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There it was, the gift I did not want — big and glitzy and expensive — from my closest friend, whom I thought knew me well.
Days before Christmas, a massive, flat object appeared on the porch of my old house. In the dim light of a windy morning, I thought it was the lid of a huge trash can, or maybe cosmic debris. There had been many news reports of late warning us of astro-objects traveling at high speeds and landing near porches, pastures, and woodland roads. As the sun rose, I saw capital letters on the object, now revealed as a bright carton: SCEPTRE LCD HDTV/SLEEK720P.
I dragged the carton over the threshold, the broken screen door slamming on my shoulder. What is this monstrosity? Where did it come from? How can I make it go away? Then I remembered a warning from my dear friend Lili along the lines of "something coming" and "try to be open-minded." I stared at the space invader and realized, this is a very large pricey new TV from a friend that should have known better.
I wanted to be gracious, but was too upset. How to lug it inside? How to send it back? How to tell my friend Lili, I love you, but I hate this. More delicate and controversial, am I allowed to express my irritation that she got me something that I had said outright I didn't want, and that if she had been listening, she would have understood?
How to tell my friend Lili, I love you, but I hate this.
Or perhaps I could just keep it, say thank you, and call it a day, a season, a misunderstanding and misreading? A really good neo-platitude I came up with was: "It is better to have a bad gift from someone you love, than a good gift from someone you hate." I agreed with myself, but still, this electronic monstrosity had to go.
I apologize to whomever. I know that I am an anomaly. But I do not like excessive stuff. I hate electronics. I am suspicious of the new.
In the bedroom of my home is my TV, a 13" 1990 Sony Trinitron with rabbit ears and a converter box, plus an arrangement of hummingbird tchotchkes. I like my home entertainment center. It suits me. It's small, square, compact, and delivers the stations I have any interest in, and fits perfectly on my old pine dresser. I do not have or want cable. I do not watch or do sports. I watch movies on large screens in blissfully dark movie theaters, generally one per week, often in a state of rapt pleasure. Yes, the sound on the old Sony is ebbing, and I can't watch DVDs, but the venerable portable fulfills my needs. I am old enough and New Englandy enough that I don't want anything beyond my needs.
Many of us receive small unwanted gifts during the holidays and find ways to reassign them. We appreciate the motivation and the gesture. The killers are the big expensive unwanted gifts from those we're closest to, who should have known us better. With these big unwantables, we are not only saddled with the object, but with the knowledge that our friend did not listen, or perhaps even heard our objections, yet overrode us. What's up with that?
This new SCEPTRE LCD HDTV/SLEEK720, which is still in its box, stapled and sealed, is from a best friend. I see Lili three or four times a week and we email in between. She knows my life, including my eccentricities, limitations and flaws, and I hers. Or so I thought, until she gave me this unwieldy object so inappropriate for my life and the eccentricities I thought she accepted.
Lili and I both live on modest incomes; I continually worry about her because she is insufficiently thrifty, and much younger than I, needing to prepare for her long life. I had just given her the world's most boring Christmas present, but a loving and concerned one, which is to say, a membership to AAA so she and her daughter would never be stranded. With the lavish purchase of a TV, she heightened my concerns about her ability to be practical and thrifty, to plan for her long future.
I don't want the TV. I can't even lift the box. But I adore my friend and she is a person of exuberance and generosity. It is a small LCD HDTV as these things go — though anything bigger than 13" looks like a drive-in movie in my bedroom — and I can picture her researching and ordering the set, and anticipating my surprise and delight, as opposed to my actual response, a mix of Scrooge and the Grinch.
Using a small rug as a conveyer, I dragged the TV into the hall, waited a suitable interval and emailed Lili a note that said, in essence, I worship you, I am upset, and get this out of here. Then followed an exchange of emails in which she described her need and wish for me to have more luxuries than I do, and my trying to explain that I do not feel deprived, but instead content with what I have and free from the burdens of additional stuff. I even said that I was a little dismayed that she didn't understand this part of me, that I take pride in limited consumerism.
I dragged the TV into the hall, waited a suitable interval and emailed Lili a note that said, in essence, I worship you, I am upset, and get this out of here.
She now understands that I cherish her even though I don't cherish it. I understand that she accepts me as I am, even if she sent me the close equivalent of a nuclear powered sub. I am grateful that our friendship is flexible, resilient, and encompassing.
She asked me to put the offending SCEPTRE LED HDTV/SLEEK720P in the closet and to observe it at closer range between Christmas and New Year’s. I know she is hoping I will get used to it, even like it. Were this to happen, I would insist she let me pay for it. Negotiations could go on for decades.
For the last six days, including Christmas, I have not opened my closet. Quite annoying. But Lili and I have seen each other twice and each time laughed and said, "I love you." Three days ago, her car would not start on an icy morning and she was able to call AAA. In a few more days, I may open my closet.
This program aired on December 26, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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