Avoiding Xmas bling bling

Ah, it’s that time once again — ’tis the season to fork over ungodly amounts of cash for chintzy trinkets that allegedly represent our priceless affection for our loved ones. I’m sure you’ve heard more than one bitter, jaded neo-hippie froth at the mouth with a diatribe about how the holiday season has devolved into an orgy of corporate, big-money propaganda — or, as I like to call it, the phenomenon of “Xmas bling bling.” So I’ll spare you a lecture, and instead offer a few local, grassroots, inexpensive suggestions to help guide you through the onerous task of gift-giving — without buckling to the evil corporate conglomerate of Xmas, Inc.

Support Mom & Pop businesses

One of the best ways to avoid impersonal gifts is to create them with your own two hands. But not all of us can channel the spirit of that lovable white-collar scamster Martha Stewart. So, if you’re completely inept at wielding a glue gun, why not patronize a small, independent business instead of a corporate chain?

Music is always a sure bet when it comes to gifts for the impossible-to-shop-for person. But most chain music stores bend you over the counter and violate your wallet in unspeakable ways; add on the rude teenage sales staff, the mazelike rows of aisles and all the other cutthroat shoppers milling about, and a trip to Hades looks more appealing. So check out the few remaining independent music stores that haven’t been pushed out of business by the megachains.

East Alley Records in Rochester carries most popular Top-40 albums to satiate your prepubescent nieces and nephews, but the store’s real niche is hard-to-find British and German imports of electronic, indie and goth/industrial music. Owner Bill Paskins reports some loyal patrons drive from as far as Ann Arbor. It’s a good one-stop shop to pick up both popular albums and rare finds. Swing by 336-B Main St., Rochester, call 248-656-5003 or surf to www.eastalleyrecords.com.

For those on a budget, Encore Records of Ann Arbor is your savior. The tiny store is jammed to the bursting point with used CDs, LPs and cassettes. (Yes, some people still actually listen to them.) The staff is knowledgeable and helpful (what a novel concept!), and offers a good deal if you’d like to sell or swap the shitty CDs you received from Grandma for Christmas. One man’s Britney is another man’s Nick Cave. Visit Encore Records at 417 E. Liberty St., call 734-662-6776 or click on www.encore-rec.com.

Looking for more than just music? Forget Borders! After all, in 1996 the company fired employee Miriam Fried after she attempted to organize a union for her co-workers, and then banned Michael Moore from speaking at the chain after he showed support for Fried’s case.

If you’ve got a social conscience, why not try Idle Kids Books & Records, a great store run by real-life, huggable, lovable anarchists? Not just a store, Idle Kids is truly dedicated to helping the community and arts; it offers DIY info and tools for upstarts looking to create their own zines, has space for artist workshops, and provides information on the group Food Not Bombs, which collects to-be-discarded food and turns it into vegetarian feasts open to the public. You probably won’t be able to find Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits, but Idle Kids has an interesting selection of independent music and books, underground zines, T-shirts, stickers and more — perfect for the progressive thinker on your gift list. They’re in the heart of the Cass Corridor at 3535 Cass Ave.; call 313-872-7730 or scope them online at www.idlekids.com.

For the women on your gift list, it’s easy to wipe them all out in one fell swoop with a single trip to Bath & Bodyworks. But why should your hard-earned dime go to profit some fat-cat CEO? Indulge instead in handmade bath products like the ones found at 5th Element Products in Oxford. Each bar of soap is handcrafted by proprietress Debra Chaffins, who uses a variety of herbal ingredients and essential oils to create a fragrant and soothing bathing experience. Chaffins, an expert herbologist, creates the recipes for all of her products, which include lip balms, bath salts, massage oils and more. Pamper yourself or your loved ones, while simultaneously supporting an independent businesswoman who marches to the beat of a different drummer. Chat with Chaffins in person at 33 N. Washington, Oxford, call 248-628-5858 or surf to www.5thelement.com.

When it comes to funky, punky alternatives for the Marilyn Manson-loving, black-lipstick-wearing teen in your life, it’s tempting to simply pop into Hot Topic and be done with it. But why not let your rebellious young loved one truly explore individuality, with original gifts from Henrietta Fahrenheit in Ypsilanti? The one-of-a-kind boutique has a continuously rotating stock of cute trinkets, bizarre purses and creative clothing from indie designers from across the country. Expect everything from cuddly plush devil monsters to T-shirts that query W.W.J.J.D. (What Would Joan Jett Do?). Call 734-484-3833, surf to www.henriettafahrenheit.com or visit 126 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Ypsilanti. Please don’t let the fact that the Freep has christened Ypsi a “cool city” deter you.

Hold a potluck dinner party for your loser, er, lonely friends

Instead of gifts, why not throw a party for your pals? You know, not everyone has a family to love them during the holidays, you insensitive jerk. Instead of heartlessly rubbing salt in your friends’ wounds with a shallow, prefab Hallmark card, fill their bellies with home-cooked food and booze. And your pals who do have family may not want to spend more than five minutes with them, so you’ll be providing a safe haven from Aunt Maggie’s relentless inquiries as to when you’re going to grow up and get a real job. If you can’t cook, a potluck party is perfectly acceptable — and a bonus if you’re dirt-poor.

To make things interesting, add a unique twist. One year, I attended a “found item” holiday gift party, thrown by a couple of lovable miscreants. The idea was to bring a wrapped gift to the party that you made yourself — constructed only of found items that you came across en route to the party. And no cheating! Once the guests arrived, names were drawn for a gift exchange.

I received a beauteous rendering of Michelangelo’s David — sculpted from rocks and a piece of used chewing gum, wrapped in tattered newspaper. I treasure it to this day.

Donate to a charity in the name of your loved one

Truly the gift that keeps on giving — instead of purchasing a physical gift that will no doubt get broken or lost, why not make a donation to your loved one’s favorite charity in their name? It’s perfect for a social activist, an animal lover, or the person who already has everything. If your giftee doesn’t have a favorite charity that you know of, pick a charity that caters to one of their favorite hobbies or passions; for a teacher, donate to an education fund; for an arts lover, donate to the National Endowment for the Arts. And if someone has lost a loved one to an illness, considering making a donation to a charity that combats that disease.


Check out more Holiday Survival Guide stories:

Family matters
Surviving the gatherings of the clan.

Season for sharing
How to help those in need survive the holidays.

Giving on the cheap
Or should we say "inexpensive?"

Pass (on) the stuffing
Ways to keep the holidays from becoming too weighty.

Blue for Christmas
How to battle the holiday blahs.

Presents from tinsel town
What would the season be without its flicks?

Jingle boots
A gift guide to underground recordings.

Oh, holy naught
This year's Xmas sounds like the hour 13 lineup on the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

Overcoming hangovers
A dilettante's guide to holiday imbibing.

Silent night, sober night
How to stay on the wagon.

Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected].
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