If you are repelled by the aggressive commercialism of the season, and bored with the ritual giving of the usual mass-produced items from predatory corporations—then keep reading! We have some ideas for unusual gifts that could not only give enormous pleasure but could, in some instances, change lives.

1If you are repelled by the aggressive commercialism of the season, and bored with the ritual giving of the usual mass-produced items from predatory corporations—then keep reading!  I have some ideas for unusual gifts that could not only give enormous pleasure but could, in some instances, change lives.


Scatter fairy dust on someone you love, or yourself, with this one-of-a-kind gift. One hour with a master of something that turns you on the most—whether it’s singing, ice-skating, pitching baseball, whatever— can be a mind-blowing experience.

A master can show you things you can’t find in books—and things about yourself you need to know to pursue your passion.

What can be done in just one hour? This story will show you. I once knew a kid who was forced by a high school teacher to play the trombone. And he was bad at it. A trombone, like a violin, requires a keen ear for differences in pitch, and he didn’t have it. So he had no acceptable way to express his love of jazz.

Well, for Christmas, I arranged for him to have a session with one of those old jazz musicians who plays just about everything. He immediately saw the kid’s problem—but he also saw something else: this boy had a great sense of rhythm. So he turned him on to playing the drums. He’s still at it and, he told me, he has never felt so alive.


In each of us is a little gold, and sometimes that gold needs to be melted down and re-minted for today’s human marketplace.

I’m talking about creating a new résumé, for someone—another scattering of fairy dust that can change a life, or at least make someone feel awfully good.

First, you need to get hold of their current résumé, either surreptitiously, or on some pretext, if you want this to be a surprise. Then take it to a respected head-hunter—or to anyone who is good at analyzing such content as well as making its physical presentation attractive. Good head-hunters generally perform two kinds of miracles with a resume:

1. They translate overly specific descriptions of the responsibilities of one job into general abilities that can be applied to many others—the melting and re-minting I referred to above.

2. They use ingenious ways to heal the appearance of a troubled work history, for example, embarrassing gaps, abrupt departures, lack of academic degrees, etc.

Most people don’t know how to do any of the above, and the mere thought of having to do it creates tremendous stress, especially when time is pressing. So this is a truly fantastic gift, one that will earn you a halo that can be worn on any occasion.

3And speaking of re-purposing, try going into a thrift shop or antique store with a wide open mind about what things can be used for.



You never know what you will find in a thrift shop, but chances are it will not cost much, and it might be useful, or beautiful, or downright funny. Or, if you find a brass ring, all three! Examples I’ve come upon:

A comfortable old barber chair that moves up, down, sideways, and back. I didn’t like its vinyl covering, so I threw a flexible, light-weight Turkish kilim over it, attaching it in a few spots, and presented it to a friend. (Now he and his dog live in it.)

Beautifully crafted solid wood cabinets of all different sizes and shapes, with mysterious drawers, and inner spaces, originally designed for who-knows-what.

One of my favorite items is an old book, written with great seriousness—that is comically obsolete. The fact that they were once taken seriously makes them all the campier and funnier. You can find these in dusty thrift shops as well as ritzy snooteries.  Here’s one that could provide hours of laughter:

4Also: old tools made of black wrought iron, or solid brass barometers and nautical instruments that still work. These make wonderful conversation pieces for your coffee table or here and there on a book shelf.

Old medical supplies that look like they were used by Dr. Frankenstein; antique bottles of snake oil; funky old catalogs, and more, always more, covered under junk and dust.

Just keep in mind that not everyone appreciates these things. But those who do will whoop with delight.



I see many things here I could use. As for the old man, I could bundle him up and give him to a friend of mine.

I see many things here I could use. As for the old man, I could bundle him up and give him to a friend of mine.


Why should the NSA have all the fun? From the several varieties of shops with the word “spy” in their titles, either on the street or online, you can buy some amazing toys.

And the first person you should spy on is . . . yourself!

How do you sound, for instance?  Do you wonder if you made a fool of yourself during your last job interview? Was there a little too much please-please-oh-please-hire-me in your voice?  Next time, maybe you should record yourself. There’s a dandy doo-dad perfect for the job and it’s carried by most spy shops: a well-made ballpoint pen that will, for hours, discreetly record every squeak you make.

Or maybe you would like one of the many ingeniously disguised nannycams on offer. Put one of these in your home and find out what evil your cat is up to while you’re away. But, again, why not spy on yourself? How graceful are you at the simple act of just sitting down? Do you go Plop! Do you constantly fidget, pick and scratch? Just how slovenly are you when you forget yourself? You know James Clapper (NSA) and John Brennan (CIA) are watching you personally. Why not see what they see? This may explain why they look so sour:

CIA’s John Brennan. Has he seen me in the morning

CIA’s John Brennan. Has he seen me in the morning

NSA’s James Clapper. I know he knows what’s under my sink.

