Friday, December 22, 2000

A Christmas Carol

"Ebenezer.... Ebenezer..."

"What!? Who's there!? What do you want!?"

"Ebenezer, I am the ghost of Christmas past."

"A ghost? But why have you come to visit me? What have I done?"

"It's 2000, Ebenezer, the last Christmas of this millennium... or the first Christmas of the next... whatever. Either way, you have to account for all of those bad gifts you've given."

What do you mean, bad gifts? I've always been exceedingly generous, with family, friends, business associates..."

"Have you, now? Well, let's look back and see, shall we? Do you remember this holiday?"

"What's that appearing in the mist? It's.... it's... me! But I have long hair. And a peace necklace and bell-bottoms and a fringed vest. My, I must have been just a teenager...."

"Nineteen, to be exact. The time was 1971. And you came home on Christmas day to be with your family. Do you remember?"

"Why yes! Mom had a turkey and all the trimmings. And Dad had a pitcher of eggnog and the football game on. They were so happy to see me! I remember bringing presents and everything... though I don't recall exactly what they were."

"Indeed. Isn't it amazing how you remember some things so clearly, while others... Well, keep watching."

"I see Mom unwrapping the present I just handed her. Gee, it look's like... apron with Richard Nixon and a B52 on it?"

"Uh huh. And..."

"And dad is holding up.... a tie with... is that Fidel Castro?"

"Yes it is. A real beauty, don't you think?"


"Trying to make a statement, there, son?"

"Uh... I know at the time... I mean, they seemed like the right things to..."

"Well, let's not dwell on that. Let's move on, shall we?"

"Why? Where else are you taking me?"

"Just a little jump on the calendar forward... recognize the setting?"

"It looks like a classroom...and there's my daughter, Lucy. Why, she can't be more than five."

"Six, to be exact. She's in first grade. And that's her teacher, Mrs. Apple. Do you remember her?"

"Yes, she was an old bat. She was nice enough to Lucy, but always seemed cold to me in conferences. I always wondered why...."

"A good question. Can you see what she's doing?"

"Well, it looks like the kids are having a Christmas party in school, and she's opening presents that the kids are giving her. Yes... that's it. And there goes Lucy with... what is that? An envelope?"

"Keep watching."

"Well, I don't remember exactly, but I'm sure we gave her tickets or a gift voucher for Bloomingdale's or... no!!"

"What do you see?"

"Not a McDonald's gift certificate! We couldn't have!"

"You did, indeed. You're lucky that she didn't take it out on Lucy."

"But she did so much for Lucy in reading and math... and we gave her a Big Mac????"

"Not even. It was a $1 certificate. Big Macs cost more."

"Oh, I'm so ashamed...."

"Let's make one more stop before we return home, shall we? Tell me what you see...."

"I can't quite tell. It... it seems to be an office."

"It is... but not just any office. You spent a lot of time there. Ring any bells yet?"

"Well...those cubicles look familiar. Wait! That's it! It's my first management job. My, those were simpler times. But what a great team I had. In fact, there's Bob and Judy and Sanjit and Wing Lu. We spent many a late night trouble shooting that system. But I don't see me...I wonder where I am."

"Again, your memory is a bit selective. You're not there because you never really worked late, did you? You always left at five and told them to have it ready by morning."

"Well, I.... I was always there when they needed me! And I always showed them my appreciation!"

"Did you, now? Let's listen for a moment...."

"... there was nothing in my paycheck. How about yours, Sanjit?"

"Not an extra cent. That son of a bitch didn't give anybody a bonus... even Wing, who saved his ass on the rollout. Right, Wing?"

"Yeah. All he ever did was send in one of those tins of popcorn with a 'Happy Holidays!' note on it. He walks off with a couple of grand, and all we get are cavities from munching on caramel corn...."

"...a different take, huh, Ebenezer?"

"But they said they LIKED caramel corn!"

"You were their boss... what were they supposed to say?"

"I... I...just thought..."

"Well, you thought wrong. Any lessons you might have learned?"

"My God, what have I done? I have to be more generous. And give people gifts I would want myself. Let me start with you. But're fading away!"

"Just remember....remember... remember...."

"I will remember. I must find Tiny Tim and get back that mouse pad before he opens it. I know he wanted a Palm Pilot...."


