Gifts are sometimes hard to give. There’s a finesse . . . a perfect time and place. The gift need not be of great price, but something another person will keep, or use, or wear. Some gifts I’ve loved are small things, things I have kept for years. As you know from previous posts, I have this tendency to keep things. I remember love affairs from college days, girls asking what I’d like for Christmas or a birthday. I would always ask for something that would last. I’ve recently uncovered the cigarette lighter a co-ed lover gave to me when we were at the university—one of those butane things. It has our initials on it: ML on one side, BD on the other. The lighter stopped working long before I graduated—as did the relationship. But we had some good times. I haven’t had any use for the thing in over fifty years, but I keep it. Totally nuts . . . but it travels well.
Gifts on the Run:
When I was in my mid-thirties – early-forties. I used to wear some kind of ornament on my shirt collar, like some people might do with flags. I had a few brass stars a little larger than a nickel. I almost always wore denim shirts with collars that had strength. I had acquired one little silver dime sized Double-Dorje pin, and I a silver oak leaf—major’s medal, which I was not totally in love with. I was wearing it in India, maybe for that reason. No big deal if it got lost and things get lost in India.
I think it was in Tanjore. There was this ancient sultan’s castle and we wanted to go through and to see what the harem was like. It cost a few rupees for admittance and on the way in there was some kind or guard, or guide or . . . ? He was wearing these around-the-hip things that look like enormous diapers. His chest was partly hidden by an open vest. He snapped to rigid attention at our entrance and gave me a brisk salute. Without thinking I moved up on him, removed the silver oak leaf from my collar and pinned it on his vest. He stayed at attention, smiling delightedly, and we walked off—praying he would not follow. He did not. Cheap gift- $1, and a wonderful experience. Weird . . . perhaps nothing at all, but it seems at times like the act was owed from another lifetime—that there had some kind of previous interaction with this man, perhaps in a battle. Crazy. India is like that. Crazy things happen.
The harem was fascinating. There was a spiraled stairway passage very narrow going up a few floors. I felt claustrophobic.
No more than one person could go up or down a time . . . a strictly one way passage. The sultan didn’t want some assassin sneaking up on him when he was alone, defenseless and quite possibly naked with a bunch of woman. One man could easily hold off a dozen assassins at the top of that stairway, taking care of them one at a time. The harem area was about fifteen yards square with a balcony all around the offered total view of to city below.
Must have been fun. I have digressed again.
This one cost forty bucks. In India again riding on one of those bicycle rickshaws. We heard some chanting . . . mantras we were both familiar with, and wanted to go see.
The driver took us there. It was a small tent offering shade. It was around 100 centigrade most days and often more. We saw some 25 or thirty people sitting on rugs on a dirt floor, all chanting. There were three guys sitting in the center, elevated—couple feet above the ground. They seemed to be the leaders of what was going on. They were raising money to build a temple. Praying for it I guess. We chanted maybe twenty minutes with them, then got up to leave. On the way out I asked one of the guys in the middle if I could make a donation, and who I should give it to. He said he could take it and I put a folded note in his hand, worth about twenty bucks, American. I can’t remember what that was in Rupees. We were almost outside, approaching the street, when the place went nuts. People began screaming and yelling. And chasing us! We got mobbed.
Turns out twenty bucks was about what the average person there earned in three months. Elizabeth gave them another twenty. They were shoving food at us, tea . . . We practically ran out of the place, hopped on a trishaw and got went back to our hotel. Days later both of us wished that we had given more.
That’s about the only time I’ve felt good about money gifts. I’ve done it, it seems impersonal – but certainly useful. Less useful and as impersonal are those fruit and wine basket gifts. Just give your credit card number and where you want to send the thing. I’m going to stop doing that. It’s so impersonal, so is money, but cash is always appreciated. I’ve always liked sending cards but that seems to have gone out of style. Now we get digital cards. It’s not the same.
In my flaming youth I was once dated an ex New York City call girl who was running some kind of drug alcohol rehab clinic on the wrong side of the tracks from Stanford University and the nice side of town. She gave me this little ivory Ganisha carving that she’d stolen when she was in ‘the life.’ There had been some kind of party at a very rich person’s house and she and some other girls had gotten into an attic where there was all kinds of cool stuff that had been long forgotten. She swiped the statue and almost forty years ago she passed it on to me. That little statue’s been within my sight at home for these all the years since then. This was a case in which I loved the object, but time and person giving were soon more or less forgotten. Now it’s packed up in a box . . . in the garage. Oh tempora, oh mores!
A hat in Rio:
We were visiting some friends in Rio and I’d brought a ball cap. I forget what was on the front of it but I thought it was cool, and very practical in sun-beat Rio. I was thirty something and ended up giving it to the lover of one of our friends that I liked. He’d been admiring it. Six hours later I was in a convertible with him and two other guys in the back seat. One of them said, “Hey, great hat.” The guy I gave it to just passed it back . . . gave it away and I thought, Damn! I liked that cap. I guess I guess I’d never really given it, but later on it made sense. Pass the gift on. The Japanese are masters of art.
I’d heard (somewhere) that Brazilians liked American silver dollars. I took about twenty with me went I went to Rio. You could get silver dollars at them at the bank back then. I left them as tips, gave them to people as souvenirs. It didn’t work . . . did not feel good, for giver or for getter. ‘Getters’ found the coin suspicious, would have rather had a dollar bill. A dollar’s now worth about eighty cents. The silver in a silver dollar is worth twenty-five dollars. Where are those coins now I wonder? Melted down or still in circulation?
The Greatest Gifts?
To have good health
To find a friend
To fall in love
Find a good woman, or good man.