It's past six, you RSVP'd to the party two weeks ago, and you have less than 30 minutes to get there and get a gift. You'd like to bring wine—but wait, you brought wine last year. And you did the flower arrangement thing for their birthday. If this scenario sounds familiar—you know who you are—we are peas in a pod. Like me, you may have felt mortified by the last-minute way you treat your nearest and dearest. Shame yourself no longer! In this great country of ours, every gas station and 24-hour grocery can offer a bonanza of holiday gifts. With a little thinking outside the proverbial gift box, you'll have a perfect present in a heartbeat, with lots of time left over to party!
Life of the Party
When you simply can't muster the effort to pull something together, give the gift that keeps on giving—yourself! Ask the gas station attendant for some plastic bags and knot them together into an elaborate boa. Then buy some mirrored sunglasses ($7.99) and knock back at least four or five Ultra Energy Now powder packets ($1.09 each) with a Coke (99 cents). Purchase a few cases of Bud Light ($14.99 each), and show up at the front door of the party screaming aaaaarrrreeba!!! Everyone will be too shocked and appalled to notice that you didn't bring a proper gift.
Car Safety First
Make a pit stop at the nearest gas station store and give the gift that says Safety First—an awesome automotive care package. I highly recommend a pair of Power Grip Gloves ($2.89), made of mesh for better steering-wheel-gripping; anti-freeze ($8.39), an ice scraper ($3.99), and some 10-30 motor oil ($2.39), since it's cold as hell these days and getting colder; and a large plastic can for extra gas ($3.99), because you don't want them to end up like that guy in The Hitcher. Tie a bow around your gorgeous package with a set of festive red jumper cables ($11.99). To minimize the fact that this gift may seem last-minute, be sure to keep the above explanations for each item handy. Embellish at will. If your gift recipient seems miffed or put out, do not admit that the gift was an afterthought. Instead, break down in tears and describe a recurring dream you've been having where this particular loved one crashes their car in a snowstorm. After the two of you share a good cry, you'll be ready to knock back some nog and party.
Betty's Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
Finally, a crafty, handmade gift you can finish on the fly! The idea is to fill a large, attractive glass jar with all the dry ingredients needed for chocolate chip cookies—layering the flour, sugar, baking soda, and chips in the jar for a banded, gourmet look. Cut out a heart-shaped piece of paper from any old windshield flyer or grocery bag and write—in your best cursive—"Betty's Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies." (Note: If your name isn't Betty, change moniker in recipe to your own.) Copy the cookie recipe from the back of the chip bag onto the flip side of your lovely label, and add a sentence that says, "Add butter, eggs, and vanilla for a delicious treat." Attach said label to jar with ribbon if available, or ask for a rubber band at the register—just be sure you say "band" loudly, so they don't look at you sympathetically and then call over the loudspeaker for condoms. Here is your shopping list: Chocolate chips and all the dry ingredients listed in the cookie recipe on the back of the bag ($11 with chopped walnuts, $7 without); adorable cookie cutters (biscuit cutters will do in a pinch) ($3.99); cookie sheet ($4.39); large jar of spaghetti sauce, jam, molasses, or even pickled pig's feet—anything that, once emptied, will provide a classy container ($2.99); sets of measuring cups and spoons ($3.99).
When you arrive at the party, give the host a mwah, mwah on both cheeks, then head straight for the bathroom to construct your fabulous country-kitchen gift. If somebody knocks while you're in there, tell them you're busy—and that it's going to take a while. Dump out the contents of the glass jar and clean it completely, being sure to remove all traces of the label. Without making too much of a mess, use your cup and tablespoon measures to pour the correct amount of each ingredient into the clean jar. Top the flour and sugar off with lots of chocolate chips. Voila! Be assured that the time you spend in assembly will be worth it, and don't forget to attach your lovely label. If you have a great story to tell about how your Grandma smuggled this cookie recipe out of the Czar of Russia's kitchen when you give them the gift, so much the better.
Holiday Survival Kit
This gift is as simple as finding every holiday-themed thing in the store. If you're in a gas station, this means candy and Christmas music tapes ($6-$12). Before you scoff, remember that cassettes have great kitsch potential. Before you know it, someone at the party will hold the tape aloft and say, "Hey, guys, remember these things?"—and soon the whole party will be singing along with Bing and you'll know your gift hit the jackpot. If you're at a grocery store, your Holiday Survival Kit can be even more of a class act. Include a festive 12-pack of holiday microbrew like Winterhook ($13.99) or a few bags of green and red foil Hershey's Holiday Miniatures ($2.99). To make your gift presentation festive, "borrow" some of the mistletoe/ornaments from one the store's lovely holiday displays.
When you gift 'n' go, you're making the right choice. Our lives are busy, dammit, and extra time should be spent with loved ones, not in crowded stores choosing their gift. Fortunately, these gifts are so good, nobody ever has to know you found them in a flash—unless you happen to give to another gift 'n' goer. Then you'll just exchange a wink, which is fine: Peace and understanding are better than presents.
Kate Chynoweth is a freelance writer and editor.