The very best, last-minute shopping guide you’ll ever find, in which something for everyone (including your dear mom and that data-entry ska dude you hardly know from the office Secret Santa) is lumped together without the hindrance of PC ground rules (shop local or via the internet in last-night’s club clothes; at this late date we’re not here to judge) or other message-bearing criteria that will make your down-to-the-wire gift grab even more stressful. Liberal use of this guide will not only fill your final pre-holiday weeks with joyous relief, it will cause your reputation for enigmatic cool to fractal across the electronic universe … and isn’t that the finest gift of all?
| Guitar Hero II (PS2) |
$79.99 game +
I’ll admit, I wasn’t the first to hop enthusiastically aboard the Guitar Hero train — my first reaction was something more akin to: “Wow; they took Dance Dance Revolution, swapped the techno with cock-rock, and slapped on the weirdest-looking controller since the Jacko-meets-Mario Power Glove. I’ll pass.” No, I’m more like the unshaven, shiv-carrying, whiskey-musked transient who clambered disoriented and unawares onto the boxcar the second time around, found the ride an enjoyable one, and now wants to spread the word to the as-yet-unenlightened drunken, rail-hopping hobos. (Crap — is “hobos” offensive? Great. It’s nearly Christmas, fer cryin’ out loud, and here I am being intolerant — in a gift guide, no less. Wow. Sorry. Start over.)
My younger brother — my personal shepherd for all things video-gamey — has GH II, and persuaded timid me to give it a go over Thanksgiving. Now, I’m one of those kids who spent his formative years without so much as an NES, and whose earliest and most persistent gaming memories are of sitting next to friends at their houses, watching contentedly as they plied their virtual craft. Consequently, I suck at video games. OK? Can I be a youngish male and admit that, in this day and age? I suck. They piss me off. The only games I play with any regularity or measure of success are those in the NBA Live series; each new year’s installment (read: roster update) is really the only title I ever half-seriously consider picking up for myself. Until now. Seriously. I played GH II again last night, and it was better than my maiden voyage, which, after a one-song-or-so learning curve, was decidedly habit-forming. (I didn’t even realize how much so until I popped my eyes open the next morning, decided to casually give it another go, and ended up losing a reasonably blissful hour-plus.)
I suspect I’ve now gone long enough without telling those not in the know what Guitar Hero is, though they’ve likely stopped reading already and moved on to the Optimus Prime bit. (Shoot, I would. I want to now, and I’m still writing this piece.) Anyway, in short: GH II = Dance Dance Revolution with cock-rock subbed for the techno and a weird-ass controller. But it’s awesome. The neo-Power Glove (or Super Scope 6, if you like) is a miniature, plastic, guitar-ish deal with buttons on the neck and a built-in switchlike “strumming” mechanism — the goal is to mash the correct buttons in the order in which they fly at you onscreen, resulting, if executed correctly, in a rollicking, computer-aided performance of any of 40 hit songs. It’s sort of like bumper-bowling for wannabe axemen.
And, luckily for the RedOctane folks, wannabe axemen = Everyone Alive. I tried to resist; I can’t. I mean, let’s face facts: In real-guitar-life, I can swing “Wish You Were Here.” In GH II-guitar-life, I darn near nailed the solo to “War Pigs.” (On “Medium” difficulty, but still.) And that’s the point: Whatever your skill set, you can seem a living-room rock deity … which sounds like a hackneyed plug — but you try it out, realize you can keep up with some part of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and tell me you don’t feel just a bit like you deserve a groupie or two. Guitar Hero II: So user-friendly, even a hobo can be a rock star. (Crap, crap.)
— BRIAN VILLALOBOS
THE BEER PIG
We’re really pushing the threshold of “stocking stuffer” on this one, but it’s worth it. I’m sure I could stretch a stocking over this gift somehow if need be. Having been one of the first people in San Antonio fortunate enough to try one, I can assure this Blue Star Brewing Co. brainchild will be a welcome surprise, though it’s probably not on many wish lists yet.
