The pictured Christmas gifts below are the ones that seem to just keep on giving. Here's how the inventory breaks down:
I've lamented before that my daughters are now of the age where they go to sleep too late but are just a year or two too young for my wife and I to watch a movie of our own choosing. The first volume of SCTV DVDs provide our marriage with just the right dose of comfort: we cheerfully and repeatedly resort to them on late Friday or Saturday nights. The Second City crew, a mixture of Canadian and US talent, was an incredibly gifted team of comics — for my money a more prodigiously funny group than their SNL compatriots in New York. Of the bunch, no-one gets me laughing harder than Andrea Martin. It's curious to note that much of her material is solo, with a few anonymous stand-in straight-men. Sometimes she duets with Catherine O'Hara, and occasionally they'll team up with Joe Flaherty (who, out of the entire team, seemed the most game to throw his lot in on behalf of someone else's concept — Libby Wolfson's hilariously über-feminist play "I'm Taking My Own Head, Screwing It On Right, And No Guy's Gonna Tell Me It Ain't" couldn't have been done without him). Conversely, when Martin shows up as a bit player in a larger sketch, she almost always steals the scene by getting the biggest laugh (her singing hula-girl in Polynesian Town doesn't get more than 10 seconds of air, but is far and away the comic highlight). A well-used and highly recommended DVD set (along with Volume 2).
Moving clockwise, we have a black turtleneck sweater — my second since we married. I'm sure there are men who have too many black turtleneck sweaters, but I have not yet reached that optimal state of marginal utility. A woman can never go wrong with this gift.
Next we have the pile of words. It's not a manuscript (sorry guys), but one of my journals. It originally looked more like the black leather-bound beauty just to its right. A lovely cover like that should inspire lofty thoughts, but I found myself so intimidated by its quality and my inability to measure up to its standards, that I ripped it off and threw it away. Problem solved: pages full. Journals, no matter what they look like, are a welcome gift.
There are three collections of essays — writers talking about writing, basically. I'm especially fond of the Paul Auster book. It's a British publication, given to me by a friend at a time when Auster was not yet well-enough known on his native soil to merit a North American collection of poetry and essays. I think it's a demonstration of a highly perceptive and intelligent writer discovering and slowly gaining confidence in his own voice. The other two books are Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. I could just as easily have included similar books by Stephen King and Josip Novakovich (all highly recommended) along with a half-dozen others. A future posting, perhaps.
The figurines are all justly celebrating the gimped-out/wimped-out condition of the prone Maple Leafs player — on leave from his tabletop rink. The other three characters are from various Star Wars Lego sets that I have assembled with my daughters and their friends.
Next we have a fine baby-blue dress shirt and the fab martini tie that my wife gave me early in our marriage. I don't have as many occasions to wear a tie as I used to, but when I do the martini tie remains a frequently commented on and coveted stock favourite. I've worn the Bollé sunglasses for the last three years, and they're now too scratched to be of much use. I've replaced them with a pair of Serengetis, but can't quite bring myself to throw away the Bollés.
The whole display is propped on a crokinole board, my table game of choice.
And last, and most importantly, we have the boxed collection of Steely Dan — a gift from my wife in our first year of marriage. No-one gets as much play in our house as the collective brainchild of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker — except for Fagen, solo. I don't believe anyone in the last 50 years of pop music has intuited and fleshed out the potential of the pop song to nearly the same degree as these two, and given the lyricism and wit of Fagen's solo albums I have to give major props to him. A short story can never be a novel, and a novel can never be a Shakespearean play — but a four-minute song can be all of the above. I can't get enough of these guys. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.