Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
This week, in honor of Black Friday, Josh demanded we ask you all this: “What do you have your eye on as a present this holiday season? No ‘I just want world peace’ abstract stuff here—we’re talking base commercial greed. Pretend for a moment that it is better to receive than give, and tell us: What currently existing, tangible physical item or items do you most want someone to buy you for the holiday gift-giving season?” (Who knows, maybe our greed lists will inspire some gift ideas for your own loved ones.)
Sigh. I’ll cop to it—I kind of want to join the iPad revolution. So far, this “revolution” mostly seems to consist of people so fascinated with their shiny, shiny new toys that they do everything on them, from taking notes to playing games to watching movies. Y’know, stuff I already have no trouble whatsoever doing. I don’t need an iPad; I’m not even much of a tech-head. I’m not a big fan of the “But it’s shiny!” attitude. But man, those things are slick. Failing that, and looking on the much lower end of the financial spectrum, I ran across Faryn Davis’ hand-painted necklaces at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago this summer, and I’m still trying to psyche myself up to buying one of her delicate, beautiful wearable artworks. The hard part is choosing one; they’re all unique, and the photography on her site doesn’t really do the colors or the fine details justice. But just for the moment, here’s my favorite.
I have no time to play it and none of the equipment required (outside of a Wii console), but I really, really, really want Rock Band 3. I’ve resisted all the Rock Band/Guitar Hero games in the past because when I’ve visited friends who have them, whole corners of their living rooms seem to be taken up by tiny toy instruments. I’ve got kids, and a job that has me receiving DVDs, CDs and books in droves; I don’t need any more clutter. But the few times I’ve played Rock Band, I’ve had a lot of fun, and it’s because I have kids that I’m tempted. I’ve checked out the tracklist for Rock Band 3; it’s full of good songs that I’d love for my kids to get to know, even if it’s in a gaming context. Plus they’re both taking piano lessons, so maybe—I lie to myself—the new keyboard accessory will help with their rhythm. Mostly, though, I want Rock Band 3 so that when everybody’s out of the house, I can crank up “One-Armed Scissor” and shout along. And I totally will, too. After I play all those games on my iPad that I haven’t gotten around to yet, and read all those articles I’ve been saving on Instapaper, and do the Wii Fit exercises I’ve been putting off for months, and watch those episodes of Rubicon that are sitting on my TiVo, and…
I’m not a rare-records collector at all, so when I went to the WFMU Record Fair in October, it was for social rather than shopping reasons. Nevertheless, there was one table I’d have bought out on sight if I’d been able: the one belonging to R&B Teez, which sells absolutely beautiful T-shirts decorated with reproduced labels from old blues and R&B 78s. The two I picked up were of Elmore James’ “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” on Fire and Ray Charles’ “Kissa Me Baby” on Swing Time. There are more than I could reasonably request, but a collector is born every day, right?
Oh, an iPa—Dammit, Tasha. Hey, there’s always Rock Band 3—ach, I’m bad at this. It’s funny; I am a greedy, materialistic twerp, I really am. And yet I’ve fallen out of the habit of wanting things for Christmas. It’s mostly a matter of practicality; I’m too old to get much beyond good food and the occasional welcome influx of cash from my parents, and I’m still floating in that weird purgatorial area reserved for the single and not entirely despondent around the holidays. “Getting” is something that happens to other people. I’m sure my turn will come around again eventually, but for right now, I try to stay focused on the traditional Christmas pleasures that don’t center on ripping wrapping paper: listening to music, enjoying the still, sharp quality of the evening sky, and renewing my commitment to faithlessness. (I’m a traditionalist. Oh, I also love watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I have a Grinch doll and everything!) I don’t say this to complain—it’s very easy to feel sorry for yourself in December, but I honestly don’t—but to explain why it’s odd to me to suddenly have to figure out what I want. It’s like flexing muscles that atrophied years ago. Still, you never stop being greedy, you just learn to hide it in a lot of humble denial. Sooooo, I wouldn’t mind a Wii. I sold mine a couple years ago, and I miss it.
