Keeping gifts out of the waste stream and CEO pockets

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Bah! Humbug! I can’t seem to get into the Christmas spirit.

The kids survived the flu and returned to school Monday for a fast week, and then they’ll be out on vacation for the holidays. I should go shopping but I don’t want to. I’m tired of being told to spend, spend, spend – even if it has to be on credit – so the country can end the year on an upbeat economic note. Be patriotic! Retailers need us to cut loose and buy all those toys, violent video games and electronic marvels guaranteed to expire the day after the warranty, hence the proliferation of extended warranties foisted on consumers by Circuit City and Best Buy. My garage is full of failed presents of yesteryear awaiting the next county toxic waste roundup.

It’s not that I’m stingy. I love to give presents, send cards, decorate the house, bake Christmas cakes, listen to carols. It’s more a question of priorities. What can I buy that will mean something to the receiver and benefit the maker directly? I’ve no interest in enriching the CEO of some huge retail conglomerate who pays no taxes and rips off investors. My meager investments fell prey to market timing, late trading and exorbitant fees while the perpetrators of this daring daylight robbery seem to have gotten off with token fines and promises to clean up their act.

After a bit of research and a lot of soul searching, I’ve charted a course for gift giving and merry making that won’t contribute to the Wal-Mart-ization of America and the waste stream of foil paper wrappings and nonrecyclable plastics. Since this is also the time of year when all my magazine subscriptions are due, I will gift my renewals to others. Being careful not to offend my conservative kids with liberal rhetoric, which leaves out The Progressive and Mother Jones. A news magazine that’s broad in scope, relatively bias free and accessible is The Week, weighing in at a thrifty 46 or so pages, it distills events thusly: What Happened, What the Editorials Said, What the Columnists Said, and What’s Next. Neat. Of course, I can’t live without The New Yorker, which lightens my life with humor unmatched by any other weekly. I gave one gift subscription last year but haven’t heard if it was enjoyed, which is not a promising sign. I may try once more. Also due are subscriptions to Mother Earth News, Granta and Organic Style, which was actually a gift from my sister, and I can’t think who to give that to anyway.

Along with subscription notices, the post is filled with bids for charitable donations. Here again, I have to be careful not to offend, but if I gave donations in another’s name, instead of some cheesy shirt or sweater, I would be able to contribute to more charities. Among the most compelling this year are memberships in Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, Earth Justice, Tree People, Habitat for Humanity, Planned Parenthood and the Natural Resources Defense Council. If I choose carefully, I might not offend, well, perhaps not the last two.

The most compelling bid for holiday funds, in addition to regular monthly donations, comes from St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I can’t read any of it without crying and feeling grateful for my grandchildren’s good health. Nobody could possibly mind the gift of a donation in their name to research and care for kids, some just babies, with cancer and other life threatening diseases.

I did buy a few books, only for people I know really want them: Al Martinez’s “sort of” memoir, “I’ll Be Damned If I’ll Die in Oakland” (Thomas Dunne Books) and “Reflections” a collection of his columns from the Los Angeles Times. Also David Brinkley’s memoir “Brinkley’s Beat” (Alfred A. Knopf), which I’m trying to read first.

For soon-to-be-2-year-old Amy, who greets every morning looking for songbirds in the garden, a PBS video “The Secret Life of Birds” by Richard Attenborough. And for 9-year-old Devon, an invitation to the event of his choice, which could be tricky, but I hope will work out as well as our outing to the Harlem Globetrotters. For my very special friend, I’m buying two tickets to “Like Jazz,” the Gordon Davidson-directed musical at the Mark Taper Forum. Written by Larry Gelbart with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, this has to be a foolproof gift.

There. I think I’ve done it. Something for everyone and I didn’t contribute a dime to Wal-Mart, Third-World sweatshops or the plastic waste stream. And I didn’t have to buy a single roll of wrapping paper, ribbons or tags. Ho, Ho, Ho.