Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Thank You Gift

There is something highly unsettling about developing economic survival strategies. I've always been quite adept at budgeting and saving and generally doing a lot with a little. I seem to choose careers based on how little they will pay me. But now, as I have had a consistent $24 in my bank account for a couple of months, I have started doing things like paying the minimum on my credit cards, deciding which bills can be paid late without penalty and weighing the cost of a late fee against the cost of an overdraft charge. What is frustrating in this is twofold. For one, I have been working since I was 14 and have always been able to provide for myself without a problem. For two, I have now become a suspicious person. I pay late. I have overdraft charges. I pay the allowable minimum. These are not fiscally responsible attributes. They are not responsible attributes in general. They are suspect.

As is asking for samples of my favorite perfume from several different stores in order to eschew buying my expensive bottled scent. Or using Borders as a public library. Or squinting at strangers like I am preparing for a knife fight because I haven't had an eye exam in four years and my prescription is doing nothing.

And living in this smog of suspicion, I have also started doing things like hiding the face of my government-issued debit card from public view. It is the easily recognizable Scarlet U for unemployment. Part of my embarrassment is that I do not want to have been branded a part of this club. But the other part is that I don't want people thinking I am going on a spending spree with government money. (That said, I do have a fantasy about winning the lottery, and I think it would be really funny if I bought the ticket with my government-issued money. But I don't think the government would find this as amusing as I do.) I really do not spend much money on anything. I don't smoke. I don't drink much or often. I don't even eat junk food, and my Starbucks allotment also pays for internet service. I do, however, buy gifts. And while I do need and WANT lots of things, I can't justify a new pair of workout pants as much as I can a well-timed thank you gift. Even if my workout pants have holes thinly bound with safety pins.

Anyway, recently, a colleague of mine did something really nice and wrote a recommendation letter for me. And I needed to thank her. For most recommenders, I find gift cards to somewhere they like to go, or is near to their office or offers products they enjoy, etc. Generally this is because gift cards are easy to send in the mail. But K lives in Chicago, so I could play around a little more with my gratitude. And K happens to be very creative as well. She sews, which is something I do not understand at all. (Not that she can do it, but HOW to do it at all. I took Home Ec for six weeks in 8th grade and sewed a very lumpy cow that had horns, but somehow no ears. I also took Spanish for six weeks that year and all I remember is "vamos a la playa." Which, seeing as I lived in a landlocked state at the time means that six weeks is not enough time to retain quality information.) K also happens to be obsessed with buttons. She even made a necklace with buttons instead of beads and it is awesome. I also like buttons but can't do much with them. I have always wanted to sew a bunch of buttons on throw pillows and put them on the couch. So I have a little box that holds every button I've ever collected. Mostly the extra buttons from sweaters and jackets that I never use. Or buttons that have fallen off and become lost causes due to my sewing handicap. (Hence the safety pins on my workout clothes.)

For a Thank You Gift for K, I figured I would use some of these buttons that were starting to lift the lid of their box and spill out, begging for a needle and thread or a second coming as jewelry. I thought I might use them to fill the bottom of a clear vase or as some kind of display. I decided Crate and Barrel would be the best destination for this idea. I love Crate and Barrel. Partly this is because we did not have C+B in my hometown. It was big news when we got the Gap. And not surprising when the Gap left a few years later. The idea of C+B was the same to me as Saks, Tiffany's and FAO Schwartz: it was fancy and out of reach. So when I moved to Chicago and actually WENT to a C+B, I was elated to find I could actually BUY things there. I bought myself a set of stemless champagne flutes that I used as wine glasses there to celebrate this fact. (I bought them there, I didn't use them there. I wasn't suspect then.)

In all reality, C+B is extremely affordable for certain things. Like glassware, kitchen gadgets and napkins. Or candle holders. At C+B I found the Trix candle holder for K. In the display, the store had arranged orange pebbles in the bottom of the glass, at which point I thought, "Buttons!" So I put a tealight in the candle part, and filled the bottom with assorted buttons. The great thing about this gift is that K actually wanted a new candle for her house, and I didn't even know. The other great thing about this gift for me is that I spent $5. And I may have used my government-issued debit card to do it.

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