Should I admit that I keep a running wish list throughout the year? It’s the only way to remember what you really want when this time rolls around. The one big-ticket item I’m hoping for is a GPS tracker for when I go running: I’m running a half-marathon next year, and it’s the kind of toy I want (but not enough to buy myself) to help with my training. I also had a lot of fun with the gift certificate I got last year to the Chopping Block, a cooking school here in town, so I’d love another one of those. I also put in a request for some golf shoes and possibly the Roald Dahl biography that came out earlier this year. There are a few other items I’m secretly hoping for too, but Santa (who still visits my house, even though I’m 31) prefers girls who aren’t too greedy.
I’d have to go with the Lost Blu-ray complete-series set. As maddening as the show could be, it was also one of the most compelling primetime network dramas to ever air, and I was in the smaller (but growing) group of die-hard fans who were completely satisfied with the series’ final episode and the way the stories wrapped up. Sure, it lost its way at points, but the series was, through and through, a favorite. The Blu-ray transfer is sure to look stunning, given the series’ island locale, plus what better way to watch Ben Linus get the hell beaten out of him dozens of times than in high-def? The extras range from awesome (complete episode guide, dozens of hours of bonus footage, producer diaries) to meh (an edition of the Senet game the Man In Black and Jacob played in season six). Even if the answer to all our questions are as elusive as the Smoke Monster, it’s still an impressive series that deserves the full Blu-ray treatment. It’ll do until HBO gets its act together and puts the complete series of The Wire out on Blu-ray.
Earlier this year, I wrote a book about pirates, and it was a project that had to be completed under an insanely tight five-week deadline. As a reward to myself for all those long hours and all-nighters, I took some of the book money and splurged on the ginormous Lego Pirates Imperial Flagship. Why? Because Legos were my favorite toy as a kid. And pirates are cool. And a real pirate-ship model is beyond my patience. And, fuck, I just felt like it. Now that I’ve already put that huge, beautiful, elaborate ship together (during which I was proud to discover that I can now resist my childhood urge to take Legos apart with my teeth), I want Santa to bring me some more Lego Pirates—namely the hard-to-find Cross Bone Clipper and the playset Loot Island. What I want most, though, is Brickbeard’s Bounty. It’s smaller than the Imperial Flagship, but unlike the bigger vessel, it’s way more pirate-y. And by that I mean, it hoists actual Jolly Rogers—and instead of sentencing the lone pirate figure to the rat-infested brig (Lego rats, by the way, are adorable), the Bounty sports a full crew of villainous buccaneers. In short: I went just a tiny bit mad while writing that book this summer.
I don’t give up on coveting things easily, so the list is long, especially assuming, as I will for these purposes, that price isn’t a factor. It burns me up that I didn’t find out about the bonus disc of French chansons attached to The Divine Comedy’s Bang Goes the Knighthood until they were sold out and jacked up, but it’s not worth half a C-note to fill the hole in my collection. (Although it’s tempting…) Ditto the 19-CD box devoted to the incomparable British folksinger Sandy Denny, which on import retails for upward of $300. I’ve never given up on the French DVD collection of animated shorts by the gloriously manic Tex Avery, although I’d prefer a version that doesn’t hack out the occasional inappropriate racist joke. And like everyone else, I kinda want an iPad, even though I don’t really have a use for one, and I’m offended by the idea of a gadget that costs as much as a laptop, but is designed so you can only use it in pre-approved ways. What does that leave? Let’s say Oppo’s BDP-93 Blu-ray player, which though it’s not yet on the market, already has home theater geeks salivating. For years, Oppo has been the brand of choice for cinephiles looking to circumvent the movie industry’s absurd region-coding system, which prevents you from playing legally purchased movies produced in other parts of the world. In exchange for licensing the technology to make Blu-ray players, Oppo had to phase out their DVD players, which could be made region-free with a simple sequence of button-presses, but reports say a relatively simple hardware modification can accomplish the same with the new hardware. Trouble is, at the moment, Oppo is fresh out, having phased out its current line in anticipation of the 93’s availability. It’s not just the quality of picture and sound, which hardcore gearheads say equals players several times its cost, but the fact that the new player adds support for Netflix (and, if you like, Blockbuster) streaming. Add to that the ability to play discs like the British Blu-rays of Make Way For Tomorrow and Brief Encounter, and you’ve got yourself a deal. (Even better, Oppo still supports formats like the obsolete but still awesome Super Audio CD, so I can continue to drool over the guitar tone on “Satisfaction” and the surround-sound mix of Dark Side Of The Moon.) Best of all, the Oppo would allow me to reduce by one and possibly two the mess of boxes sitting under my TV set, making it a gift not only to me, but to my long-suffering spouse.