NSA’s James Clapper. I know he knows what’s under my sink.

Or maybe you should get yourself a sweeper that detects peeking and listening devices in the home. Or contraptions for hiding valuables, or protecting your home, or . . . there’s always more.   (Caution: You should familiarize yourself with the laws in your state concerning some of these items.)




You don’t have to be senile to enjoy a second childhood. For most of us, childhood was a magical time when we did things just for the pleasure of it, when we made music and noise for the hell of it.  And we messed in colors because it was so exciting to see what we could do with them. Then a terrible thing happened. Instead of doing these things for the fun of it, we did them for praise. And if we didn’t get enough of that, some of us abandoned these activities altogether.

The point of this gift is to instigate a glorious act of regression so that you or a loved one can have one hell of a good time making one hell of a mess.

There are many ways to do this, but this is about doing it with color. Give a gift of color, in any form. Crayons, pastels, pencils, paints—they all have exciting potential. Just look as these colors, and think of the possibilities:

Pots of Potential

Pots of Potential

You can throw color on a canvas and watch it come to life as something recognizable, like this painting:

Painting by Victor Figol

Painting by Victor Figol

Or you can just throw color on a canvas and smear it all around with abandon, letting your subconscious guide your hand as if on a Ouija board.

Abstract by Nicola Herman

Abstract by Nicola Herman

Look what a child in kindergarten did with just one color:

Abstract by unknown child.

Abstract by unknown child.

And here’s a glorious mess by Jackson Pollock:

Painting by Jackson Pollock

Painting by Jackson Pollock

Go here if you want to watch Jackson Pollack having a great time making a mess on the floor. A method that works.  Or, you can try doing some realistic art. Here is George Bush’s painting of himself in the shower:

Painting by George Bush. Interesting composition.

Painting by George Bush. Interesting composition.

Winston Churchill took up painting late in life, and did rather well. He probably never had so much fun.

Winston Churchill’s “Daybreak at Cassis.”

Winston Churchill’s “Daybreak at Cassis.”

Buy yourself or your loved one plenty of supplies. (They can always be given away if the idea falls flat.)  Paints are relatively cheap, some very cheap. The more expensive ones are made from the most interesting things For instance, an amazing shade of red is created by grinding up red ants. So give yourself or your friend a load of paint, cheap or otherwise—but don’t be cheap when it comes to brushes. You don’t want the kind that falls apart easily.

Here’s a video of someone painting with a toothbrush. Finger paints require no brushes of course, nor does drip painting.  Go here to watch how one artist does it:

7The idea is to forget yourself, paint with abandon, make a whopping big mess, and don’t worry about expense. Use up all your materials. Most are cheap, and there’s always more where that came from. You can always make charcoal out of burned sticks of wood. You can always paint with jams, jellies, catsup, blood, or you can grind up your own ants. Or aunts.

For some activities, they say, “Take it off—take it all off!” But for this one, I say, “Use it up—use it all up!”  SPLAT!  And remember this: When you seize the brush, you seize the day!


And speaking of regressing . . .



A Self-Inflating Whoopie Cushion


With the face of your favorite public figure on it. A tasteful gift to enhance any décor. And, like a political yard sign, it could also be used to make a point during elections. For the full effect, try to imagine the sounds of the Whoopie Cushion as you sit on each one.







We would also like to see a ceramic Chris Christie cookie jar, a Dick Cheney commemorative nutcracker and a Rush Limbaugh compost receptacle.

Maybe none of the above works for you. Well, you can always join the crowd below in your search.



IMAGE: Thumbnail

IMAGE: Drummer

IMAGE: Job Market

IMAGE: Thrift Shop

IMAGE: Old Etiquette Book

IMAGE: John Brennan


IMAGE: Colors in pots

IMAGE: Painting by Victor Figol

IMAGE: Multicolor Finger Painting

IMAGE: Blue Finger Painting

IMAGE: Painting by George Bush

IMAGE: Painting by Churchill

IMAGE: Drip Painting

IMAGE: Mitch McConnell

IMAGE: Michele Bachmann

IMAGE: Ted Cruz

IMAGE: Bill O’Reilly

IMAGE: Hillary

IMAGE: Donald Trump

IMAGE: Crowd Scene

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  • Milicent Cranor

    Milicent Cranor is a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy. She has worked as a creative editor at E.P. Dutton, a comedy ghostwriter, and editor of consequential legal and scientific documents. She has also co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles for medical journals.

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