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Presents of Mind

A short list of clutterless--and dustless--gift ideas

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So here's the problem. It's the afternoon of Christmas Day--or any other annual observance in which the giving of gifts is a piece of the action--and your floor is littered with shredded wrapping and a dozen different holiday offerings. All these gifts share one thing in common: You instantly know that you don't want them. Or maybe you do want them. What the hell. But even if you do, even if you actually plan to display them all over your house, there's no escaping the fact that this stuff is gonna be collecting a whole lot of dust.

And that's just not healthy.

Dust, after all, is one of the major causes of allergy in this country, and if you keep all that stuff at your feet, you're facing a runny nose from here to next September. Now consider all of the potential dust collectors you were planning to distribute to the many Loved Ones on your Christmas list this year. Do you really want to be the cause of aggravated sniffles and irritated sinuses? Of course not.

Fortunately for you, and for your friends and relations, there are numerous gifts on the market that are completely--or almost completely--dustless and noncluttering, because these gifts do not technically exist. They exist, but not in the same way that your brand-new wooden beaver exists.

The energetic shopper will find a vast array of such clutterless gifts, from stars that can be named after your Uncle Pete to an authentic ordination for your sister through the famous we'll-ordain-anyone Universal Life Church.

We like those ideas. Here are a few others we like even better.

Stock Stuffers

Your Loved Ones don't have to be practicing scripophiles to appreciate a gift of well-chosen company stock. Once engaged in a bit of holiday scripophily, however (scripophily, by the way, is the act of collecting stock certificates), they may just end up becoming hardened collectors of the highly abstract stuff. The cool thing about stock is that, with even a single share, a person will suddenly feel linked to an entire industry or organized activity.

There is a company in San Francisco that has cleverly co-opted the idea of giving single shares of stock as gifts. OneShare.com will sell just that--a solitary item of stock from one of dozens of your Loved One's favorite companies, including Walt Disney, Toys "R" Us, Anheuser Busch, Pixar studios, Harley-Davidson, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, and, just for yuks, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.

Using the convenient website, it'll cost you about $30 to $40, depending on the stock you choose. If your L.O. would appreciate tactile proof of your generosity, you can gift wrap the actual stock certificates, which in many cases are pretty cool looking and come framed in a variety of styles and prices (though we really don't encourage that sort of thing because, hey, even a framed stock certificate is one more thing to dust).

For folks who'd like to own a piece of the past, you can even give a share of authentic--if slightly late--stock in the RMS Titanic Corporation. The website is the best way to order, but you can also order by phone at 888.777.6919.

Dolphin Love

Who doesn't love dolphins, and who hasn't always secretly wanted to have one? Well, over in Scotland, on the rocky coast of Moray Firth, there is a whole clan of dolphins--Lightning, Whisky, Jigsaw, and Sundance, to name a few--who are just waiting to be adopted in the name of someone on your shopping list.

Adopt a Dolphin (www.adoptadolphin.com) is a program sponsored by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, which applies all adoption fees to help protect and study the dolphins of Moray Firth and abroad. The website is set up for gift-giving adoptions. Recipients will receive information about their new dolphin and are even invited to visit whenever they are in the United Kingdom. That's the best part of giving someone a dolphin--the thing stays in Scotland for someone else to worry about.

Flight Club

OK. So you want to give a gift that will really sweep 'em off their feet and impress the heck out of them while giving them the thrill of their lifetime? Well, for a mere $49, you can hand your Loved One a nice, unexpected Be a Pilot Introductory flight lesson. During the lesson, your Loved One will actually get to fly the airplane . . . in the sky . . . among the birds and the clouds and the little, lost birthday balloons.

Be a Pilot (www.beapilot.com) is a nonprofit educational effort sponsored by the General Aviation Industry as a way of introducing the public to the thrills and joys and satisfaction of what they like to call "personal flying." The service provides inexpensive introductory flight lessons at over 1,800 certified flight schools around the Northern Hemisphere, from Peoria to Petaluma, from Saskatchewan to San Jose. Each lesson is conducted by an FAA-licensed flight instructor. You can register for a certificate on the website (and print the thing out right there on your computer) or by calling 888.BE.A.PILOT.

Playing Cards

Gift certificates may be a thinly disguised way of saying "I couldn't be bothered to figure out what you want or who you are as a person, so I'm giving you this gift certificate so you can go out and do the footwork yourself," but whatever they say, they're effective. Gift cards, pretty much a glorified plastic version of a gift certificate, have a certain flexibility that makes them more personalized than a hunk of paper from Sears or the Wherehouse. Besides, they fit in your wallet better.

Does your Loved One like coffee? Most coffee companies will sell you a card in any dollar amount you name. Your L.O. can use it like a credit card, with the amount of each latte being deducted from the remaining value of the card. (Some coffee places, such as Deaf Dog in Petaluma, have a charmingly low-tech version of this, using wooden chips instead of the card, once chip per espresso drink--simple but effective.)

Gradually, more and more goods and activities--from doughnuts to miniature golf to Lazer Tag games--are being offered through these kinds of gift cards, and in some cases, a card will be accepted at more than one company. With a Dinnerguest card, for example (www.dinnerguest.com), your Loved Ones can enjoy a lavish meal at any restaurant that accepts Visa cards, depending on how much cash you choose to place on their Dinnerguest card, which they can carry with them until the opportunity arises to use it.

Chances are good they'll do so long before the thing has a chance to gather any dust

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From the December 12-18, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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