Pleasin’ for the Season II: The 2016 Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

With everything going on in the world, it’s easy to get behind on your holiday shopping.  But if you haven’t picked out a gift for everyone on your list, don’t despair. There’s something for everyone in the guide below — and every item is hand-picked by the world’s most culturally in-touch publication, the New York Times! Read on to find out how you can spread end-of-fiscal-year cheer.

For stressed-out liberals: Self-care scents

Why: All Times readers have one thing in common: The desire to prevent the rising tide of American fascism from bumming them out. “In the days after the presidential election, Jessa Blades, an herbalist and makeup artist in Brooklyn who supported Hillary Clinton, was devastated. ‘All I could think to do was blend a tea to control my stress,’ she said.”  Look, she’s an herbalist, not an expert in thinking up things to do. “Ms. Blades, 37, mixed three pounds of lemon balm, nettle, chamomile, rose and oats together ‘for soothing the nervous system, calming, giving the right amount of boundaries and opening the heart’ and put it in brown paper bags.” This is a powerful act of resistance: Under authoritarian regimes, boundaries are the first thing to go. After that, they go after your feelings of validation and your right to live free of microaggressions. In fascist dictatorships like Franco’s Spain, historians tell us that the police had unrestricted authority to mansplain, and as a result, nearly every citizen suffered from imposter syndrome.

If you’re not a tea expert, a Netflix subscription can provide your loved ones with all the self-care they could ever want.  “On Nov. 11…Mic published ‘A Self-Care Guide of TV to Watch to Forget About Donald Trump’s Rise.’ (‘None are the kind of challenging, difficult shows we normally recommend, but they’re also not the kind of shows that will melt your brain into mush.’)” Forgetting Trump’s rise is important, but it’s not an excuse to watch lowbrow garbage. If we stoop to Trump’s level by watching tacky reality TV, we’re basically letting him win, but in a different way than we already did.

Staring at a screen is great for moderates, but what if your loved one is a true radical?  “Otherwild, a boutique with locations in New York’s East Village and Los Angeles, arms would-be revolutionaries with products like a Rose Nectar ($20) and a spray called Boundaries in a Bottle ($26), made with black tourmaline, echinacea and silver fir.” Tourmaline, huh? I’ve noticed that the less a given substance actually smells like anything, the more disgusting the fragrances that claim to smell like it are. “Rose” or “vanilla” are good, “spring rain” is okay, and “black steel” or “onyx” or “essence of peace” are instantly headache-inducing. A perfume that claims to smell like boundaries won’t protect you from Trump’s political activity, but it might keep your genitalia safe if he’s actually in the room with you.

Cost: $20 to $28

For décor fanatics: Trays

Why: “When Elena Frampton designs any home — whether it’s an apartment in Manhattan or a house in the suburbs or at the beach — there’s an important moment that comes just before she’s done.” No, not the moment when she presents her bill: “‘At the end of every project, it’s…trays and objects.'”  Trays are “versatile catchalls that ‘bring style to organization….You can use them on the entry hall console table; on a coffee table to pull small things together; on a desk to make piles of stuff look more attractive; on a bar cart with napkins, accessories and glasses; on a bedside table for a vase and reading glasses; and on vanities and dressing tables for cosmetics — it’s endless.’” Trays are truly a testament to the human ability to put things in other things.

But even though trays are amazing, there are some caveats to keep in mind. “If a tray is going to be carried between rooms on a regular basis, she said, opt for a design with handles.” What happens if I opt for a design without handles, and then I end up needing to carry it between rooms after all?  Should I opt for a carrying method in which I support the weight of the tray by placing my hands under it, or should I go out and get a tray with handles, then transfer all the items to that other tray? These articles never go into enough detail.

Before committing to a tray, you should ask yourself “How will it behave when it comes into contact with other things?”  I actually ask myself that about every object that enters my visual field. (I forgot to mention that I’m a one-month-old baby.) “And if the tray will rest on a delicate surface, Ms. Frampton said, look for one with a soft bottom.” I always look for ones with soft bottoms, because I’m comically pretending not to have read the first half of that sentence.

Cost: $79 to $850

For people whose skin has been very naughty this year: Charcoal skincare

Why: No Christmas list is complete without beauty products, and the hottest ones involve a trendy ingredient like slime or mud or dirt. This year, humble coal is getting its moment in the spotlight: “Oh, charcoal. Are you dirty? Clean? Both? Neither? Whatever the case,” it’s everywhere. But why? “Activated charcoal has been around in the medical profession for hundreds and hundreds of years.” That doesn’t really inspire confidence. Medicine is one of those professions where the further back you go, the less trustworthy it is. Prior to a hundred years ago, medicine mostly consisted of bloodletting, advising people to improve their constitution by going to the seashore, and telling them what foods to eat to prevent masturbation.

