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MANY UNHAPPY RETURNS? WHY NOT KEEP THE STUFF AND ENJOY IT?

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Now that Christmas is officially over, and we are all sitting around on "Boxing Day," that great British tradition, wondering how we can take back the most obnoxious of our gifts, we can reflect on the funniest ones at the same time.

In association with the George Gallup organization, American Express Gift cheques last month surveyed 1,000 men and women across America to get the answer to one trivial question: "What is the funniest holiday gift you have ever received?"The grand prize winner, who received $1,000 in American Express Gift Cheques, was Christopher Connell, 31, a truck driver from Havertown, Pa., who received a huge box of "all the stuff I left at home when I got married" from his mom. The contents included old track shoes, boy scout medals and high school textbooks.

Comedian Garry Shandling reacted this way: "As a matter of fact, this year I gave MY mother a box of all the stuff I stole from home when I moved out."

The First Prize winner ($500 in American Express Gift Cheques) was Laurel Rosenberg, 36, an actress from Canoga Park, Calif., who was sleeping on a park bench when she was awakened by the roar of her Hannukah gift, an enormous pink motorcycle (Harley Davidson).

Runners-up, individuals who received $100 in American Express Gift Cheques, included Mark Scheler, 29, a foundry worker from Battleground, Wash., who got his wife for Christmas two years ago. He thinks it was a "good gift," and wants a metric tool set this year.

Joseph DiRocco, 39, a city worker from Brooklyn, N.Y., was presented with his "dream date," the niece of the waitress at his favorite restaurant. "We went out a few times," he says, "but I didn't get to keep the gift."

Christine Richie, 33, a housewife from Leslie, Ark., got a hot-dog warmer from her brother, although she doesn't really like hot dogs. Her mother uses it to cook up a few "dogs" every now and then.

Karen Koch, 42, a homemaker from Cincinnati, Ohio, plucked a bright red nosewarmer from a Grab Bag. It tied behind the ears, making it easy to put on.

Joy Robbins, 39, a homemaker from Arvada, Col., got a big pine cone in the shape of a giant mosquito. It may be the only mosquito on display in a Colorado living room.

George Lillard, 19, a handyman from Sutherlan, Ore., received a box of empty lighters for Christmas from his family, a reference, he believes, to his habit of keeping working lighters in the pockets of his clothing.

Susan Montoya, 45, Pear Blossom, Calif., a fast-food restaurant manager, got some racy underwear sealed in a big tin can for Christmas from an old boyfriend. She's married now, but not to him.

Antonio Vieira, 43, a correction officer from Clark, N.J., got underwear with little Santa Claus faces on it for Christmas from his sister. "I wore them on Christmas Day," he says, "over my pants."

Rhonda Malhotra, 33, a receptionist at a TV station in Baltimore, received a red and black checkerboard stuffed frog from her mother for Christmas. "I still have it," she says "though I'm not sure why."

Finally, our own Jack Weaver, 35, a truck driver from West Valley City, Utah, got a ceramic figurine of four monkeys: Hear No Evil; Speak No Evil; See No Evil; Have No Fun. "An old girlfriend gave it to me," he says. "I didn't marry her."

So how did YOU do? Maybe now that you have seen how badly all these people did, you will feel guilty about your festering urge to get rid of your own funny gifts. Maybe you will decide to keep them and give up that fruitless mall expedition for returns.

Keep the checkered bow tie. It might come back in. Hang on to that brass sword. Maybe you'll get a stone next year. And don't give up the little book that teaches you how to get a flat stomach for the 90's. It will bear fruit. As for the purple socks - why not? Great ice-breaker at a party and a way to cultivate attention at the office.

Things could be worse. You could have all those American Express Gift Cheques to get rid of.