'Twas the night before ...

A procrastinator's guide to the holidays

Here in the Bay area, we don't exactly have a profusion of around-the-clock shopping destinations. That's more of a big city thing, and sadly, we just haven't arrived there yet.

This can be a bitch come holiday season, especially for those of us who push off gift buying until the absolute last minute. We are the few, the proud, the ... procrastinators.

Call us selfish — we've heard that one before. Tell us we're just bad at time management. We know. You can even brand us lackadaisical, though we might not know what that means, and indeed, it'd probably take us a while to find a dictionary. Just don't call us uninventive. That's what this list, affectionately known as the Procrastinator's Guide to Holiday Shopping, is about. By the way, all you procrastinators are pretty much in the same boat this year. Chanukah begins at sundown on Dec. 25; Kwanzaa starts on Dec. 26.

• Buy booze from a bar. It's late. You've been trolling city streets, hoping your car will turn into a DeLorean and magically whisk you back two weeks. Short of that happening, you're stuck with the cold reality of your own shitty, procrastinating existence. So do what so many other self-loathing bastards do, and go to a bar. But don't drink there (well, maybe one or two); remember, you're on a mission. Buy a bottle. Go highbrow and splurge on a couple liters of Grey Goose. Or appeal to loved ones' lower standards and grab a fifth of rotgut (Early Times if they have it). Whatever you get, just make sure you get something. The Holidays are depending on it.

• Make Something. There's no inspiration like a deadline. Where the rubber meets the road, push comes to shove, when the going gets tough (enough with the clichés, awready), you get creative. Find an old sheet of iron-on lettering and make a holiday-themed T-shirt. Take assorted small crap (a nonfunctional old cell phone, for example), affix a bent paper clip and — voila — you have a quirky little Christmas tree ornament. Got the concept? Good. Now heat up your hot glue gun and get to work.

• Breakfast from Waffle House/Dinner from a Chinese Restaurant. This won't completely save the Holiday, but it'll help salve the wounds your procrastination has inflicted. Nine times out of 10, when my kittens cry, a good dose of attention and food will shut them up. People aren't too different. What's more, if they're eating, their mouths are too full to complain about your wayward ways.

• Gas. Give the gift that keeps on giv... wait. Gas doesn't keep on giving anything. It keeps on giving the need for more gas! With that in mind, you know that someone will appreciate this. It's unsentimental, sure, and it's not exactly the kind of gift that loved ones can show off to their friends. But come the night before (or day of), your local gas station is one place you'll know is still open. While you're there, pick up a little something extra — a toy, a deck of cards or even one of those horrifically tacky fake roses (the light-up kind, if available).

• Cash. Who doesn't like money? True, it's no substitute for thoughtful, personalized treasures your family and friends so richly deserve. But it's at least a step in the right direction. And it's money.

• Regifting. Don't act like you've never heard of it. You've done it. We've all done it. But don't be ashamed; like an old country slaughterhouse that specializes in deer meat ("Aw, Bambi!"), this too is a nasty venture that nevertheless serves a very practical purpose. Not to mention a dual purpose — by regifting, you're bypassing the whole yard sale/thrift store route by donating goods directly. Kind of like your own disaster relief effort. But with wrapping paper.

• Something from Wal-Mart. OK, so one of the commandments of alterna-journalism is Thou Shalt Not Support Wal-Mart. Here's a secret: even Planet staffers sometimes use the world's largest retailer, if only on Dec. 24. Wal-Mart's like that grade school bully with the hot sister — you have to put your good taste and moral superiority aside and make friends if you're going to get what you're after.

This is your trump card. You can seriously find anything here. There's no need to go into details — even the most tree-huggiest of all consumers have walked its hallowed aisles, with floors so shiny that they resemble freshly zambonied ice. (Damn, did I just used the word zamboni — as a verb?)

I digress. Aside from its obvious charms, Wal-Mart has the added bonus of efficiency. Since every store's laid out the same (with possible exceptions — and no, I haven't been in every Wal-Mart on earth, so don't hold me to that), you know exactly where to find any stocking stuffer with unrivaled speediness. Which, when you're playing last-minute Santa, is pretty damned important.

(Another digression: I made my first Jewish friend back in late 2002 while living in Christian County, Ky. Excited about this cross-cultural experience, I strolled into Wal-Mart looking for a Chanukah card. There were none. Dejected, I bought some canned spaghetti for myself instead.)

• Blame it on the U.S. Postal Service. "But I swear, I bought you this [insert cool gift] on eBay, and I guess it got lost in the mail, and...." This is truly your last option.

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