Nevertheless, charcoal is actually legit. “They use it when someone ingests poison. Most ambulances carry it.” If something is used in emergency medical contexts, it’s also good for the skin, which is why I pamper my face with blood transfusions, defibrillator paddles, insulin, adrenaline and whatever that stuff is that’s in epi-pens.

“Pressed Juicery has taken an inside-out approach, with an ‘activated charcoal lemonade’ on its menu.” This lemonade offers double the health benefits: The vitamin C prevents colds, and the charcoal saves your life if you accidentally swallow antifreeze 10 minutes after drinking it. If you’re still on the fence, just listen to the experts. “Dr. Rieder noted that there is no proof that charcoal’s cleansing properties work on skin…. ‘The concept is very attractive,’ he said. ‘It could work.’” Sold!

Cost: $46 for a charcoal masque, $129 for a Pressed Juicery cleanse

For velvet lovers: Velvet

Why: “We’re living in a velvet lover’s dream.” That is so true. America in 2016 is many things, but it is, first and foremost, an extravagant dream of velvet. “On the cover of her new ‘Joanne’ album, Lady Gaga makes a strong case for a velvety topper.” Hard to imagine her making a strong case for anything except retiring from the music business, but this claim doesn’t depend on her authority alone: “Mainstream brands like Zara, Reiss and Topshop also have been buying velvet by the yard.” The YARD? They’re throwing caution to the wind!  And it’s easy to see why. “As Simon Curtis, an occupational therapist and a lecturer with the Sensory Integration Network in Britain, explained, ‘There is a different feeling each way you rub velvet, and that can be quite calming. It can give a feeling of calmness. Perhaps you do feel more confident in it.” Yes…perhaps. Nothing imparts confidence more than going around nervously rubbing your clothes.

“Think of [velvet trousers] as you would a versatile pair of jeans.’ I’m already thinking of my Schiaparelli-pink satin harem pants as a versatile pair of jeans (I pair them with my asymmetrical tartan tweed crop top, which I think of as a versatile white t-shirt), so this could create a conflict for me. You should try it, though.

Jeans are obsolete now.

Cost: $119 to $780

For irony lovers: Champion sweatshirt

Why: Wearing velvet pants instead of jeans is all very well if you’re some square–the kind of normie who’d rather eat steak and potatoes than durian foam, seaweed aspic and deconstructed candy corn. For those who dare to be aesthetically different, there’s the once-humble logo sweatshirt. “Late last year, the high-fashion radical pranksters of Vetements released what would become one of the brand’s signature pieces: a misshapen hoodie with a logo on the chest that played off the traditional Champion script logo, rotating the oversize C 90 degrees to make a V.” A sideways C doesn’t look like a V, but as you will soon discover, that’s the least bewildering aspect of this series of events. Trying to understand articles about the fashion world makes regular people feel the way your grandmother probably felt when you told her that people were arguing in your mentions about whether @dril was antisemitic; it’s best to just forge ahead and not get caught up in the details.

As far as I can tell, Vetements was trying to do irony, but another designer did irony to them in turn: “Ava Nirui… part of a loose group of bootleg-influenced design provocateurs who use corporate identities as raw material, thought the price, around $700, was outrageous…. And so she decided to poke fun at Vetements.” I can’t wait to find to find out how. “One at a time, she took actual Champion sweatshirts and incorporated the elongated-C logo into the names of other designers — Rick Owens, Chanel, Gucci, Marc Jacobs — by embroidering the names around the C in utilitarian font.” Sick burn…I guess.  Actually, I have no idea how this pokes fun at Vetements.

Apparently I’m not the only one who didn’t get it. “‘A lot of people misconstrue what I’m doing….I’m not trying to start a fashion brand. I’m trying to make people uncomfortable.’” I’d love to say it didn’t work, but I do feel kind of uncomfortable, so who’s to say. “In the hands of these recontextualizers, the logo, whether the stand-alone C or the full script rendering, is reborn as something of an ideological and aesthetic blank slate, an axis upon which to turn and a foundation for new ideas.” Intentionally ugly fashion is for people who like Derrida, but think he’s not obscure or self-important-sounding enough.  Here are some more quotes from the article that I’ve given up on trying to satirize:

  • “‘The Champion sweatshirt is such a regal piece’”
  • “’Champion is the most branded blank'”
  • “’The brand is sturdy’”
  • “[Nirui] has only just sold her first 10 pieces….She said she was not sure if she will sell any more, though, especially since she began her project as a critique of consumer capitalism, not as an application to participate in it”