Who wouldn’t want their own beer pig for Christmas? That’s right, beer pig. While the brewery is unable to bottle or distribute its brews — they’re bound to selling their beer on premises due to Texas licensing laws — that doesn’t stop them from sending you home with some of the best fresh-brewed beer in the Alamo City.
The Party Pig, which I’ve coined my “beer pig,” is a plastic jug that fits perfectly on the bottom refrigerator shelf, lying on its side in a plastic cradle with a beer spout (or snout) on one end. Harness handles facilitate transportation. The Party Pig holds the equivalent of a case of beer, 24 12-oz. glasses, and can be filled with the golden, amber, and pale brews at the brewery. Jingle Ale, a holiday beer, may be available for fill-ups down the road.
The pigs cost $30 each plus a small refundable deposit for the equipment; at $1.25 per glass, that’s a damn good price for fresh-brewed beer straight from the brewery’s tanks. Just keep the beer pig and refill it when it runs out if you’ve a mind to. It’d ensure always having good beer around to offer guests, and you’d save money doing it.
The brewery already offers Growlers to the public, which are take-home half-gallon jugs, but the beer pig is a better deal in the long run if you don’t mind taking more home. As long as the pigs are kept refrigerated, they can last over a month because two pressure packs are placed inside before sealing. As beer is poured out, the packs expand slowly, maintaining a constant ideal pressure of 15 lbs. to keep the brew fresh.
The brewery plans to have a refrigerator full of beer pigs filled and ready to go by mid-December. So stuff a friend’s stocking with one — stretch a stocking over it, rather — or take one home for yourself.
The Beer Pig
Blue Star Brewing Co.
$30 + deposit
| Johnny Cash Reads the Complete |
$37 and change
For that lovable crusader with a profound weakness for the Message — jettison the “Putting Christ Back in Christmas” beefy-T and eschew the inspirational fridge-magnet kitsch at the Lifeway Christian Book Store. When it comes to the unimpeachable stocking stuffer, you can always count on staples like the Bible and Jesus.
You could patch your loved one directly into the Gospel by downloading an MP3 of the Bible for his or her iPod (the King James, World English, or Spanish Reina Valera versions) for just $20 at Bibleplayer.com. But the sample audio of some combover preachifying type reading Psalm 117 sounded, to my coarse ears, like a moralizer hurling holy sibilants through the sharp edges of his teeth.
A better gift idea for someone with high production values and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I moral sensibilities (say, a lapsed Christian, recently saved from the spike, the blow, or the delirium tremens) is … Johnny Cash Reads the Complete New Testament: because a celebrity reading the Word is the next best thing to the hardline being kicked by JC himself.
As far as audio Bibles go, the dearly departed Man in Black gets good reviews for his 19 hours and 16 CDs worth of testifying. The 2004 release is not the bombast and background music you’ll find on the (King) James Earl Jones audio Bible (“Luke, I am your father, spirit, and holy ghost!”). Cash adds a little Arkansas ham-hock to his biblical pronunciations (“nekkid”), sans all the “thees” and “thous,” in a distinct voice rumbling like an evening train finally headed home. Available on Amazon.com for $37.
Recommended companion stuffer: Cash’s 2001 Murder compilation CD, $12: songs about shooting, cheating, hanging, and suicide — to celebrate all the hell Cash raised on earth, too.
Murder: Johnny Cash
| Sports Bobbleheads |
Caps and jerseys are fine, but if you’re a sports fan with an insatiable need for souvenir merch, invest in bobbleheads. Unlike jerseys, bobbleheads aren’t dependent on you maintaining your oak-tree waistline, and unlike caps, they don’t kill your already ailing hair follicles. They simply rock their heads perpetually, in a manner that reminds you how thrilling and dramatic sports competition can be. Plus, they’re cheap. Like, real cheap.
If you know any sports fanatics who can’t get enough officially licensed products celebrating their favorite team/athlete, make your way to Biggsports.com. To get a sense of just how much these guys love athletics, take a gander at their economically priced Bo Schembechler/Woody Hayes mini-bobblehead set. With Schembechler recently passing away, and with the storied Ohio State vs. Michigan rivalry reaching new heights this year, it’s got to be a thrill to see 5-inch
figurines of two gruff, middle-aged football coaches incongruously nodding their heads. To make it more realistic, you can imagine Woody snorting, “Yes, I am going to slap you down, you lazy idiot!” as his head moves up and down.
