From Thanksgiving on, the weeks are a scramble of special errands, office parties, Santa sittings, this to do and that to do, cheese logs, fudge and The Sound of Music. Busy, busy, busy.
It says a lot about the modern condition that so many of us have come to regard Christmas as a kind of finish line in a race bestrewn with responsibilities: If you’re lucky, you slide across the line with enough time to catch your breath before the day-of festivities kicks in.
And so we scrawl lists on the backs of envelopes and old bills to help us organize our minds and use our time more efficiently. Lists of presents for friends and family. Lists of groceries to buy for the big feast. Mailing lists for Christmas cards. Every item checked off those lists is another step toward completion. Even people like me who never make lists start feverishly enumerating priorities—and, of course, swearing solemn oaths to get a jump on next year’s shopping—like that’s ever going to happen. But if the following lists help even one person get across that holiday finish line in time for footrubs and a hot toddy this December 24, I’ll consider this gift guide a success. Happy holidays to you and yours from all of us at the Independent!
For the Friends Away
Five iconically Missoula gift ideas
Not trying to play favorites here—in fact, there are many excellent local gift options that could use a plug more than these, which, taken together, probably account for at least a nickel on every Christmas dollar Missoulians spend on out-of-town folks. But if you’re looking for Missoula essentials to send to friends and family somewhere else, look no further than these old standbys.
“A Place, Sort of” T-shirt from Rockin Rudy’s
How on earth did a flying platypus with a noncommittal inscription come to be Missoula’s unofficial coat of arms? The true facts, which I can tell you on good authority involve found art and a Latin dictionary, have been obscured behind decades of depends-who-you-ask mythologizing. Anyway, the best way to give this particular gift is not to offer any explanation whatsoever to the recipient. When I was growing up in Billings, lucky kids got these shirts through older brothers and sisters. My friends and I assumed early on that Missoula was populated by surrealist potheads…and guess what?
Monte Dolack has it knocked. Not only does nearly every household in Missoula contain a piece of his art in one form or another, there’s also a Dolack litho in every doctor’s office, lawyer’s suite and waiting room in town. And he’s just as popular as an export. The Japanese, in fact, like him so much they had him come over and design wraparound art for some of their city buses. No Missoula artist’s work is so instantly recognizable to so many people, so it’s small wonder that when locals are shopping for something instantly, appealingly Missoula to reflect their native pride, they reach instinctively for ducks in bathtubs and penguins in the icebox.
Maroon and Silver
The drummer for a long-gone Missoula metal band once told me that as a teenager he designed the Hoagieville logo—the line-art portraits of Bob Powell and Nick Alonzo with an ominous quality that comes across on the lowliest napkin. For his efforts, he said, he got 10 bucks and a hoagie.
I hope on the other hand that whoever came up with the University of Montana Griz paw print—a kind of high-explosive in local branding—sleeps on a pile of money, because that thing is everywhere. Likewise the maroon and silver: house-proud
Griz boosters and students spending the last of their book refunds on presents can choose from a bewildering array of official UM merchandise, the mass display of which is somehow understood to steer the fortunes of “our” football team.
Moose Drool Paraphernalia
A late but strong contender to the pantheon of Missoula-centric gifts. The way the words “Moose Drool” roll off the tongue—and tasty sensation when it hits your lips—have made Big Sky Brewing Company’s flagship brew the name to know in beer and beer-themed merchandise for anyone acquainted with western Montana. A savvy marketing strategy has landed the homey moose art (painted by a brewery employee’s mother) of the original beer label on athletic apparel, souvenir glasses, posters, placemats and all manner of other commodities for folks looking to bring home an authentic bit of Big Sky. If, heaven forbid, Big Sky ever stops brewing the stuff, these cult items might one day be beyond price.
The Last Best Place
Seventeen years after its first publication, this cinderblock-sized anthology of Montanacana remains the last word in Montana literature and a unique survey of Big Sky history, values, attitudes, and nicely turned phrases. With over 140 storytellers contributing, it’s a great introduction to the Montana writing scene and a no-fail gift for the book-inclined. There’s a way in for every reader. If Montana ever launched a goodwill space probe, The Last Best Place in digital form would almost certainly be in the requisite care package for alien interceptors.
