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The Worst Gift
by Leon Baxter
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

The biggest cop-out gift is the coffee mug. When you don’t know what to get someone, the mug seems like the perfect choice. It’s safe, right? Everyone drinks, and it can be personalized with a catchy phrase or a cute graphic.

Sure, it’s safe, but the moment we open our gift and see that ceramic handle peeking it’s head over the tissue paper, we know that the gift-giver just gave up… “Oh hell, I’ll just get him a mug.”

How many coffee mugs does a person need anyway? One, maybe two if you don’t run the dishwasher regularly. I’ve got a “Mexico ‘97” mug, a “World’s Best Teacher” mug, a Christmas mug, a mug with my nephew’s face emblazoned upon it. I’ve received mugs filled with cocoa packets, Hershey Kisses, a Teddy Bear and a plastic floral arrangement.

Yet, nothing from my mug collection would qualify as my worst gift. That title is reserved for a sweatshirt from my mother. It’s a gray, San Francisco Forty–Niners number. Fits well, keeps me warm, nice quality. What makes it the worst gift is that I actually like it and wear it. See, I’ll get up any given Sunday morning, throw on the sweatshirt and head, let’s say, to the gas station for a fill up.

The shirt works kind of like a pregnant woman’s belly. It’s an open invitation to strangers to just start talking to me: “Hello, I’m wearing this sweatshirt. We’ve got something in common. Come and talk to me.”

I’ll be wearing the sweatshirt when a man (it’s always a man) will start the conversation: “Can you believe the season they’re having? Tomorrow night we’ll see if Smith can finally put the Chargers in their place.”

See, I don’t follow football. I know. You’re probably checking this article’s byline, “I thought a guy wrote this thing.” I am a guy. I just don’t follow football. I follow basketball. I lift weights three times a week. I even fathered a couple of kids. I am a real man. I just never got into football. I’ve played it. I’ll watch a game on TV, but I can’t tell you who won the Superbowl last year.

So, when other guys start talking to me about football and the Forty-Niners like we’re frat brothers, I find myself in hot water. I usually try to talk my way out of it:

“Oh yeah, Smith. Yes, let’s see if he can do his thing.”

“Think they’ll take the Chargers?

“Oh, uh, c’mon. You’ve seen how they’re playing this year… Um, isn’t it obvious?… Can you excuse me for a moment? I really have to pee.”

Once I just spoke the truth:

“Oh no. Sorry, I’m not really a Forty-Niner fan. This is just a gift from my mom. Yeah, no, I don’t follow football at all. But, this sweatshirt sure is warm. Here, feel it…”

Four guys chased me six blocks before they finally gave up. That’s the last time I ever attend a PTA meeting at my daughter’s elementary school.

So, now I just wear the shirt and fake it. Funny thing, though, I’m learning about the Niners through these strangers. Last week a guy asked me, “So, what do you think of York moving the team out of San Francisco?”

“Could be a blessing in disguise,” I answered. “Sure, the Niners are synonymous with San Francisco, but Candlestick is run down. They deserve a better venue.”

He agreed, but it’s still a difficult situation for me. Sometimes I’d just rather stay home, watch a basketball game and dunk cookies in my “Hot Mama” coffee mug.

Leon Scott Baxter is a West Coast writer who lives with his wife and two daughters in California. To see more of his work, go to

Published: Oct 10,2008 17:38
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