Cost: $700 to priceless

For people who think parody logo sweatshirts are too mainstream: DNA jackets

Why: “Millions of fans choose to dress like their idols….But would you…ever wear a leather jacket or carry a handbag containing their DNA?” If you want celebrity DNA on your body, there’s a much more straightforward way to acquire it. Some of us prefer to do things the old-fashioned way. But for those who don’t have the in-person skills to charm the genetic material out of celebrities, all hope is not lost. “Tina Gorjanc…unveiled Pure Human, a range of leather prototypes that she theorizes could be grown from DNA extracted from hair samples of the fashion designer Alexander McQueen.” She’s going to clone human skin from stem cells or something, but she hasn’t actually done it yet; the prototypes are just pigskin with fake freckles painted on it. This is basically Theranos for people who wear limited-edition snapbacks and drop-crotch cashmere sweatpants instead of black turtlenecks.

“’Pure Human is a critical design project that also highlights the major legal loopholes around the protection of biological information, particularly in Great Britain,’ Ms. Gorjanc said.” I think she’s saying that she’s using people’s DNA without their consent to highlight how immoral it is to do that. “She added that the Human Tissue Act, passed in Britain in 2004, which regulates the removal, storage and use of bodily tissue, currently relates to the handling of human genetic materials for medical but not commercial purposes.” It’s like I’ve always said: The British Human Tissue Act of 2004 fucking sucks.

“’If a student like me was able to patent a material extracted from Alexander McQueen’s biological information, and there was no legislation to stop me, we can only imagine what big corporations with bigger funding are going to be capable of doing in the future,’ Ms. Gorjanc said.” How chilling. The only way to stop big corporations from doing unethical things is to get the jump on them by doing those things ourselves, but on a smaller scale.  That’s why I’m opening an invitation-only, bespoke private prison for people whom I’ve found guilty of thoughtcrimes by using data modeling to analyze their trash.

Cost: Think about how much a regular designer motorcycle jackets costs, then add a zero

For plutocratic parents: Bejewelled rocking horse

Why: It may feel good to gift a friend with a jacket cloned from hair, but nothing can beat the feeling of creating Christmas magic for a child. “For sale this Christmas, a rocking horse sparkling with 82,000 Swarovski crystals.” It’s better than a regular rocking horse, because “’the shimmering crystals capture the movement.'”  This horse was a labor of love by Nuno Fernandes, a former ballroom dancer who “hired…rocking horse specialists based in Ashford, England, to hand-carve and paint the 4-foot-tall horse, which hides a small safe in its belly.” Why the rocking horse is a safe is never addressed.  Every inexplicable thing wealthy people buy is also a different inexplicable thing, and if you’re not the kind of person who owns canes that are actually guns and oil paintings that are actually the entrance to a bomb shelter, you’ll never understand.

But the article does address another important question: how they stuck the rhinestones onto the horse’s crotch. “His dancer’s flexible physique helped, as, he said, ‘when you are trying to get in between a pair of wooden front or hind legs — to get your head or body in there with your arm applying crystals — there’s really not much room for movement.’” Huh. I guess I’m pretty flexible, because I’ve always just taken the ability to get my head, arm or body between a pair of legs for granted.  But I suppose that for the average chair-bound, sedentary American, this is a rare skill.  No wonder half of all marriages end in divorce.

“Mr. Fernandes…has ambitions to decorate the interior of a private aircraft or a yacht with crystals….’The sky’s the limit.’” Thanks to the Champion logo article, I now know how to poke fun at people who do stuff like this: I’m going to crystallize the interior of a payday loan place.

Cost: $120,000

For gourmets: Salt water

Why: Cooking seafood in salt water is a well-known culinary hack. But why settle for basic brine? “Without getting your feet wet in the Rockaways, you can simmer potatoes, boil penne or poach cod fillets in a portion of the Mediterranean Sea. Purified seawater from Spain is sold in pouches to use, diluted somewhat, for cooking.” Water imported from 4,000 miles away? “It might sound crazy…but my potatoes and pasta cooked in it were delicious.”  If that’s what it takes to get potatoes to taste good, I am on board.

Cost: $49.99 for 10 liters

For the extremely normal: Cuddling

Why: Rocking horses, leather jackets, water: Those are just objects. What really matters is the experiences you have and the memories you create. So why not gift a loved one with an experience they won’t be able to forget even if they want to: an hour of platonic physical contact with a stranger? “For eager newcomers trying to hustle a life in New York City, there are certain time-honored means of staying afloat: foaming lattes as a barista, selling books at the Strand, or shepherding spaniels as a paid dog walker,” and that tradition just got an an update: “Now, it seems, they can add to that list professional cuddler.”

