pear halves, it's still seems like a chore making sure we get our daily requirement of fruits and vegetables. But there are places in the world where getting fruit on the table once a month is an extraordinary achievement. Trees for Life (www.treesforlife.org), based in Wichita, Kan., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to buying and planting fruit trees in the nutritionally challenged villages and communities of several developing nations. For a donation of 25 bucks, you can arrange to have 25 trees planted in a loved one's name somewhere in the world where there are no grocery stores, and fruit does not come in cans.

If you are feeling especially generous, you can always go out on a limb with a gift of 50 or a 100 trees, at $50 and $100 dollars, respectively. Your loved one will receive a very nice certificate and the good feeling that comes with knowing someone ordered up some fruit trees while thinking of them.

For kids, who would never sit still for having their present given to someone else, you can order a Tree Shirt for $15. Emblazoned with your choice of catchy sayings ("Let there be trees" and "This is my Tree Shirt; Where's Yours?") they also come with a Trees for Life Adventure Kit including tree seeds, instructions for growing them and a certificate stating that 10 fruit trees have been planted in that kid's name, so they get to feel good and get something at the same time. And while it is true that the Tree Shirt actually exists, just know that in a little while it will have become another dust rag anyway, perfect for cleaning all those knickknacks other people gave for Christmas. Check the website or call 316.945.6929.

Let's suppose your beloved recipient would like the option of visiting his or her tree without having to buy a ticket to a country with enormous parasites in its drinking water. Like Trees for Life, Treegivers (www.treegivers.com) plants trees, but with a specific focus on establishing trees in all 50 American states. A special Deluxe Christmas Package ($55.95) will give your compadre a nice young tree, planted somewhere that needs trees in the state of your choice, a framed 8-by-10 certificate, a card with your personal message and an authentic leaf-shaped Christmas tree ornament. For more information, do the website thing or call 800.862.TREE.

For over a quarter-century, the Seva Foundation (www.seva.org), based in Berkeley, has been helping impoverished peoples to get the kind of eye care and sight-restoration surgeries that they need but couldn't possibly afford. For a donation of $40, Seva can arrange for one cataract surgery to be performed in your loved one's name, and for $50 they'll gas up a mobile eye clinic to roam the mountains of Nepal, Cambodia or Tibet. There is a whole Seva catalog listing various health-related services that can be purchased in a family member's name, for which they will receive a gift card that, depending on the type of donation, will read something like, "This gift will sponsor a cataract operation and restore sight to a blind person in Tibet." Other services that could be donated in your friend's name include literacy classes for women and girls in Guatemala ($50); water pumps, piping and well-building equipment (remember those aforementioned parasites?) for villages in Chiapas, Mexico ($75); and startup assistance for indigenous peoples wanting to establish their own tailoring collective or bakery operation ($100). Check the website or call 800.223.7382.

Let's say your intended giftee isn't the kind to go in for all this sweetness and greenitude. Perhaps they'd like to be flown to Texas so they can drive a bog tank over an old Toyota. At a per person cost of $2,750, it's a bit pricey, but for those who can afford to throw their money away on pointless macho adventuring, Incredible Adventures of Sarasota, Fla., offers a humdinger of a holiday gift called simply Texas Tanks. At the appointed time, they will send your testosterone-poisoned loved one to Dallas, where he'll be met at the airport and escorted "by convoy" to the "Armory," where he'll join a team and spend the weekend driving a tank up and down and over various obstacles, followed by a catered "troop victory party." Women, according the brochure, are invited as well, because apparently every gender enjoys a little simulated warfare now and then.

For this and other expensive "extreme" gift events—anyone for spending New Year's Eve diving with sharks off Key West?—check www.incredible-adventures.com or call 800.644.7382.

Now here's a unique gift that is not technically clutterless, since it does actually occupy space, but is certainly small and as easy to store as a paperback book. For about $30, a company called Customized Classics will print up one of several classic books, from A Jungle Book to Alice in Wonderland to A Christmas Carol to Romeo and Juliet in which a pertinent character's name has been replaced with that of your acquaintance. Instead of Ebeneezer Scrooge appearing as the meanest man on earth, it's now your cousin Henry, unless he'd prefer to be in Bob Cratchit's shoes, which can also be arranged. Captain Ahab? Call who Ishmael? Give your dad a chance to be the crazed lunatic chasing that big white whale in Moby Dick. As for Romeo and Juliet, with a wave of your credit card, Customized Classics can whip up a copy of Brad and Amy (or Brad and Alexander or Amy and Jane or whatever), with optional happy ending, in which the star-crossed lovers wise up before it's too late. "Come shining angel," the she-person now says, "let us leave this cold sepulcher for Verona's warm embrace." In an irreverent alternative, the star-uncrossed lovers cry, "What happened? I passed out for a second and everybody's losing it. Lucky the dagger wasn't sharp!"

Check 'em out at www.customizedclassics.com or call 905.201.9442.

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From the November 17-23, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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