At Biggsports, you can also get a bobblehead of New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez stepping to his left to make a graceful catch. As anyone who’s seen Rodriguez play third base for the Bronx Bombers surely knows, this bobblehead qualifies as a fantasy figure.
I’m partial to the bobblehead of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, which depicts him in an oddly coy beefcake pose, with a mammoth noggin that’s apparently too big to fit inside any miniature helmet. And while we’re on the subject of midwest sports heroes, what about the bobblehead of St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, in dark shades and looking oddly like Joe Piscopo, clutching this year’s World Series trophy? If only we had a bobblehead of former Cardinal Mark McGwire injecting a steroid-filled syringe into his gluteus, our Christmas shopping would be complete.
THE RUNNING WO/MAN
The way to a runner’s heart is through her … feet? Not always. Sure, I swear by my Nike shocks and treat myself to an occasional pair of Thorlo socks, but I really don’t devote much paycheck to my running addiction. Give me a new pair of running shoes every six months and I’m all set. Throw in some hairties and I’m golden.
But all I really want for Christmas is a place to put my keys for 30 minutes when I go out for a jog. Sure, we’ve all got a pair of shorts with nifty pockets on the inside waistband but we can’t wear them every day. I’m tired of tying keys onto my shoelace (they jangle around and turn my shoelace black), hiding them under the mat (someone could rob my apartment!), or putting them in the bottom of my shoe (begging for blisters). Although it’s a relatively easy problem to fix, I’ve been doing all of these things for quite some time.
Stocking stuffers, in my book, are for buying people things they may really like, but would never buy for themselves. So opt for the accessory route and check out Amphipod.com for cost-friendly and practical gifts that will get the runner on your Christmas list all worked up.
My favorite: the Micropack Landsport. The flat pouch holds keys, cash, ID, an iPod Mini or Shuffle, clamps securely on your waistband, and is bounce and jangle-free. You can even attach sunglasses to it. Variations in the Micropack series include a model that’s big enough to hold a cell phone, and another with a dry pouch that seals shut to protect your essentials while swimming or at the beach. The basic version will run you $13, while the most advanced is $22.
If hydration is your concern, Amphipod offers a line of hydraform drinking bottles that are contoured to your hand, have an extra wide-mouth for ice and cleaning, and are leakproof. The Handheld version employs a soft, adjustable handstrap with a wicking inner layer that doesn’t trap sweat. The newest version adds an expandable zippered storage pouch to the strap. The Hydraform Handheld series bottles are perfect for short runs, allowing your hand to relax naturally unlike a standard round bottle. Models in the series are priced at $14-17.
No more stashing water bottles in the bushes, money crumpled in your sock, keys jangling on your shoelace, ID sliding around in your shoe. I’m easy this year, Mom … just buy me running gear!
Hydraform Handheld bottle
The good people at Noisebot.com don’t have a discernible agenda, other than championing the absurd, sophomoric, and (occasionally) scatological on their series of cotton-polyester-blend tees. Even before O.J. Simpson recently resurfaced to remind everyone what a loathsome goon he is, Noisebot offered a shirt featuring Simpson’s face and these words of wisdom: “Drink Apple Juice. O.J. will kill you.”
If you’re looking for indelible movie catchphrases, Noisebot gives you “Dorothy Mantooth is a Saint” (Anchorman) and “Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner” (Dirty Dancing). If you’re itching to make an irreverent, irresponsible political statement, they offer “Save a Cow, Eat a Vegan.” If you want to make dubious claims about your ancestry, they provide “I’m of Teenage Mutant Ninja Descent.” And, finally, if you just want to honor a favorite celebrity, they’ve got several options, including a shirt with Bill Murray’s image accompanied by the message: “Bill Me Now.” Noisebot is also a source for the much-admired, deeply coveted “More Cowbell” T.
