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The world’s best frame-up

June 1, 2012
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

One of the longest-running and most ridiculous arguments rages over the difference between arts and crafts.

Everyone weighs in on it; rails, rants and raves; offers all sorts of proof which is no proof at all and when the dust settles, that's all that's settled.

Let us begin: Most people agree that painting and poetry are arts, right?

Ah, not so fast, Bunkie.

If a painter paints lousy portraits, are they really "art"?

Or if a poet writes lousy poetry (which, quite frankly, most do, since what they write isn't even poetry, but vertically-aligned sentence) can anyone call that schlock "art"?

On the other hand, do we rank beautiful quilts, embroidery and blacksmithing as "mere" crafts because some putz with a paintbrush says so?

While this issue will never get settled, I can settle one aspect of it, which is this: Gift-giving is definitely an art. At least, artful gift-giving is. Any shmendrick can go out and buy a present. But to find the right present for the right person requires a perfect combination of factors. That's why I take it so seriously. This is also why I don't get presents for specific occasions, so much as for specific people.

Let me explain. I pay no attention to getting a gift for a holiday, birthday, anniversary, or the like. I used to, but when I did, I found I waited till the last minute and then rushed out and bought something, anything, just to be able to be Celebratorily Correct. The problem (which I realized then, but didn't have the guts to actually do anything about) was I was laying stuff on my friends they didn't really like, or maybe even hated. I was paying my respects to the calendar, not the person.

Finally, I evolved my current gifting mode, which has two parts.

One is, when I see something I know a friend will like, I'll get it and then immediately give it to them, holidays be damned.

The other is if I see something I think is really special, I'll get it. Then I wait till I find the perfect person to give it to. Sometimes I've held onto things for years before I found their perfect possessor.

I've been doing this for decades and am almost always confident about it. But there is one time when I'm not the least bit confident, and that's when I give something to someone I don't know well. This is exactly what happened last week with Bob and Louise Hammond.

Present with presents

Bob and Louise are summer residents who I met at the Blue Moon Cafe a few years ago. I think it started with mutual nods, then greetings, then after a couple of summers, actual conversations. We're the same age, have had some similar experiences, and share some values. Beyond that, I like them both. But do I know them? Good question. I do on some level, but do I know them well enough to give either one a gift? Only one way to find out, isn't there? And my trip to Denver two weeks ago presented the perfect opportunity.

One of my Denver pals is a great gal named Shy Hammond. By any measure, Shy is a colorful character, and not just because she's covered with a wild collection of tattoos. She's fun, funny, funky, has done all sorts of things and been all sorts of places, and no matter what she's doing, she's always doing a couple of other things, too and is in the middle of planning something else.

Her boyfriend Dan is her perfect complement. He, too, has been all around the mulberry bush, and while he's not her equal in the tattoo department, he's not suffering from ink deprivation either.

Both of them have had all kinds of businesses and as a result still have all sorts of goodies, which they hustle here and there. Their house is my kind of place - half Home Sweet Home, half Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, and while I was there something caught my attention. It was one of those old felt pennants that all of us had as kids. On them were the names and symbols of cities, colleges, tourist traps - you name it. This one was a West Point pennant from the '50s.

West Point? Immediately, I thought of Bob Hammond, who graduated from there in 1966.

I offered to buy it, but they gave it to me, which seemed an auspicious beginning in the gift-giving process. But worrier that I am, I started to fret over what Bob'd think of it.

I love old things; I also suffer from chronic sentimentality. But did Bob? I had no idea.

To a sentimentalist, the pennant could be a prize relic from a fondly-recalled, bygone era. To a realist, it might be an old, rather worn-looking bit of hokum. And to a hard-bitten cynic, it might be a ratty rag best thrown in the trash.

I emailed Bob from Denver, telling him I had a present for him, but didn't tell him what it was. On my third day back I ran into him and Louise in the Blue Moon.

The pennant was in a folder, which I handed to him and held my breath.

Things couldn't have turned out better, perhaps due to the back story behind it all.

In high school, Bob had collected pennants, among them a West Point one, all of which were now long gone. But there was a twist to this story that gave it - and the pennant - a special meaning.

One of Bob's classmates at West Point had also collected pennants as a kid, including one from West Point. But unlike all the other boy pennant collectors, he still had his, and he gave it to Bob's son (who also went to West Point) when Bob's grandson was born.

Bob's son liked the pennant so much he had it framed.

Bob, who's a pretty reserved guy, seemed truly pleased with the gift, and said he was going to frame my pennant too.

So I couldn't have been more delighted with the results: Either I'd found the perfect present for my friend, or my friend was the perfect person for the present.

And ultimately, it was the perfect ending for the whole adventure.



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