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Taking Things Back

February 26th, 2006 by dk

I wrote this ten or eleven years ago and ran across it this week. It still fits.


We’re all adults here, so we can be honest. January has washed away and with it any chance that we’ll exchange or return those clunker Christmas gifts.

The minute the gift was opened, our faces slipped a bit and we heard the traditional holiday rejoinder: “If you don’t like it, we can always take it back.” If stores had been open on Christmas day, we might have skipped the figgy pudding to rid ourselves of those bungled bundles right then and there. Such was our resolve.

But now that determination is only a dim memory. The gifts remain, still in their boxes in the corner of the bedroom or the floor of the closet, where they are likely to stay until we admit defeat. February is a good time to admit defeat. (It’s also a good time to take down the tree.)

At least we didn’t go down without a fight. We tried to take that stuff back more than once.

Before they changed the department store Muzak, we set out to get something we really wanted with the store credit we expected. After all, grousing about the gifts is part of the holiday spirit.

But the lines! In Russia, the people stand in line for hours to buy a pair of shoes. In America we stand in line just to get rid of them. (Seems like there could be a basis for world peace in this.) Who in their right mind would stand in line for an hour to return an electric salad spinner?

I’ve even wondered in moments of acute cynicism if stores hire temps to pose as customers to keep the lines long and me away.

So I told myself I’d return in a week or so, “after the lines die down.” But that just gave me time to imagine the conversation once I got my turn.

Keeping the Garfield necktie with matching slippers was looking more attractive.

Before venturing out again, I had to rehearse my lines, prepare my defense, state my case for exchanging these losers. It had to sound compelling, logical, and sincere. I knew they would ask me if anything’s wrong with it. And that I would have to admit that nothing is wrong with it, except that it doesn’t belong in my home. How can I be so sure that the problem isn’t with me? Maybe the salt and pepper shakers shaped like garbage trucks should stay and I should move out.

So I did what we all do. Lie. I’ll just tell the clerk it’s the wrong color. But what if they have other colors? I could claim that every color clashes with my lime green decor, but what if the clerk doesn’t believe me? Worse yet, what if they do?

This year I especially wanted to return some imported herbal oatmeal soap. It’s the first time I’ve been given soap for Christmas that wasn’t on a rope. But then I learned that the loofa sponge that accompanied it is not a sponge at all. It’s a vegetable—a type of squash. (This is true.) Sitting in a tub with a squash and natural herbs got me thinking. Add a few potatoes, perhaps some bouillon, make sure the water’s nice and hot…. It’s not a bath; it’s a stew. But how could I tell all this to a clerk? So I wondered if anyone is allergic to oatmeal.

I never got to try out my alibi. By the time the lines disappeared, so did the receipt. I know it’s around here someplace. Nothing seems to biodegrade faster than receipts in my house.

So for now I’ve got soup starter in my medicine cabinet, Garfield staring up at me every morning when I get dressed, and a refrigerator full of dizzy lettuce. Eventually, I’ll find a good home for each errant expression of holiday cheer. A church auction, an office party, a yard sale, a birthday revenge.

Bad gifts are like insults. We think we can take them back, but we never really can.

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