When I was little, aside from the fact that I had to walk two miles to school uphill both ways because only the rich people could afford horses, another depressing fact was that there was no such thing as American Jewish humor. Sure, there were some old Yiddish jokes, but only people who appreciated the “flavor” of Yiddish and also the flavor of Slivovitz thought that they were funny.
Mordechai Schmutter changed all that. Beginning sporadically, he worked his way up to a weekly Hamodia Magazine column. He’s still shocked that Hamodia even has a humor column, but the tens of thousands of readers who look forward to it each week are glad that it does.
His first book, Don’t Yell Challah in a Crowded Matzah Bakery was a gamble at first because it was the first of its kind, and the gamble paid off as it became a best seller. Meanwhile, his column, which began with such everyday topics as cooking, marriage, and writing humor columns, has expanded into areas such as GPS, Kosherfest, and the Syms Bash.
Now, Mordechai is publishing his second book, A Clever Title Goes Here. Aside from the clever title, it also has many of his funniest articles in it, one of which you can read here!
Oy, Gevalt! I Almost Forgot!
Some people are naturally good at buying gifts. Everyone knows some hyper-organized individual – the type of person who finishes cleaning for Pesach the day after the previous Pesach, and who shows up at parties for people she doesn’t even know with neatly wrapped presents that come from the heart, such as sweaters that she knitted herself in front of the fire on a couch that is covered in plastic.
But chances are that you are not that type of individual. You are an individual who, when you do remember to buy someone a present, it is usually some type of vase. But you never buy flowers, so who knows what your loved ones are using all of those vases for. Probably cereal.
And so we have compiled a short gift guide that you can read through at your leisure until you realize that we don’t really know your loved ones at all, at which point you’re probably just going to hand them this gift guide.
NOTE: Some people may tell you that the tradition of Chanukah presents is actually copied from a similar non-Jewish tradition. This is their way of telling you that they’re not getting you anything this year. In actuality, Chanukah presents came about as an offshoot of “Chanukah gelt”, because at some point people realized that:
- Their kids did not appreciate getting money they were not allowed to spend (with the exception of the babies, who tried to eat it), and
- Money is what it is, whereas presents can give the illusion that you spent more than you actually did. For example, my cousin got married about six months after I did, and, while my wife and I realized that we had to get her a present, we also decided that, as a kollel couple, there was only so much we could spend on a present for a cousin to whom I had spoken maybe two words in my entire life. (I come from a big family. You can’t be close with everybody.) So we spent about twenty minutes at Amazing Savings, and we came out with a novelty cookie jar that cost, at most, about four dollars. And then I, as the writer in the family, had to come up with a cute and funny poem comparing the sanctity of marriage to baking cookies, in the hopes that my cousin would think that I’d had this really great insight into marriage, and I had no choice but to buy her a cookie jar to illustrate it. (As opposed to buying her a KitchenAid.) But my point is that the cookie jar was a much nicer gesture than, say, handing her a personal check for four dollars.
WOMEN: The hardest group of people to buy gifts for, speaking strictly as a man, is women. Women are highly critical of any gift that looks like a man would really like it, such as a hammock or a cordless drill. (NOTE: If you absolutely must give your wife a cordless drill, do not give it to her in person. It is far safer to mail it to her from a remote location, and then to simultaneously mail yourself somewhere even more remote.) A Woman prefers gifts that show that her husband listens to her when she’s talking. For example, if your wife complains that she is overworked between cleaning the house and cooking the meals and folding the laundry and cleaning the kids and folding the meals and cooking the laundry, then you should probably get her something to show her what an attentive and caring husband you are. (“Look, honey, it’s a Kitchenaid! Wait, come back! Where are you going?”)
But it never hurts to get some jewelry to go along with it.
(I know this is not very original, but after five years of marriage, this is all I’ve gotten so far. I still don’t know what I’m getting my wife. Does anyone out there want our Kitchenaid?)
MEN, OLDER BOYS, ZAIDIES, ETC.: Usually, what men get is a new work bag. Or a tie. This is despite the fact that, in almost thirty years of hanging out with men, we have never heard any of them express the slightest bit of interest in their work bag, and most of them wear the same two or three ties on an alternating basis, and keep the others in a densely-tangled clot on a tie rack in the back of the closet. What most men want is something that plugs into the wall, or doesn’t have to. It doesn’t even need to do anything useful. Get a man a ratchet set, and he will happily walk around the house looking for things that need to be ratcheted. Men’s gifts basically boil down to really expensive toys, although not more expensive than the toys you buy for…
BOYS: considering how easily the pieces get lost. Some of the pieces, in fact, seem to get lost in highly unlikely places, such as the washing machine, or the sewer, or deep inside your shoes. Yet somehow there are still enough pieces left to turn the floor into a minefield in the middle of the night, so that when Tatty tries to walk across the living room at four in the morning, he steps barefoot on a piece of Lego, and the entire house starts vibrating as he hops around to find a wall to lean on so that he can pull it out of his foot. So in general, you want to get your boys gifts that come in one big piece, and cannot be taken apart without access to Tatty’s ratchet set. Many boys would desperately like something with wheels, such as a bike or a scooter or roller blades or one of those little red cars with the yellow tops, but they’d also be happy with a mini fridge. But we don’t suggest you buy a bike, unless you want to spend the greater part of the winter repeatedly telling your son that he cannot ride in the snow. This is why afikoman presents were invented.
GIRLS: Most younger girls enjoy pretend play, so you can generally get them anything, from a pretend kitchen that is considerably more efficient than the one you had in your first apartment, to a pretend vacuum cleaner that used to be a real vacuum cleaner before it stopped working. A lot of little girls are also pretty happy with dolls, so that they can see what it feels like to be a real mommy, minus the carpooling and the fevers and the four A.M. feedings and the lying in bed wondering how come Tatty still hasn’t come back with that baby bottle, and why the entire house is shaking.
BABIES: Babies don’t really know that it’s Chanukah, unless it is your very first baby, in which case you’ve already convinced yourself that he or she is an all-around genius, and nothing we say is going to change that. So you’re going to run out and buy a baby toy, which plays the same three songs over and over and over again – but only the first four cords of these songs, because your baby keeps pressing the button to restart the songs before they finish. So maybe he isn’t quite the Mensa genius you seem to think he is. In truth, though, nothing you get your baby will capture his interest as much as the wrapping paper it comes in, so we suggest you just get him a big roll of wrapping paper.
BUBBIES: Bubbies will always hand out tastefully-wrapped gifts, and then tell you that you don’t have to get them anything, so the best gift for the grandmother on your list is also wrapping paper. It’s funny how life comes full circle like that. Just make sure to wrap it in a different print so she knows when to stop unwrapping.
BOSSES: Your boss doesn’t need a present, okay? Because you put in over forty hours a week, week after week, and for what? Do you even get a bonus around the holidays? Hah!
EMPLOYEES: We think you’d better give them a bonus. This is one instance where you cannot get away with a cheap gift and a nice card.