David Bruce: Gifts Anecdotes

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Young people’s author Jon Scieszka used to get bad birthday presents because his birthday was about the time that he had to go back to school after summer vacation. His presents were things like socks and stuff that he would need for school. But he admits that he and his five brothers gave even worse presents to their parents. For example, their father’s birthday was on Christmas Eve, so on his birthday they would give him a salt shaker and on Christmas they would give him a pepper shaker. Or they would give him one cuff link on Christmas Eve and the other cuff link on Christmas. Their mother’s birthday was in the summer, and they would buy for her the shiniest necklace or bracelet they could get for $1.50 at the drugstore. Funny thing, though: Although she always seemed appreciative to get jewelry from her boys on her birthday, she never seemed to actually wear the jewelry. And she never actually used the $1.50 perfume they sometimes bought her. One day, Jon and his brother Jim noticed a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee in the drugstore. Jim said, “This is amazing.” Jon said, “We could really use one of those.” Jim said, “Let’s get it for Mom.” And so the boys started to get their mother things that they wanted. This was a win-win situation. The boys got to play with their gifts to their mother, and their mother was secretly relieved not to get gifts of $1.50 jewelry and $1.50 perfume.

Early in their career, the Spice Girls demanded — and got — attention. Sometimes, they roller-bladed — without an invitation — into the offices of music executives. They also crashed music-industry parties. Ashley Newton, an executive for Virgin Records, remembers, “I’ll never forget the day they burst in here. They caused such a commotion, doing a mad routine in the office, all talking at once and being funny.” The Spice Girls signed with Virgin Records and soon sold millions of records. After they signed with Virgin Records, the Spice Girls threw a party for all of their parents as a way of thanking them for being supportive in the days before they learned their art. And when the Spice Girls met to record “Love Thing,” Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell gave all of her fellow Spice Girls gold rings inscribed with the word “Spice.”

Jazz bassist Milt Hinton was in Moscow when a Russian man approached him in the street and told him, “I am a member of the Lester Young fan club in Moscow.” He then gave Mr. Hinton a button bearing a photo of Mr. Young, a famous jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist who was often called “Prez” by his friends. Mr. Hinton is a photographer as well as a jazz musician, and he was carrying a number of his photographs. He had a photograph of Mr. Young, and he gave it to the Lester Young fan. Mr. Hinton says, “He stared at the picture for 10 or 15 seconds, shaking his head from side to side. There were tears in his eyes. Then he grabbed me and gave me a hug. I’d never heard of a Lester Young fan club in the United States, but there I was in the middle of Moscow, hearing about a group dedicated to Prez’s music. The whole scene was absolutely beautiful.”

Guardian columnist Leo Hickman once made a list of 10 things that he could not live without. They include a toothbrush, a mobile phone, and a Swiss army penknife. However, the most valuable thing that he owns and cannot live without happens to be a gift. He writes, “I’m a shameless Prince fan, and I would rather rub swine flu in my eyes than be forced to give up the plectrum the world’s greatest performer handed to me during a gig when I was 14 years old. This, then, is my most treasured possession of all.” By the way, a spectrum is a device for plucking the strings of a musical instrument such as a guitar.

Frank Sinatra spent money freely. A valet once brought him his car, and Frank asked him what had been the biggest tip he had ever received. The valet replied that it had been $100. Frank gave him a $200 tip, and then he asked the valet who had given him the $100 tip. The valet replied, “You did, sir. Last week.” Sammy Davis, Jr., imitated Frank’s free-spending ways, with the result that he met with an accountant, who advised him to cut down on his expenses or face financial ruin. The next day, Sammy sent the accountant a gift: a gold Cartier cigarette case inscribed, “Thanks for the advice.”

When poet Pablo Neruda was a small child, he was playing in his backyard when a child reached through a hole in the wooden fence and gave him a present: a small toy lamb. Young Pablo quickly retrieved a favorite possession — a pinecone — and presented it to the child, whom he could not see, on the other side of the fence. The adult Mr. Neruda believed that “maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and inexhaustible, giving my poetry light.” In 1971, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Frederick Varley was a good artist and a kind man. When famed photographer Yousuf Karsh was taking Mr. Varley’s portrait, Mr. Karsh’s second wife, Estrellita, looked through a pile of his works of art. She was impressed by a drawing that he had made — it was “only a spontaneous quick sketch and yet vividly alive.” Mr. Varley gave it to her, and the Karshes hung it in their home.

In 1980, the parents of Plácido Domingo celebrated their 40th anniversary. He invited them to attend Mass with him in a church in Mexico City, but when they arrived they found many friends and relatives there, as well as a symphony orchestra, which provided the music as their famous son sang for them.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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