For the Historian Christmas in Missoula, circa 1907
A hundred years ago, retail commerce in Missoula was mostly confined to a few blocks downtown north of the river. Then, as now, full-page advertisements touting must-have gifts and can’t-miss bargains began creeping into the newspapers shortly after Thanksgiving. “Jaunty new fur turbans,” hawks one such notice for the Missoula Mercantile, “the latest and nobbiest in women’s headgear. Their popularity with Missoula’s fair ones is already assured.” Fair ones? Nobbiest? One is struck by the sepia-tinted language as much as the price of a fur turban: $6 to $10.
For the little ones, the wishing season began in earnest with the opening of “Donohue’s Dreamland” in the basement of the D.J. Donahue Company store and “Toyland” at the Mercantile, where there was “not a want that a toy or doll will satisfy but what Toyland can satisfy it.”
Reflecting on times that seem simpler and prices so low they’re funny to us now, bear in mind that a lot of Missoula kids would have counted themselves lucky to receive just one of these store-bought playthings.
For the Nerd From one geek to another, gifts guaranteed to fascinate
Shane Hickey knows his nerd. For this Volumen guitarist, computing whiz and father of two, it’s a badge of honor. Who else goes into a Hooters and winds up amazing the help with how fast he can solve a Rubik’s cube? For the li’l Poindexter on your list, here are some suggestions from an egghead you can trust.
Solarspeeder kit $25
In the past, solar powered robot cars weren’t really big on wow. You’d leave them out in the sun and wait for almost a minute to see them twitch a tiny bit. Whee. But not anymore. This bad boy can cover 10 feet in 40 seconds. Now that makes you feel like a real man, lemme tell you. Plus, it’s wicked easy to build. You’ll spend as much time opening the box as you will soldering the whole thing together. Available at www.solarbotics.com.
DIY inflatable robot $99
So, you might be asking yourself, what could possibly be cooler than a robot blimp that seeks light and reacts to your cellphone calls by dancing and singing? Nothing. Seriously, not even a naked-robot-Dana-Scully kit could make nerds drool more. Available at www. makezine.com.
Palm-size remote-controlled helicopter $29.99
Yup, you read that right. A freaking tiny helicopter that you can fly indoors for just under $30. Time to get out your tiny lead miniature of TC from “Magnum PI” and solve adorably small crimes in your own home. If you don’t have a tiny TC miniature, you need to get the D&D “Honolulu Dreams” module; it’s a package deal. Available at www.thinkgeek.com.
Let’s face it. Sometimes being intellectually superior to everyone in world (except maybe the other dudes in your Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan club) can get a little lonely. Well, fret no more. For a measly $350 you can own a tiny robot dinosaur that cuddles and exhibits emotion. Now make it hurt like you’ve been hurt! Shoe’s on the other foot now, Stacey from accounting…err, I mean, Pleo. Yikes. Available at www.pleoworld.com.
PONG kit $20
Be a part of the magic! Watch a bag of random parts that looks like a broken TV remote control undergo a complete metamorphosis by your masterful hand to become one of the greatest games of all time: Pong! Ahh, the graphics! “I call dibs on the tennis player who looks like a white rectangle. Or am I supposed to be the tiny square that bounces? What the hell is going on?!” Classic. Available at www.thinkgeek.com.
Star Trek 40th Anniversary Phaser $30
Nothing says “You are never getting laid again” like the gift of an authentic Star Trek Phaser. So let the geek in your life know that you appreciate their Monty Python monologues and the way they spit Cheetos while they talk and all, but…“It’s just not going to happen, okay?” Available at www.thinkgeek.com.
For the Sportsman On-target gifts courtesy of firearm fanatic Gary Marbut
I like the way Gary Marbut thinks about gift giving, which is to say: practically. Marbut, a champion shooter and one of Montana’s most prominent advocates of gun ownership, likes to give presents that keep his loved ones safe on the road, convert their small electrical appliances for European voltage, and prepare them for unexpected emergencies—gifts that help them help themselves, as he might put it, avoid becoming victims. His thoughts on Christmas goodies for 2007 include a mixed bag of practical tips and—if you’re listening, Santa—things he wouldn’t mind receiving himself.
“Slings, scope caps, bipods, ammunition carriers. Those are all things for rifles. For handguns, accessories might include holsters and magazine pouches. You’d have to make sure you knew what make and model of handgun you were buying a holster for.
“There are a lot of very good holsters for handguns nowadays made out of a plastic called Kydex. They’re not very expensive, but they’re very good for retention, weatherproof, and they hold the gun firmly. Leather is tanned with tannic acid, and that can leach out of a holster and corrode the firearm or the ammunition. Kydex has come on strong in the last 10 years.”