Marc Wollin of Bedford apologizes profusely to Charles Dickens. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Saturday, December 16, 2000

All I Want For Xmas

It's that time of year again, when good little boys and girls of all ages sit down and make up their wish lists for Santa. The little kids are easy; it's the big ones that are tough, especially since we all know that the only thing that separates men from boys is the price of their toys. So while it's easy to impress if you're willing to lay down the big bucks, be it $3000 for a laptop, $10,000 for a high definition TV or $100,000 for a Porsche, the trick is to do it on a budget. And so, what follows is a highly selective list of goodies... all for under seventy-five bucks... that should wow the child on your list, regardless of their age.

For those whose parents... or spouses... won't let them have a pet, the hot seller this year is the robotic dog. While the cream of the crop is the Sony Aibo which sells for $1500, there are lots of others to choose from. For instance, this past August, Tiger Electronics' robotic dog, Poo-Chi, was the number one selling toy introduced in 2000, according to the Toy Manufacturers of America. So it's logical to assume that the follow-up, Super Poo-Chi, listing for $49.95, will be the pick of the litter for Christmas. Both react to light, touch and sound, so if you pay attention to them, they're happy. You know this because their eyes light up in the shape of a heart. And Super Poo-Chi responds to six different voice commands, including sit, lie down and stretch, and has a wider range of motion. The good news is the only "presents" this pup will leave for you around the house is batteries; it takes 3 "C" cells.

If your intended has questions that need answers, don't go looking for a magic eight ball. Better yet, pick up an e-Fortune. This neon-colored, electronic fortune cookie pulls apart to reveal an LCD screen. Depending on the color, they can find out their horoscope (lemon), future (cherry) or fortune (lime). Best of all, at just $15, you'll have plenty left over to get some vegetable lo mein, some spicy chicken and peanut, and the real thing for dessert.

If you know someone who wants to recapture those magical lo-tech days when the height of interior design was the lava light, then consider the IceLite. Consisting of a plastic base which includes a candleholder and a clear, heat-resistant container filled with water, the device is simplicity itself. Take the top and freeze it. Then light the candle, and assemble the top to the bottom. As the ice melts, the pattern changes... offering them hours of time to contemplate whether or not this diversion was worth $29.95.

Even been in the car with someone flipping through stations when they finally hear THAT song, but miss the artist and the album? Well, the eMarker might be just the ticket. Press the button on this little $19.99 torpedo shaped beauty, and it registers a time and date stamp. Then when they get back to their computer, they simply slip it into its base, and it leads them to online playlists that identify the tune. So now they'll be able to find that that old Monkeys tune that they kept humming in the shower.

Of course, not all gifts are frivolous by nature. For the more practical... and fussy... significant other in your life, consider Otres Kitchen Sponge Sanitizer. A mere $49.95, this clamshell device plugs in next to the sink and provides a resting place for that moldy piece of cellulose you use to swab the deck. Place it in the dish, and it bathes the contents in purifying ozone, killing all the ick within and withon. Lord knows what it would do to an Oreo.

If your givee's tastes run more to... well... tastes, then Williams-Sonoma's Remote Thermometer is right up their alley. Combining the best features of a Perdue Pop-Up indicator and a walkie-talkie, it consists of two parts. Stick the radio probe deep into your bird, and go sip eggnog with the gang. Then, when the internal temperature hits the magic number, the pager size receiver beeps to let you know its time to get the cranberry sauce ready.

Is your target the kind who can't remember if the tune they set their cell phone to ring with is the William Tell Overture or In-a-gadda-da-vida? Make sure they don't miss that important call with a Flashing Antenna. They can easily unscrew the nub on their Nokia and replace it with one of these little multicolored devices. Then, when they receive a call, up to 8 LED's flash to let them know it's their belt that's making noise. At just $3.99 a pop, you can get a bunch for you and your friends, call each other, and poof! Instant disco.

But maybe all of these cheapies won't make the splash you hope for under the tree. In that case, you could save your pennies, and spring for one gift that'll really make an impact. And in my mind, that would have to be O&K Mining's RH-400, the biggest hydraulic excavator in the world. Able to grab 80 tons of whatever in one bucket, it has a 60-foot reach and runs for hours on its 4227-gallon gas tank. So from your back yard, you could deal with offending kid down the block and his loud guitar by simply scooping up his entire house and dumping it out. Granted, at $10 million dollars, it's a bit over our $75 cut off, but, hey, that's why they invented low minimum monthly payments.

Keep in mind that with all of these the clock is ticking, and the holiday is just a week or so away. At last check, all the items contained herein were still available, and FedEx said they can make the cut-off... well, maybe not with the excavator. But other than that, the ball's in your court. So forget the socks, slippers and underwear. It's time to play Santa.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is trying to beat the rush, and is already returning gifts for even exchange. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.