“A quasi movement that dates back more than a decade thanks to snuggle mixers sponsored by the nonprofit group Cuddle Party has morphed into a cuddle-for-hire industry of one-on-one sessions.” No stupid idea ever just goes away anymore. Remember like five or six years ago when you heard of Bronies for the first time and you were like “I hope this goes away,” and instead it somehow turned into a right-wing political thing? The cuddling movement is like that, except for vegans who ride fixed-gear bikes, and it’s an app now.

America, where did we go wrong.
America, where did we go wrong.

Signing up for a cuddling website offers a coveted entrée into the gig economy. “For $79, practitioners who sign up for Cuddlist… receive about 10 hours of training.”  You can probably skip it, though; based on what’s on their website, it’s just 10 hours of variations on “Remember not to fuck the clients.”

cuddling2 cuddling

“In recent years, cuddling — billed as therapeutic, nonsexual touch…has become the latest thing in wellness, beyond yoga and meditation…. Once trained, pro cuddlers promise a physical and psychic salve through spooning, arm tickling and deep embraces.” I suppose they have to go to extremes to make this sound spiritual; the only other industry where a person gets paid to receive the exact same service they’re selling is male prostitution.

“One such practitioner, at $80 an hour, is Brianna Quijada…a manager at a vegan restaurant on the Upper East Side.” What did I tell you?

Cost: $80

For upwardly mobile professionals: Temporary walls

Why: So your loved has tried foaming lattes, walking dogs and cuddling the affluent, and they’re still struggling to make it in the big city. Why not give them a gift that can help them live their dreams: The gift of a wall? A recent Times article detailed how four young Manhattan professionals are using temporary walls to share a $3,750 one-bedroom apartment. “Katherine Neal, who works in sales, and Annie Jackson, who works in public relations, take the first shifts in the bathroom. Ms. Neal gets in there at 6:45 a.m. and has 15 minutes before it’s Ms. Jackson’s turn. By the time Ms. Jackson finishes up, their male roommates, Michael Morgan, who works in advertising, and Andrew Bell, also in sales, are back from the gym in the building.”  Sure, it’s crowded, but following a regimented bathroom schedule and getting up before 6 a.m. to go to the gym is all part of the glamorous New York City lifestyle. How bad could it be?

“Ms. Jackson and Ms. Neal sleep in twin beds in the bedroom.” WHAT?  “For the male roommates, the group installed a T-shaped wall in the living room, dividing it into two bedrooms, leaving space for a kitchen table in a common area. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Bell have hardly any privacy; building regulations require the bedroom walls to stop about two feet shy of the ceiling. ‘You can hear everything,’ Ms. Jackson said.” This is the baby boomers’ fault. They got so mad about hookup culture, they created an economy where no one can have sex because they can’t afford walls that go all the way up.

But for these roommates, it’s worth it: “Like many newcomers, they are willing to make certain sacrifices to stay in Manhattan,” just like their less cosmopolitan countrymen and -women are willing to feed their kids ramen for dinner and escape medical debt by declaring bankruptcy. “The partition cost them over $1,000…. This didn’t include doors, which the building would have allowed, but the roommates decided the added costs, including installation, were too much. They had hoped to eventually install doors themselves.” Living in Manhattan is a real tradeoff. It makes you able to talk about Per Se and designer sneaker stores and stuff, but at the same time, you lose touch with how pathetic you sound saying “I finally got a wall…I hope to save up enough to have a door put in it someday.”

“These types of temporary walls often cut interior spaces off from natural light,” but “’It’s just how things work in New York City’”: There’s no way things could ever be different, unless legislation were to somehow exist to make more low-cost housing available, or something ridiculous like that. “Many landlords know it’s not really legal to transform an apartment like this, but they don’t care because their goal is simply to keep the unit rented. ‘Landlords don’t really care too much because one-bedrooms are sometimes $3,600, and what kind of 20-something can afford that?’” Maybe the landlords should have thought of that before buying a building full of apartments no one can afford to rent?  And if the laws were enforced, developers might have an incentive to build one-bedroom apartments at prices that are realistic for individuals?  Oh, well…guess we’ll never find out!

A less fatalistic view comes from Donnie Zanger, the owner of a wall company who believes that walls alone can’t solve the city’s problems. “He believes there’s a disconnect between what developers build in New York City and what renters can afford. He said they are too focused on building luxury apartments geared toward the foreign buyer….’They need to start getting real, and understand they are creating a real estate bubble. They can’t just go after the 2 percent anymore. They have to cater to a broader demographic.”

Wow, I can’t believe what I’m reading–that the New York Times Real Estate section, usually a beacon of sanity in a crazy world, would stoop to printing propaganda from a communist wall entrepreneur.  Buy a wall, by all means, but not from this crazed bolshevik.

Cost: $1000 to $2000

Total cost: $122,093.99 to $124,616.99, plus emotional labor

Read the last two gift guides, and  neediest

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