Playboy, Creed, and Captain D's

While we’re on the subject of crappy gifts, I’d like to talk about high school graduation.

Yes, this august time of the year, in late May or early June for most schools, is a time of transition, an end of curfews, a temporary season for making big mistakes with boyfriends and girlfriends heading off to other colleges at the end of the summer. If your loins are burning, it must be love.

The sky rained monogrammed towels, Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go, mass-produced journals from Borders, leather wallets, shower caddies full of cleaning supplies, bodywash, and loofahs, and, of course, hammers and screwdrivers.

You feel hope burgeoning inside of you: you will soon be free of your parents’ clutches. No more probing questions like, “What time will you be home?” and “Who is going to be there?” No more criticism for too much cleavage or midriff showing. No more pesky parents or older brothers of voluptuous young women to deal with. Only the good stuff—ill-fated romance, substance abuse, and general mediocrity.

High school graduation is a time for ugly tattoos and regrettable piercings, tassels hanging from rearview mirrors and overpriced class rings finally put where they belong—in a dresser drawer.

Three of my friends and I bought an ’88 Volkswagen Golf and used it to run over people’s bagged leaves and For Sale signs.

My girlfriend and I made the imprudent decision to stay together over the summer. There’s nothing like accumulating three more months of sweet memories, only to break up only seven hours before she left for Clemson. I’d recommend it.

My favorite memory by far, however, is the gift that I received from my grandma.

She loves to write letters, and in her familiar cursive, I read those cringe-worthy words:

“I saw this, and I thought of you.”

She’d ordered from one of those glossy Franklin Mint inserts in the Sunday paper. I’m pretty sure that the same company that took her money is the one flooding the market with commemorative plates and spoons, the kind that gather dust in glass cases. She hoped I liked it.

“This” was a pocket watch.

A bit impractical but cool nonetheless, you’re thinking.

I’d have been inclined to agree with you if the pocket watch weren’t made of imitation gold. On the front of the case was a lacquered Confederate flag. The watch face itself was a colored etching of General Robert E. Lee in a three-quarters view. His face was pensive, still smarting from the loss.

I was never one to call the Civil War, the “War of Northern Aggression,” or one to defend my freedom to fly the rebel flag, claiming, “It’s heritage, not hate.”

What heritage are we defending? A way of life built around oppression, exploitation, racism, and hate? An economy dependent upon slave labor?

No, thank you.

Racism, prejudice, and bigotry are too resilient to need any encouragement. I am suspicious that they still lurk somewhere in my subconscious. I don’t want to be racist, but passing a man with dark skin on a dark street in a bad part of town, I have felt my heartrate increase, my hand brush across my wallet in my back pocket, my awareness sharpen in preparation for what?

Unfortunately, yes. Racism is malaria. When our immune system weakens, it rears its ugly head. When the right circumstances strip away the trappings of my education, political correctness, or empathy, I make judgments based on skin pigmentation.

I thanked Grandma for the watch and hid it in a dresser drawer. The summer after my senior year of college, I sold it for $25 on eBay to a guy in the U.K.

What did he want with it?

Crappy gifts cause us to wonder, if only for a moment, what their givers see in us. Something we’d rather not be there?

Pocket watch with a confederate flag. Do I come across as a person who is very proud of my Southern heritage? I love sweet tea and the vegetables with all that brown sugar, bacon, and butter. Is that the same thing as hating black people? I sure hope not.

Please no one give me a subscription to Playboy or a Creed album or a gift certificate to Captain D’s. My self-respect couldn’t take it.

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