Thanks to Noisebot, your power to annoy and embarrass people can come in a variety of different configurations. You can choose between long- and short-sleeve shirts, hoodies, and tote bags. And colors range from burgundy (as in Ron) to heather (as in Mills-McCartney). If you need to bring your loved one’s PCQ (pop-culture quotient) up a notch, Noisebot can help you out.
$19.95 and up
| OhMiBod Vibrator |
Let’s admit it. At some point since the invention of the silent mode, you’ve all sat chatting away in a café, chomping panini, when your phone’s gone off and a shiver of curious glee has zipped from the erogenously proximate zone of your front pocket, up your spine, and into a facial wrinkle of pleasure that makes your lunch companion arch an eyebrow. “Oh,” you’ve said, “somebody loves me,” and reached to your hip to reject the call. In that brief moment of buzzing silence, you thought to yourself, “If only ... if only ...”
If only what? Well, obviously, that someone loves you, the same superstitious heart fluttering you get when you only half-light a cigarette. With the cell phone, though, it’s something more. Something technological. There are two fantasies at play, and lucky for all of us, each can be fulfilled this Christmas.
First, consider the romance we have with our personal electronics: the mp3 player, the PDA, the camera phone. It isn’t merely digital dependence, but a symbiotic relationship resulting in genuine heartbreak when the doodad’s stolen or broken. It was only a matter of time before some clever entrepreneur (in this case, a former product marketer for Apple) unveiled a sex-toy extension for the iPod. The OhMiBod vibrator retails at $69, and they’ve already sold 2,000-plus leading up to Christmas (order online by December 15 to get it in time).
You can plug the vibrator into any audio device with a headphone jack, and it’ll buzz to the beat and rhythm of any song, and even “sexy poems.” Ohmibod.com also hosts a forum where users can share their playlist recommendations, or download orgasm-specific mixes by DJs. The company plans to begin commissioning bands to write the songs that’ll make the whole world moan.
The second fantasy is the ability to receive sexual stimulation remotely from long-distance lovers. Through internet telephony, the OhMiBod can be adapted to vibrate based on voice conversations. However, High Joy Inc. offers a USB vibrator line (starting at $103.96) better suited to the purpose.
It’s an area of technology called teledildonics, and High Joy markets a Rabbit vibrator operatable remotely through their proprietary community application. Users can control the rotation, speed, and intensity, while watching via web cam (“Women cannot hold back an orgasm,” says the product demonstrator of the “clit tickler.”).
For more information on teledildonics, scope out the fan forum at Slashdong.com (get it nerds? Huh, huh? Wink, wink).
LIFE AFTER BRIAN
Silly-walk ministers, listen up. If not already, soon you’ll discover you’ve collected the whole Monty Python DVD series, the special companion books and novelty albums, and finally exhausted the Flying Circus catalog. Fear not for your Christmas wish list; you won’t have to resort to Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure. British sketch comedy thrives on DVD in a post-Python world. In order of hilarity:
League of Gentlemen (Series 1+2, and feature film) Call it Britain’s big-budgeted, better-talented answer to Kids in the Hall; three high-drama actors populate the horrifyingly absurd podunk village of Royston Vayse, taking each sketch one step too far. The most haunting image: “Local” shop-owner Tubbs suckling a pig.
Big Train (Series 1+2) The BBC2 comedy sketch series that launched Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), and a host of other contemporary British comedy icons. The moment of comedy genius: The day management banned wanking in the office.
Adam & Joe (The Best of) Premise: two dorks dissect consumer culture by invading rock-star homes as the “Vinyl Police,” performing experiments with microwaves and ambushing real Parliamentarians as members of an incompetent anarchist squad. The moment of comedy genius: the five-minute film spoof with toys, “Saving Private Lion.”
Bo’ Selecta! (Series 1-3) You think you “get” British comedy? Prove it with Leigh Francis’s lowest-of-brow comedy shows. The incomprehensible sketches take the piss out of pop culture through grotesque masks representing celebrities in name only (Scary Spice, for example, is an old dyke with a crackly Northern accent). Catchphrase you’ll be quoting: Michael Jackson’s “Cha’mone muthafucka!”
