So I was sitting reading Redbook this afternoon. Shut up. Don't judge. I was eating my dinner for one, all alone at the table and there was this Redbook. Isn't the point not "what we read," but "that we read"? And what's wrong with Redbook, anyway? So cut it out.
So I was reading Redbook. Dumb magazine. And I leafed through the selection of "50 great gifts for under $50". That sounded interesting. A watch? Well, sure, some people want to know what time it is. A fashionable power strip shaped like a powder blue lightning bolt. OK...why should my dongles not be color coordinated? A knit winter hat. Um, ok, though I can't imagine that costing MORE than 50 bucks. Lip gloss. Not for me, but maybe for a friend and at $2.99, I should stock up for the upcoming zombie apocalypse when second to brain eating, chapped lips will be the most common scourge. Colorful vegetable slicers. Who wouldn't, I mean, right? A set of 4 typewriter themed place mats. Hey -- that's kind of kooky. Forty-eight bucks for 4 typewriter themed place mats. Wouldn't that be a great gift?
Well, no. No it wouldn't.
Look, I appreciate that it can't be easy coming up with new and different ideas for a magazine whose primary theme seems to be "I am woman, hear me." Articles about weight, and money, and makeup and health, and relationships. A vital link in our chain of journalistic integrity and excellence, no doubt. And gifts under $50 bucks? Well, that just screams "Urgent!" But typewriter themed place mats? Let's break this down.
First, and foremost: I love typewriters. I used to collect them. I may even have one stashed away in the house. And I use the one at work. Most people think it is just there for show, and to hold down papers, but I know that it can do stuff, so I use it. No boot up time. No driver errors. Instant gratification. I love me a typewriter. But does that make a stylized QWERTY (I had to look up the spelling of that word) keyboard on a plastic sheet a reasonable dinner surface? If it does, what doesn't? Then I began to consider the place mat on the whole.
Growing up, we had place mats. One was shaped like an animal. A sheep, I think. Four were themed after the state of Israel, and at least one was made by a child in school. Adorable. We used them on those rare occasions when we were having a meal formal enough for plates, at the big table, yet with no table cloth. They were more often used simply to be used than because there was a protocol invoked that required place mats. Tuesday was not Place mat Day. And the choice of place mats was often about childhood favoritism ("I want the one with the sheep!" "You had it last time!" "But you don't even like the sheep!" "Yeah, but I don't want YOU to have it.") or which was on top of the pile. They were not fashion statements and we did not use them when we had company. If we invited you over, we were going to honor you by putting down an actual tablecloth from the tablecloth drawer. No plastic which caught spills and channeled them into your lap for you. No "you have 4 inches on each side of your plate -- please confine your crumbs to that area". Place mats were about how we eat when we stop being polite and start being bored and lazy. So for them to be a gift? If I were to get a gift of any place mats I would be sure to leave them wrapped and then regift them to someone I don't particularly like and to whose house I hope never to be invited. I might ask for the receipt so I can return them for something useful like a monogrammed compact ($38, henribendel.com). I might just smile and say something polite like "What the hell is this crap?"
And if you have up to fifty bucks burning a hole in your pocket and decide to spend it on someone else, you might want to consider a gift which doesn't make its primary message "wipe me."
So maybe you still use place mats. Maybe you grew up as part of a long established place mat dynasty and the place mat has an important part in your family's storied history. Maybe the dying wish of your favorite half-uncle was that you spread the joy of whimsical place mats to all your friends. Maybe I should stop reading Redbook. But whatever the case, it is a dumb gift. Give me the cash if you feel the need to waste it. I'll go out and 9 colorful vegetable peelers and have a much neater dinner just by using a table cloth to hold elegantly peeled carrots.