Keeps giving again

The moment I got my second pay slip in as many days, I realized that it really is the holidays.

The traffic along Shaw Boulevard has gotten worse. The lines at the ATMs have gotten longer. At one point, I even went home with a wrapped-up pillow and a box of man, the stuff I failed to claim at our company's Christmas party when I decided to go home early. But if there's a more important indication of the sudden redefinition of the holidays for me, it's the fact that I'll have to buy gifts for people now.

My uncles from my father's side have been asking me for outrageously expensive items. Of course, it's a joke, but it's a persistent one. I didn't really have to worry much, though. As early as two months ago, I had my plans laid out. I began asking everybody in the family the things they want to receive as a gift. Sister went for a book by either Gabriel Garcia Marquez or, since I was in a Philip Seymour Hoffman daze at that time, Truman Capote. Brother went for either Death Magnetic or Chinese Democracy, which will benefit me either way as it's still something for my ears. Mother went for a coin purse, leather, black, and jokingly hoped to see P4,000 inside.

As for my father, well, he didn't really say. Or I didn't really ask him until today, when I arrived at the office at an earlier-than-usual time. I figured I'll give him another book, since I'll be at a bookstore anyway looking for my sister's gift. Then he reminded me to buy something for my godsons - oh, right, I have godsons. One's the son of my dad's former colleague; the other, my cousin's son.

It must be an easy task. Nobody can go wrong with books, I figured. And as I looked at how much money I apparently have on my bank account, I figured it'd be easier on the wallet, too.

I couldn't be more wrong.

The Powerbooks branch at SM Megamall wasn't any helpful. I knew where to look - thankfully the hurtful things I associate with Ortigas bookstores never materialized - but the supposedly alphabetical arrangement was instead a jumpy array. Then I would realize that the books my sister asked for were all out of stock, so I had to settle for another Marquez book. Of Love and Other Demons was P655. It sure's become more expensive now.

My gift for my father was a harder thing. The text message exchange we had this morning wasn't conclusive. "Ikaw bahala," he merely said, before probably getting back to work. (Or to working on the Christmas party, which turns out to be much more fun than the one I had, I had to retreat to stop an imminent asthma attack.) I was looking at the non-fiction section when I saw a book by David Frost, outlining what would become the basis of the film Frost/Nixon. I picked it up, realizing that my dad wouldn't probably read it, but I would, thanks to my film articles and my nightly Jon Stewarts.

Then I remembered that, for some reason, he's interested in taking photography lessons. He mentioned before that he'd check out the DSLRs on offer in Singapore - at least he wasn't buying it for the sake of being considered cool, like some people, cough cough - so, I thought, maybe it'd be nice to give him a headstart. Alas, photography books are beyond my range, or I just couldn't find anything for beginners that didn't have the words for Dummies at the end. The safest resort was the business books section, because he's got loads of it, and for some reason I started to laugh at the things I saw.

"This book will teach you how to survive the workplace without being called an asshole." That wasn't what the blurb exactly said, but I thought I needed that book more than anyone.

In the end, I picked up this little quirky book about how luck dictates one's chances at the stock markets. I don't know why I picked it up, and I don't know if he'll pick it up, but I bought it anyway. P765 a copy, although the plastic cover was slightly torn. I ended up keeping Frost's book for myself, along with the latest issue of Time. "I don't have the Time issue you have!" I simply explained to Carmel. "Which I bought!"

My godsons aren't really a struggle; it was a matter of choosing something that actually fits them. I can't even remember their ages - I had to ask my dad if they really are both four-year-olds - and really struggled finding the right children's book for them. I pored through four different books, each of varying sizes and illustration styles - one was even minimalist, which would've made me a snob - but instead I turned to a couple of Dr. Seuss books. As much as it had to remind me of Denise, ugh.

My brother's was a no-brainer. He said that he preferred the Metallica release since he wasn't excited with the Guns n' Roses one, despite the fourteen-year wait. My mother's was easy, too, although I considered buying her a Rachael Ray cookbook before realizing that she probably won't have the time to read. In the end, I can't believe the amount of money I spent on roughly an hour of shopping. Almost P3,300 in the bookstore, which is equivalent to five books, a CD and a magazine; an extra P400 went to my mother's coin purse, which was convenient since there actually was a Manels branch nearby.

But what I planned to purchase with my 13th month pay was a new hard drive. Oh, wait, I requested that my siblings shoulder part of the cost, too.

Admittedly, though, buying people gifts is a good feeling. Yes, I don't have to remind you of Kizia's birthday almost three years ago, or more recently, the Time issue I sent Carmel via courier. It's fun actually guessing what one could possibly want - although, of course, it's easier to pick for your family, and for men in general - and it's fun realizing that you won't be able to give what they exactly want. When we were kids, we'd feel exasperated. Now we're older, we'd feel we've done the best we could.

But, more inevitably, there's the gifts that I might receive.

"I always thought you'd get one for yourself," Carmel texted, referring to the Time election results issue, while I was in the middle of my shopping. "Santa Claus should give you something nice this Christmas!"

"Peace of mind, a sense of security, and courage to invite Neobie to lunch," I quipped. "Mahihirapan 'ata siya."

"Who says life's easy?" she answered. And she was right.

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