“We’ve seen a lot of road closures in the last few years, and it’s more and more difficult to get game down at a place where it’s convenient to get it out. One solution, of course, is to bone it and pack it out, the old style. But there are a lot two-wheeled carts made now for hauling game, and, where you can make them work, they’re a great deal. Seeing them on the market is something that’s pretty much happened in the last 10 years. They were probably around then, but they weren’t as common and there weren’t as many sizes and shapes and styles.”
“The cost of ammunition has just gone through the roof. Rifle ammunition is up to a dollar a round for the spendy stuff. I shoot long-range precision rifles in competition, which means I have to practice a lot. I go through, I guess, 5,000 rounds of rifle ammunition a year, and I’m a person with a fancy budget.
“The solution is to reload. You can reload that for under 20 cents a round, but that means you have to invest in the reloading equipment.
“My wife is much better at gift-giving than I am. She’s one of these people who have their Christmas shopping done by July. Many years ago she gave me a Progressive reloading press for Christmas, and I still use it. I love that press.”
Shooting range membership
“I’m an officer of the Western Montana Fish and Game Association, which owns and operates the Deer Creek Shooting Center out between East Missoula and Bonner. It’s one of the most well-developed shooting centers in the Northwest, and we’ve been known to do gift memberships. People who have firearms need a safe and suitable place to shoot.”
“If a lady has been hearing her husband say, “Gosh, I’d really like to have this particular garment,” well, that’s a good clue. Barring that, a lot of special fabrics have come out recently. A hunter wants something that’s not loud, visibly or audibly. That means you want to avoid the hard nylon stuff that’s going to zip and sing when you brush against anything. You want something with a soft contour and a soft color. We do have to wear orange in Montana, but most hunters prefer a camouflage orange.”
“For any gun owner who has several guns, a gun safe is always a good idea. Or never a bad idea, put it that way. We—and by ‘we’ I mean the Montana Shooting Sports Association, of which I am president— we estimate that between 90 and 95 percent of households in Montana contain firearms. And this is going to shock you: We estimate that the average number of guns per gun-owning household is 27. A gun safe is one thing I’d love to have, although I don’t expect it’s going to make it off my wish list this year.”
Play it safe Healthier toys for conscientious parents
Sheesh, could anything take the luster off Christmas morning faster than a mental image of wee ones ingesting chips of lead-based paint? Sorry to get all sanctimoniously parental on you, but China’s got enough of our business without us paying them to poison our kids to boot. Why not invest those dollars in a locally-made kid’s toy instead?
In this gift issue’s Lead-Free Toy Showcase, allow us to spotlight the work of Anna Rummel, who makes her own delightful felted-wool balls, dolls, farm animals, gnomes, crowns and toy pouches.
You can find Anna’s creations at Walking Stick Toys, which specializes in sustainably-produced silk, wool and wood playthings and also carries stuffed snakes made locally from recycled athletic gear and double-layered puzzles made by Puzzles Plus in Clancy, Montana.
Santa Rocks! Drop the needle on these seasonal faves
Few in Missoula—nay, on Earth—have explored the far-out sonic frontiers of outre music quite as assiduously as Poor School/Ex-Cocaine guitarist and Killer Tree Records nabob Bryan Ramirez. In lieu of the much-missed Christmas morning show Bryan and his wife Julie used to do for KBGA college radio, here he offers you some greatest hits from the Christmas novelty song playlist echoing endlessly in his head. iPods a-weigh!
Kurtis Blow “Christmas Rappin”
Original gangsta Kurtis Blow has a party on Christmas night when he hears some clatter on the roof, investigates to find out it’s Santa Claus, and decides to “let the sucka in.” Santa proceeds to bump and grind with all the fly ladies and in the end everyone gets presents. Word.
Star Wars Christmas “What Can You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)”
Nothing says “Merry Christmas, DWEEB!!!” like this 1980 tune. Chewbacca fulfills his contract with a couple of “Rawrs” ensuring an uncommonly high rate of listener nausea for a Christmas novelty song. When it’s time for the guests to leave, this is your ticket.
Cheech & Chong “Santa Claus and His Old Lady”
Original stoner bros tell their side of the Santa story. Supposedly, Santa’s originally from the projects, where he lived with a bunch of midgets. They get evicted and head north to start a commune. Meanwhile, Chong claims he’s played with “Santa Claus” at the Fillmore West. Possibly close to the truth.
