Journal entry: December 24, 1994 (age 25)
I ripped the Santa-themed Christmas wrapping paper away to reveal a rectangular box with Coca-Cola logos all over it. “Oh,” I thought, “the present must be inside.” But a closer examination revealed that the intended gift was exactly what it looked like: a 12-pack of Coke. Across the room, my father was looking confusedly at a just-revealed 12-pack of Diet Coke on his lap. My oldest brother, Jerry, and his wife, Beth, soon unwrapped their 2-liter bottles of Coke.
We shouldn’t have been surprised. These lousy Christmas gifts were from my older brother, Jim, who is renowned for giving lousy Christmas gifts. Every member of the family has received a string of odd somethings from him for many years. In the past few years, Jim has progressed to giving all of us similar gifts that revolve around a theme. The themes vary, but the underlying message remains the same: “This is something I’m interested in – therefore, you should be, too.”
Jim recently landed a job as a computer systems analyst at the Atlanta headquarters of the Coca-Cola Company. He now preaches the corporate gospel of Coke to anyone who will listen. Waiters are paid to listen to him, so he frequently voices his displeasure to them if the restaurant serves an “inferior” brand.
So we all thought we understood where Jim was going with this year’s theme until my teenage niece, Jennifer, and her younger brother, Michael, opened their gifts. “Fruitopia?” they said, in unison. Jim smiled and replied, “Made by Coca-Cola. It’s like Snapple, but better.” The only nondrinkable gift was for my mom, who received a stuffed animal. The animal, of course, was a polar bear, complete with a Coca-Cola logo.
Oh well, this year’s theme was better than last year, when Jim presented each of us with our own copy of the book See, I Told You So, by Rush Limbaugh. That made me especially glad that I had chosen that year to give Jim the weirdest consumer product I have ever seen: a four-foot-tall inflatable likeness of “The Scream,” from the painting of the same name by Edvard Munch. That image summed up my feelings about being given something related to Rush Limbaugh.
Jim’s gifts have become one of the highlights of our family’s Christmas celebration. They always spur a lot of laughs, and I know that we will remember them much longer than the other, more mundane gifts we receive (you know, the ones we actually want). How could we not remember the three-foot-tall statue of Sylvester the Cat given to Jerry and Beth? Or the entire case of A-1 sauce I received? Or the glass sculpture he gave our brother, Dan, which I can only loosely describe as a group of twisted columns with eyeballs growing out of their tops? Dan responded in kind the next year, when he presented Jim with a hollow, glass, life-sized human head. It’s like the entire Mollen family has been permanently condemned to the naughty list.
I think we enjoy Jim’s gifts because they are really about giving us something else – a good story. Loud stories and louder laughter have always defined our family gatherings. Jennifer and Michael have grown up listening to all this wonderful nonsense, and now they look forward to it. So do I. I just wish Jim would get a job with the makers of Dom Perignon.