Gifts from Friends: Saturday Dec. 20th, 2014

Customer need’s assistance in Sporting Goods. Customer needs assistance in Sporting Goods please…

“What are you getting Sunny for Christmas?” I ask, leaning over an empty pushcart, one with a creaking left front wheel and something sticky on the handle bar. Around me, Walmart bustles with busy holiday shoppers. Noone is smiling.

“Nothing.” Oliver says. He’s looking at a Bosch belt sander with a clearance sticker marked $75 As Is. “Do you think Dad will like this?” He holds it up with both hands.

“I don’t know. Why aren’t you getting Sunny anything?”

“We agreed not to get each other anything.” He says. He looks again at the sander’s tag before placing it back on the self. Mom normally gives us twenty-five dollars for Dad’s Christmas present, but this year (with Mom’s new job) it’s a hundred. “It’s easier that way. He’s broke.”

I follow Oliver’s eyes, moving from one tool to the next, a slight frown on his face. Dad’s a hard buy even with the boost in spending limit. He always says he wants tools- something we’ve rarely seen him use- but what we’ve got him in the past (a socket set, a mallet, two electric tape measures) seem to only collect dust in the garage before Mom eventually surrenders them in the church’s annual junk sale, to be passed on to some other father, hopefully one with a passion for carpentry or brick work.

Oh how easy Christmas was fifty years ago!


“What are you getting June?” Oliver asks.

“Some small things.” I say. We leave the power tools behind and move into the Sporting Goods section. A half dozen irritated customers are waiting in front of an empty counter. “I’m giving her a framed photo of us. Something cute.”

I tell Oliver that June pulled the same thing with me as Sunny did with him, saying that if I showed up with a gift she’d be required- by the ancient law of tit for tat- to wrap one of her stolen library books in a Walmart bag and hand it over. I told her thanks, but no thanks. The photo will be a surprise left in her mailbox.

“What about Timothy?” Oliver asks, moving to the counter, “Cool, they have AR-15’s!”

Behind the counter and protected by an eighth-inch plate glass sliding door are black rifles, several rows of them, the kind Chuck Norris used in all three Missing in Action movies. Or (a chill runs through me) the kind a psycho would use on thirty little kids in an elementary school classroom.

I pull Oliver away and we move to the automotive section, where we find ourselves surrounded by a million air fresheners. The scents are at first wonderful then, as my olfactory receptors become intoxicated, nauseating.

“Well?” Oliver asks. He’s holding a can labeled Mixed Berry close to his nose, inhaling the artificial sent like Dad breaths in his morning coffee.

Josh you’re need back to Sporting Goods for Customer assistance, Josh you’re needed back to Sporting Goods…

“Timothy? How do you know about him?”

“He’s your pen-pal.” Oliver puts the can back on the shelf and selects another labeled Passion Fruit. “I got one too, her name is Anglican. Remember?”

I shrug.

“I’m getting her one of those daily devotionals.” He gives the passion fruit a sniff and nods his approval. “That’s what everyone’s doing.”

“I might.” I don’t tell him about the sheet music I’ve picked out. A few emails ago Timothy mentioned his trumpet, that he’s been wanting to dust it off. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong will be a nice little surprise I think.

“What about Camille?” I ask.

Oliver turns beat red and pretends to study the ingredients on a tin of car polish. It contains chemicals that- in the state of California- are known to cause birth defects.

“Well?” I turn the screw. I’ve looked Camille up in last year’s school annual. Her photo showed a short, pale blonde with deep brown eyes and a heart shaped locket around her neck. She’s a sublet sort of pretty you don’t notice at first, only realizing it after a double take.

“No, I’m not getting her anything. She doesn’t really talk to me when Sunny’s around.” Then with an exaggerated huff, “And he’s with me all the time.”

“Just ask him to cool it a little.” I can’t believe that I, Little Miss Never Been Kissed, am  giving relationship advice to my brother. “She may eventually come around.”

“I can’t do that. He’s like white on rice.” Then, as if admitting something to himself, “He’s alright I guess. Probably gets annoyed with me sometimes too.”

“June annoys me too. But I nag her a bit so it evens out.”

We share a smile, a Nolan sibling Kodak Moment, before moving on to the oil filters.

A member of management is needed to Sporting Goods please, a member of management is needed to Sporting Goods…

We mossy on to the toy section, then electronics, where we settle on some sort of universal remote for Dad.

“He’s been complaining about having a dozen remotes laying around the place.” Oliver says. He shifts his glasses to read the impossibly small print on the back of the packaging. “He’ll like it.”

We keep the receipt, just in case.

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