The Thought That Counts

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I hate to ruin the surprise, especially after the fact, but here it is, for all the world to learn including perhaps my niece: her uncle is technologically inept.

Probably not this year, but in every year past, we who work at Pat’s Screen Printing may perhaps make the tiniest bit of fun of our customers who get taken by surprise by the Fourth of July. The date is right there in the name of the holiday, so it should come as no shock that it’s time for the biggest holiday in Crested Butte, but it always seems to, for a whole bunch of our customers who need shirts for the holiday and need them right now. How did they not know this was coming up?

Even though hypocrisy seems to be an ingrained part of human nature, I should never, ever — ever — make fun of anyone for not being prepared for an upcoming event. I am so rarely prepared ahead of time for any event.

I scramble for commemorative cards, never mind gifts, for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Fourth of July  . . . okay, no one gets Fourth cards or presents. In fact, my brother-in-law Don generally gets nothing at all, because he inconveniently scheduled his birthday right in the thick of the busiest two weeks of the year at Pat’s. Maybe this year he’ll finally get some giant gift to make up for all the years that have come before. Maybe.

But for one small moment this year I thought I might be on top of it. It was a small moment, and it didn’t last, but I did have that thought, and I always hear it’s the thought that counts, right?

As with perhaps every being on the planet, my niece Ellie’s year is not going as planned. It started with great excitement: for the second semester of her junior year at the University of Colorado, she was going to study abroad. Paris — she was off to Paris, with plans for trips to other parts of Europe.

For Christmas I bought her a gift certificate to Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookstore on the bank of the Seine that’s been around for 100 years. Ellie was very appreciative and had a fun outing to the store, where she bought some Gloria Steinem books.

And then the world changed. The university (CU rather than UC, don’t ask me, a proud alum, why) recalled students from Italy and Spain but offered no guidance to students elsewhere. My sister and my mom made the nervous decision to pull Ellie home, paying almost $900 for a ticket change in what proved to be decisive timing. Airports started shutting down shortly thereafter, and Ellie might have been trapped in a small Parisian apartment, perhaps even still.

Instead, she came home to her apartment in Boulder, where she worked on her studies but got laid off from her job. And I got my first inkling of the technological failures awaiting me.

We tried a family Zoom. While we now know it was a failure of machinery, we were all quick to assume human error as Lynn and I couldn’t be heard by anyone else. So the two of us and my sister Terri were fussing with technology as Ellie talked about her time in Paris and went to great pains to show off the treasures she found at the bookstore. I missed most of it.

One day a couple three weeks ago I was listening to Colorado Public Radio as it presented George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.” I’m not a tremendous Gershwin fan — too jazzy for my taste — but this piece, which I’d never consciously heard, sounded fun, and it made me think of Ellie.

Here’s what you should know about Ellie: while I’m pretty sure I was at her second birthday just last year, two days ago she became an official adult. Twenty-one. Believe it or not, because I don’t.

So. Weeks ahead of her birthday, and I located, out of the rhapsodic blue, a gift. I have absolutely no idea what kind of music Ellie likes (if I’d been buying her books, I would have never guessed Gloria Steinem), but I thought it was worth a shot.

But. It turns out, I have absolutely no idea how to go about buying music in a modern world. And neither does anyone else.

In the good old days, this would have been easy: I would have gone to a record store, either Kent’s or Jeff’s, and if I couldn’t find what I wanted, they would order it, and if I gave them two weeks’ notice, it could arrive on time. Even in the old days of CDs, I could do something similar, although by that point Jeff was moving on to lumber and Kent was going to audio-visual systems and instrument sales, so I probably would have had to find an independent seller elsewhere.

But now I don’t really know what to do. And no one around me has been helpful.

I can’t tell you how many people have suggested a iTunes card, but how exactly is that Gershwin? “Here, Ellie, is money: I’d like you to buy this specific song with it, even if you don’t want it.” I mean, she’s polite enough that she would tell me that’s what she’d buy, even as she was instead acquiring feminist power chants by Ms. Steinem. (Who I believe is the one who coined “Ms.”, isn’t she?)

There’s every chance in the world Ellie won’t want this music, but hopefully she would at least appreciate that I thought about it at little (the thought that counts, remember?) rather than just defaulting to our family standard of everyone passing a gift card to the right.

What I want is to give her, in some form, the music itself. An American in Paris. That’s what I want to give her. Not an iTunes card. But it turns out, that’s all anyone knows what to do: shop at iTunes, or illegally download.

I even tried going to iTunes. I don’t think I made it there — I was somewhere in the Apple realm, and found assurances that I could have 600 million songs at my fingertips, but I couldn’t get the search feature to work and it was all way too sleek and technologic for me.

So I defaulted to where the entire world ends up these days, at Amazon, where I can still find CDs and MP3 files. But I don’t know if I buy the MP3 file if it will end up on my computer with no way to send it to Ellie. And I don’t understand this: the Great Performances album that’s no longer an album I found that I would like to gift her, featuring Leonard Bernstein and Andre Previn, offers a not-very-expensive price for the MP3, but apparently a lesser price for both the CD and MP3 file, with a little arrow that says “auto-rip.”

Perhaps you noticed up above that I said Ellie has already turned 21, so either I’m burning daylight with every delay, or this will have to become her Fourth of July gift. And, if she gets around to reading this, which probably won’t happen but could, there will be no surprise left at all.

Just me and a handful of empty air: Here. I meant this to be a gift to remind you of your shortened semester as you were setting out to explore the world, to say how exciting it is to see the independent woman you have become, admiring of your admiration for the women before you who have tackled the challenge of inequality, how very proud I am to be your uncle.

I’m almost sure it’s the thought that counts.


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