Little Britain (Seasons 1-3) Thanks to the recurring character Daffyd, “The Only Gay in the Village,” Little Britain has been gaining (overrated) U.S. acclaim. Each episode is mostly a repetition of the same handful of jokes, over and over and over, but addictively so. Catchphrase you’ll be quoting: British estate brat Vicky Pollard’s “Yeah. But no, but yeah ... ”
Advanced British Comedy
Various prices and sources
BEFORE THERE WAS BOTOX
If your overachieving, third-wave-feminist, screen-squinting acquaintances accord vanity any ground at all, they probably cede the forehead and eye-corners, where the delicate tissue is creased like an accordion ere they reach 30, adding physical scars to the emotional trauma of early career burnout and bobo parenthood. My forehead is etched with a wholly uncelestial Big and Little Dipper, the left side’s slightly larger size attributable to astigmatism maybe.
At any rate, if they’re anything like me, they’ve probably spent some of that time hunched inches away from the computer reading about the horrors of Botox: Grandmothers whose grandbabes mistook Nanna’s frozen expression for indifference and failed to bond, pre-dinner cookies and T-rated video games of no help. Wives whose husbands assumed they were never finding the right spot and went off in search of some, any, response to their efforts. Not an option, in other words, especially for anyone who (also like me) spent a great number of rainy childhood afternoons reading encyclopedia entries on pre-modern food-related maladies (and pretty much every National Geographic article about mummies; you can guess my predisposition toward rhinoplasty).
But there are only so many glamorous public and private roles for women whose foreheads are cleaved like loaves of freshly baked bread, and the brilliant Helen Mirren has them all sewn up. So wrap a little shiny paper and a satin bow around a box of Frownies for the loved one you catch glancing worriedly into nearby reflective surfaces. Frownies are simple stickers made from unbleached kraft paper and water-soluble dry-gum adhesive (from a vegetable source). I love a product with just two ingredients any kindergartner could understand; and use: dampen, apply to squint-afflicted area, and sleep while the stickers train your underlying facial muscles into geisha-like placidness. Best part? The friend/mom/grandmom/gay uncle whose stocking you stuff these into will smile naturally when they thank you.
IT'S IRONY CHARLIE BROWN!
If you don’t like A Charlie Brown Christmas, then fuck you. Seriously. I mean, look; I feel like I can understand many, many points of view — my mom says I’m part Libra that way. I’m good and open-minded. I’m not a Christmas-special-ist; I’m sure some of my best friends are people who don’t like ACBC. (If so, though, fuck them, too.) I’ll gladly listen to arguments for A Christmas Story, Scrooged, the twitchy stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town bits, The Poky Little Puppy’s First Christmas, even Silent Night, Deadly Night — and I’ll do it without chiming in, if that’s your pleasure. But aim a word of ill will at the lovable Peanuts gang’s holiday classic, and I’ll straight pop you, right in your filthy, lying mouth.
Look, far be it from me to shill for Urban Outfitters. OK? I don’t really know anything about them. I think I went in there once or twice with my now-fiancée; they’ve got like beanbag chairs and board games and shit, right? Anyway, all you really need to know about them, for now, is right here — a link happily brought to my attention by Aintitcoolnews.com: Tinyurl.com/ymypqt.
Pretty sweet, huh? A reasonably formidable trove of things Schultzy and schmaltzy — but schmaltzy in such a very, very good way. And yes, that first item is exactly what you think it is: the centerpiece, the headliner, the pièce de sweet-ass-nésse (that’s French; don’t even worry about it) … the tree. Yep. The “I never thought it was such a bad little tree … Maybe it just needs a little love” tree. The “one red ball is all that fits” tree. The “middle finger to commercialism” tree. Officially named the “Charlie Brown Pathetic Tree,” it retails for $24, which is a steal, considering what good it’ll do your soul every time you see that heartwarming little bundle of sticks. (Plus, it’s currently more expensive on eBay. Feel free to check again, though, as I’m writing before you read.) Man. It’s almost enough to make you want to read The Family Circus. (Almost.) UO’s cache also features Linus’s blanket, which was sold out at press time — but it makes up for that by offering a three-pack of Peanuts holiday flicks (adding It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving to Christmas for a fairly standard 42 bucks `check Deepdiscountdvd.com, though`), the incomparable soundtrack ($16), and a pack of cards depicting Pig Pen’s inevitably dingy snowman — $12, but come on; who doesn’t love Pig Pen? I love Pig Pen.
