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When Oscar Wilde wrote, Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination, he was surely talking about holiday shopping in New York. As with everything else in our fair city, the act of benevolent gift-giving can quickly spiral into a competitive sport. We mean well, sure, but with all the impulses and upgrades of the city at full, wintry fever pitch, choosing holiday presents can all too easily intertwine with our egos and careen out of control. These gifts are also a reflection of ourselves, our ingenuity, and our finances, and thats what makes their selection so tricky. Kindness laced with ostentation: Its our New York state of mind.
Nothing captures the art of obsequious gift-giving like the infamous Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, distributed nationally every fall. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the catalogs most famous section, the His and Hers gifts. These are, without fail, a masters class of extravagance. This years commemorative edition includes a timeline of past items for sale, which boasts hot-air balloons, camels, 56-carat yellow diamonds, and personal Beechcraft airplanes. No fruitcake here; these are the pinnacle of outlandish presents and disposable-wealth status statementsand, yes, people have actually purchased them.
In honor of these insane holiday trump cards, the Voice suggests some equally festive but exponentially more affordable alternatives.
Neiman Marcus suggests: Invoking the curse of the mummy on your loved one. A perfect preface for the New Years divorce! 1971s catalog apex was a set of mummy cases (or sarcophagi, as the arugula-eating elitists at the Met would dub them). Cries Neiman Marcus, The gift of gifts from the land of mother Nile. These ancient relics were richly adorned and approximately 2,000 years old. No word exactly about how these tremendously significant artifacts of a much-vaunted bygone civilization came into commercial exchange, nor if the embalmed remains of Cleopatras pissed-off entourage remained inside (I worshipped a cat for this?). But it would certainly be a memorable gift to the silver-fox sugar daddy who has everything.
The Voice suggests: Appealing to history buffs without desecrating ancient cultures. The best-curated cache of thoughtful, culturally significant gifts can be found at the New-York Historical Society Store (170 Central Park West, 212-873-3400). Items include sterling-silver pendants inscribed, I meet you in every dream (the romantic words of Alexander Hamilton to wife Elizabeth Schuyler, $59), ceramic mosaic tiles of past New York subway art ($36), elaborate tomes on Dutch New York and the Marquis de Lafayette ($10 and up), stained-glass table lamps ($100$480), even a Grateful Dead 12-disc box set per the Societys recent exhibition ($146). Or just buy the Chelsea Hotelsomeone needs to.
Neiman Marcus suggests: Breathing Observation Bubbles. Bellaquas Breathing Observation Bubble, known as BOB, allowed for spectacular visibility of colorful underwater life at depths of up to 40 feet without disturbing the environment! chirps the catalog. If the picture is still how BOB is making a fashion statement, he owes it to himself to go to Christopher Street, buy some pleather and fake eyelashes, and fully unleash the drag queen within; the suit is an exaggerated, phallic-looking bobble head with superfluous-looking molded crests, a Buzz Lightyear flight suit with Fran Dreschers shoulder pads. Essentially, its a leaden scuba-diving canister for people who want to shuffle around torpidly on the ocean floor. And if thats you, guess what? You shouldnt be in the ocean. Even the fish are getting a douche chill.
The Voice suggests: Bequeathing a healthy, fun aquatic adventure without being an entitled whale about it. Village Divers (125 East 4th Street, 212-780-0879) offers beginning scuba-diving classes in a marvelous venue: the sea patch south of Long Island and east of New Jersey, commonly called Wreck Valley for its number of, yes, shipwrecks. Pool-based and open water training are both available ($100 and up), and the store also offers equipment rentals and repairs. Save the gift for warmer weather, if you wantitll give everyone something to anticipate besides another snow flurry. Or spring for a membership to New York Outrigger ($325 for season pass, newyorkoutrigger.org), a volunteer-driven canoe club, and look forward to a temperate season of informal races and, lets assume, buoyantly nautical-themed accessories.
Neiman Marcus suggests: Ostriches. So many ostriches. The 1980 catalog boasted sets of ostrich chicks that could be raised until (and this is emphatically noted) they were transferred to a zoo or just kept permanently by the purchaser. In other words, you could let two disoriented African birds meander around your backyard, eat your rose bushes, and grow nine feet high until you inevitably faced the ethical dilemma of either returning them to some semblance of their natural environment or trapping them permanently in an ethnocentric cage. No big deal, just keep them in your bathtub. That honking means they love you.
The Voice suggests: A furry, heartwarming present that wont sic PETA on your ass. Donate to New York Cares (newyorkcares.org), a volunteer network that frequently services animal shelters, or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (aspca.org). If you want to gift someone with an adorable new pet, search responsibly for an ethical purchase with Animal Care & Control of New York City (nycacc.org) or consult Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (guidedog.org), based in Smithtown, New York. With the latter organization, canines that dont complete the training process are usually available for adoption, and theyre already domesticated and smart to boot.