Among the many great holiday traditions in the Cerf family is a contest to see who can come up with the most ingenius gift for another family member at Christmas.
This is not a greedfest. The most expensive gift rarely wins. Hard-to-find and/or extremely clever often carry the day. The competition is fierce but loving, as we’re all going out of our way to find something the others will truely cherish. Some years are better than others, and there is no shame in average gifts. And in other years, average gifts are presented in such a way that trumps the gift itself.
When roughly 15 years ago my sister, dad and I all wanted the video tape of “L.A. Confidential,” instead of buying three copies, Mom gave us one copy held in a trust known as a tontine. The contract of her tontine was hilarious and not one of us can claim ownership of the movie until the other 2 are dead. (All three of us still have a working VCR.Â I told you the competition is fierce in my family.)
To be a true Cerf, you must have a thick skin and dark sense of humor.
When Christmas rolled around last year, I was at a total loss as to what to get my father for the holiday. Mostly, we had spent the better part of the six months leading up to it arguing about movies and movie stars.
The biggest battle was over the merits of going to see the film “Life of Pi.”
Me: That looks like it’ll be the most boring movie ever made.
Dad: Are you kidding?! It has a guy, and he’s trapped on a boat with a tiger. A tiger!
Me: Clearly, as a feature-length film, the tiger isn’t going to eat the guy. So you’re going to spend 90 minutes staring at a guy on a boat with a tiger doing nothing. It isn’t even a real tiger.
Dad: But it has a tiger in it! Guy, boat, TIGER. What don’t you get? It is going to be amazing.
Me: If you want to watch tigers so badly why don’t watch Animal Planet. They have tons of tiger specials. And they are real tigers.
Dad: But this is a movieâ€¦with a tiger in it.
This conversation could drag on for hours. So let me inter splice a different differing conversation.
Me: I just watched the world’s longest, most boring movie called “Far From the Madding Crowd.”
Dad: With Julie Cristie?
Me: Yeah, some bland blonde chick? It was made in the 1960s. It is 3 hours of nobody doing anything in some small farming village in England.
Dad: Bland?! Julie Christie was the most beautiful woman ever filmed.
Me: It isn’t like she got naked or anything. And even if she did, it wouldn’t have improved the 3 hours of my life that were wasted.
Dad: Who cares if she got naked. She’s beautiful.
Me: She didn’t do anything for 3 hours, except pine away for some lying, cheating lover.
Dad: But it is Julie Christie. She was also in “Dr. Zhivago.”
Me: She was Lara, right?
Dad: Yeah, and she was stunning.
Me: She was boring in that, too. She was only vaguely interested in Omar Shariff who ends up divorcing his arguably more beautiful, and certainly more lively and engaging, wife played by Geraldine Chaplin. I’d run off with Chaplin’s character in a heartbeat. Julie Christie was just kinda blah. Pretty for a one-night stand, maybe. But she’s got no anima.
Dad: What?! How can you say that? You’re not my son. She’s Julie Christie.
Me: This coming from a man who just wants sit in a theater staring at a CGI tiger for 90 minutes
Dad: [Gives a strangled scream of exasperated frustration]
And now you ask: You guys argued over that for 6 months?
To which my dad and I proudly reply: You’re not a Cerf.
Nevertheless, I was wracking my brains trying to figure out what to get Dad last year when inspiration struck. It required the help of my graphic designer friend Paul Szymczak, but it was the best gift I had given my old man in a good 20 years.
I simply gave him a movie poster.I had it framed. When my dad unwrapped his gift he looked at it with puzzlement for one whole second when I shouted out: “It’s a girl! In a car! With a tiger!”
Then he laughed and laughed. The poster now hangs in the hallway of my parents’ house, and my dad is still laughing at it.
May you find such joy in all of your gift giving this year
Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas
P.S. I finally watched “Life of Pi” with my dad, and it was way better than a Julie Christie movie.
P.P.S. Just this past weekend Dad asks, “Do you want to go see ‘All is Lost’ with me. It stars Robert Redford.”
Me: Not this again.
Me: Its a guy. On a boat. No tiger.