The Sisterhood “Christmas Treat, Peppermint”
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, there were organizations that advertised in the back of magazines asking the public to send in their poems to be put to music. There are tons of these song-poems still in existence. The Sisterhood come off as warped Andrews Sisters set to a roller-rink organ. Everything seems innocent enough until the suggestive chorus of “I love my peppermint stick” drastically changes the mood, and all of a sudden it could easily fit in a David Lynch film. Or maybe you could strip to it.
Rod Rogers & The Librettos “Santa Claus Goes Modern”
“Santa Clause Goes Modern” goes sci-fi with strange lyrics about Santa trading in his sleigh for a UFO before taking a predictable turn into the pure nonsense. The icing on the fruitcake is the delivery from singer Rogers, aka Rod Keith, who sounds like he’s got a belly full of brandy mixed with horse tranquilizers.
Akim & Teddy Vann Production Company “Santa Claus is a Black Man”
This is actually a very sweet song sung by a 6 or 7-year-old. The child discovers that Santa looks awfully a lot like her very handsome Papa, leading to the revelatory truth that Santa Claus is indeed a black man. The most charming tune in this bunch.
The Youngsters “Christmas in Jail”
This ’50s R&B group sings about the sordid conclusion of the holiday celebration: getting stewed to the gills and arrested on Christmas Eve for driving under the influence. Technically this could be useful at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but the Youngsters sound like they’re having a good time singing it.
Little Marcy “Suzy Snowflake”
Marcy Tigner was a puppeteer and used the alter ago “Little Marcy” as a mouthpiece for Christ while singing in this squeaky li’l-girl voice, thus providing fodder for weirdo record collectors throughout the decades. This particular tune welcomes Suzy Snowflake into our winter wonderland and states all the great uses for the snowflake. Creepy.
Rudolph and The Gang “Here Comes Fatty Claus”
The opening line “Here comes Fatty with a sack of shit” indicates that this is best for when family and friends are already well-sauced on good cheer. “Fatty Claus” rallies an anti-consumer message: The wallet is empty, the credit cards are maxed. Bitter and funny enough to keep your mind off the pending bills.
Rufus Thomas “I’ll Be Your Santa, Baby”
DJ/Comedian/Stax soul superstar Rufus Thomas lays down a stone groove and alters perceptions of Santa with the opening line “I’ll slide down your chimney and bring you lots of joy—what I got for you mama, it ain’t just a toy.” Funky as they come and one of the coolest Christmas tunes ever recorded.
For the Truly Screwed A Christmas of convenience that starts at the checkout stand
Okay, it probably would never happen, but just imagine if it did. Imagine if you could only select your Christmas purchases from among the impulse items arrayed around the cash register at your local convenience store. Who gets the blue pickled egg? Whose face would light up at four jerky pucks? Studies suggest that women prefer blinky keychains to pickled eggs, and the odds of Christmas romance slightly favor men who refrain from gifting their spouses with jumper cables. As a purely intellectual exercise, though, let’s say it’s five minutes to Christmas morning and you’ve got five bucks.
Your special lady smokes. Or she’s into scented candles. Or she’s an arsonist. Whatever it is, honor her lifestyle choice with a lighter shaped like an axe, a hand grenade or a bag of golf clubs, and she’ll honor your thoughtfulness every time she feels like combining materials with oxygen.
Plastic toothpick in a metal tube
The display makes a common-sense case for your hard-earned impulse dollar: Wouldn’t one of these be handy? Who wouldn’t appreciate the pragmatism of a reusable plastic toothpick? It’s the ecologically progressive choice, what with all these self-styled environmentalists still thoughtlessly shattering whole pine forests every year just so they can pick seeds out of their teeth. Giving a reusable toothpick says you’re practical, down-to-earth and undeterred by what your girlfriend’s girlfriends might think of you.
Men are biologically hardwired to want to tear at smoked meat with their teeth. It’s a vestige of our mammoth-hunting past, and, whatever the ethical considerations, tearing at smoked texturalized vegetable protein is not the same thing. Not at all. So if you’ve got a meat-eating man on your list, chances are he’ll love five dollars’ worth of beef jerky. For vegetarians, five-pucks-for-a-buck jerky pucks are still great for dogs.