I really like my iPod Touch (or iPad mini, if you will) but I’m ready for a new one. I’ve had three good years with my current model—which was a huge step up from the previous one, a red iPod Nano that my wife received as a free gift with her laptop, and gave to me with the one stipulation that she get to use the free engraving to make it say “Ben knows how to suck his own dick” on the back. Hilarious, but probably more so for the friend who inherited it without knowing about the provocative statement eternally etched on it. My current iPod makes no outlandish declarations about my self-pleasuring abilities, but I do have a few gripes with it. Some small—it’s a first-generation, so I can’t find any good cases for it, just stupid, floppy silicone ones. And some large—for the last couple of months, it restarts itself at random with increasing frequency, resetting well-established shuffles. Plus, I really want the camera that I’ll probably never use.
I’m one of those people who is impossible to buy a gift for. If I want something, there’s a 99 percent chance, barring financial limitations, that I’ll go out later that day and buy it. I have very little impulse control once I set my sights on something. Last week, I decided I needed some new shirts, so I immediately left my apartment (I’m a freelancer) and took care of that. I wanted to paint the door to my bedroom with chalkboard paint, so I wasted an afternoon/evening/late evening going to the hardware store, picking out the paint, applying it, realizing I bought the wrong color, going back, repainting, doing a second coat, etc. When I was a kid, I got upset when my mom wouldn’t drive me to Best Buy the moment I decided to buy Final Fantasy 7; I had to suffer for 12 miserable hours until the next morning, when she happily took me. Except for an iPad, I’ve got pretty much everything else I want, and the only reason I don’t have one of those is because I haven’t built up enough self-pity. (I should point out that I don’t actually want a ton, so saying I have what I want shouldn’t imply a life of elegance and cushiness.) However, I’m terrible at taking care of the absolute essentials: socks, underwear, shampoo, toothpaste, shoes, basic groceries, etc. I currently haven’t been food-shopping in two weeks, choosing instead to exist on cheap Thai food and falafel from street carts. If someone could come to my house and be my personal shopper—or at the very least send these items to a PO box I’ll happily set up—it’d be a happy holiday indeed.
When I was a kid, I could rattle off a list of stuff I wanted for Christmas, but these days, I have a hard time going beyond vague answers that sound more like questions: “Clothes?” And usually the things I can think of are too expensive—like Tasha, I’d love an iPad, but the one I want costs a cool $829. Ain’t gonna happen. Shopping for me endlessly frustrates my wife, because I can often get music, books, or whatever through work. It’s a huge perk for me, but annoying for her, except when she’s also a beneficiary. I’m kind of interested in that new Call Of Duty: Black Ops game, though I tend to get bored with videogames quickly. So, yeah, I don’t know. Clothes?