My advice for the perfect Peanuts stocking-stuffer? Hop over to Urbanoutfitters.com, click “Gift Cards,” and drizzle a $50 Schultzian shopping spree across your loved one’s heart strings. That’ll show those bastards how we feel about the commercialization of Christmas.
Charlie Brown Pathetic Tree
| Transformers 20th Anniversary Edition + Optimus Prime |
$70 (probably still sold out)
Try Hasbro.com (good luck) or eBay
Someone won’t stop talking about the leaked camera-phone image of a Decepticon commander chasing Tyrese through the Iraqi desert, hmm?
Well your boyfriend’s only going to get worse over the slow-changing seasons, because Transformers won’t be optimizing at a theater near you till July 4, 2007. We figure the release date will help moviegoers project their patriotic sympathies unquestioningly upon the autobots as they wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons.
Because we are 30-something, we already hold a special place for these robots-in-disguise, and remember when they left Cybertron and found their way into Joseph Campbell-esque hero lore here on Earth in toy, Marvel Comic, and animated-series form. The year was 1984. Anthropomorphic car characters had reached their apotheosis. We were all reeling from the jealousy-fueled, alley-wall-grinding obsession of Stephen King’s Christine (in movie form by 1983), after the decade-long love-in with “the incredible little car who shifts for himself” (Herbie, the Love Bug), and right in the midst of the phenomenon that made a modern-day “knight” (played by David Hasselhoff) the straight guy to a sarcastic Pontiac Trans Am (KITT). We were Optimus Prime’s for the taking.
This red, blue, and steel warrior from beyond the stars would be the perfect mini gift, but don’t get your heart set on giving the recently released Transformers 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD (the 1986 movie) or Optimus Prime Figure (sold together, $70 at Hasbro.com). Because they’re out of stock. Autobots Bumblebee, Jetfire, Rodimus, Leo Prime, and Perceptor classic figures are all available for under $10 on Hasbro. There’s a slightly clunkier classic version of Optimus going for $20, and a limited Decepticon selection. A visit to Hasbro.com is really only worth the Easy-Bake Oven (just $25, and the best chocolate brownies in the galaxy). Instead, in your quest for early Transformer paraphernalia, might we recommend eBay: they have mint-condition items for as much as $4,000 and the Megatron figure that came with an old Happy Meal is $3.
| iTalk and ikaraoke |
It’s beyond the scope of this gift guide to ponder the implications of the nickname given to journalism’s newest fad: “Mojo,” in this context short for “mobile journalist,” shares J-history with the progenitor (father seems decidedly the wrong word) of our post-modern, rant-prone, self-referential style, Hunter S. Thompson, who called the then-new-fangled fax machine the “mojo wire.”
You alone can’t guarantee that today’s bloggers live up to Thompson’s drug-fueled muckraking legacy, but you can equip the aspiring citizen journalist in your life with the stylish and pocket-friendly iTalk — manufactured by Griffin to turn your iPod into a CD-quality audio recorder. (Dear Griffin, thanks for making my Sony Mini Disc recorder, purchased recently — although not recently enough to return for a refund — for $450, essentially
The tiny iTalk plugs seamlessly into the data port on the bottom of the iPod Video (it’s even a perfect match style-wise) and immediately prompts you to begin recording an audio file. The one-button device works as intuitively as any Mac product, and the saved files automatically transfer into iTunes when you sync. From there you can podcast away, or pull the file into Garage Band for high-end production. Ethics and conflict-of-interest classes not included.
p.s. For your aspiring mojo’s fun-loving brother, we recommend Griffin’s iKaraoke, which turns your car or bedroom into a late-night-too-many-drinks extravaganza by muting the audio track of your iPod jams. Also $49.99 through Griffin.