I’d like to think outside the pop-culture box a little bit, since I tend to just buy whatever DVDs, videogames, and CDs that I don’t already get for free. (In your face, general public!) As a fat soul, this year I would like people to buy me fabulous desserts that cost a lot of money to ship. I want Crack Pie and cornflake cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar in New York ($44 for the pie, $60 to ship). I want bags and bags of La Campagne Natural Bakery’s chocolate-oatmeal cookies from Mequon, Wisconsin (20 cookies for $35, including shipping). I want someone to get me the 12-month Carol’s Cookies cookie-of-the-month club, which I’d never spend $400 on myself, but would happily eat and eat and eat. Oh, and anything from Vosges Haut Chocolat, but especially those Rooster truffles—Taleggio cheese, organic walnuts, Tahitian vanilla bean, and bittersweet dark chocolate. As a follow-up gift, maybe a gym membership or a personal trainer?
Most of the things I really want that I haven’t already bought for myself are either impractically expensive (I want a used panel van to fix up and use exclusively for road trips), arguably intangible (I’m aching to go back to Europe), or lacking a certain warmth and personal quality one’s loved ones desire when gift-giving. (I can always use another gun.) Like most of my fellow AVC comrades, I get most of the music, movies and books I need for free, and those I don’t, I’d rather not trust anyone guessing. But there’s one thing my good friends know they can always get me and I’ll love it every time, and that’s a good bottle. I’ve wanted to try Glengoyne 17-year-old single malt Scotch for a while, and a friend of mine in Milton Keynes has hinted she’s going to bring me something when she visits the U.S. over Christmas; I’m hoping it’s a bottle of Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. Buy me booze for Christmas, and I’m sure to have a happy New Year.
I’m with Leonard: Nice liquor is always a fine thing to ask for, and the context of “special frivolous holiday want thing” makes the request sound less like desperate fiending. A single-malt sounds awesome, but I’d also be delighted with some Maker’s Mark to hoard away as an occasional treat, or even a six-pack of possibly my favoritest beer in the world, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. As an ex-Wisconsinite, I miss a lot of craft brews that are hard to get outside of the region or even the state, so it’d be another (again, totally not unhealthy!) fantasy to stock up on anything from New Glarus Brewing, Lake Louie Milk Stout, Furthermore Three Feet Deep, and Central Waters Ouisconsing Red. Sure, Wisconsin is as blithely boozy as people thing, but there’s also an abundance of amazing tastes that people have taken a lot of pride in. Unless someone lends me a refrigerator truck, I’ll just make the most of my Thanksgiving trip to the Midwest.
I’d love an iPhone, mostly because it seems like it’s increasingly impossible to get anyone to actually give you directions on the fly, which is really annoying. But that’s my problem, and in any case, that’s way too expensive. But a music box-set I’d love but am not sure I’d pony up for myself is the Dolly Mixture Everything And More set the band (apparently themselves) just released. Insofar as they’re known at all, they peaked visibility-wise opening for The Undertones; their double-LP throw-it-all-at-the-wall 1983 The Demonstration Tapes is full of melodic post-punk full of pretty-girl harmonies, but with unforced, appealing self-confidence. The only CD release up to now (including a release by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley on his label) sounds pretty terrible, even for demos, but the songs are good enough to make up for it. The box set has a spiffy re-master, plus their “Femme Fatale” cover and other stuff spread over two additional disks. It’s probably awesome.
Honestly, what I would like more than anything for the holidays would be for you fine folks to buy My Year Of Flops or A Book Of Jean’s Own. A Book Of Jean’s Own is a work of pitch-black satirical genius about the mundane tragedy of everyday life cunningly Trojan-horsed inside an innocuous-looking trade paperback. (With a cover by Mort Drucker, no less!) It’s maybe my favorite book of the year, and that includes my own. Other than that, I can’t really think of any big-ticket items I’d want, though I have always wanted a pair of size-13 green alligator shoes and a Wrestlemania or Arch-Rivals stand-up arcade game. Actually, my 13-year-old self wants those, but since my adult self isn’t being particularly helpful, I will yield to him.