What can Santa pull from his bag this year to please those have-it-alls on your gift list? Do they really need still another mink-lined raincoat, backyard carrousel or set of matching camels?
Maybe the perfect present would be to smarten them up a bit: a lesson or lessons from a teacher highly regarded in his or her field.
Here's a sampler of well-known teachers who offer lessons in Southern California (with one exception). Some accept beginning students; other require that pupils be past the tyro stage. Fees range from a few dollars for a single lesson to thousands for a series.
Some of these teachers can recommend other instructors who might be better suited to a student geographically or in terms of his or her level of experience. Other ways to find teachers include asking at businesses that specialize in a particular area and checking the Yellow Pages.
Bonsai. Khan Komai, 98 S. Lima St., Sierra Madre, (818) 355-4612.
Bonsai, the art of dwarfing trees and shrubs in shallow pots by pruning, "provides an artistic release while working with nature," Komai says.
Formal displays and satsuki azaleas are specialties he lectures about throughout the United States and Australia. In addition, Komai has taught bonsai classes at the Los Angeles Arboretum and Cal Poly Pomona.
Eight lessons of two hours each for beginning through advanced students are available at Komai's studio for $60.
Komai says a student needn't be a Zen master but that he does look for pupils who enjoy a feeling of being at one with nature.
High-performance driving. Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, Sears Point Raceway, California 121 and California 37, Sonoma, Calif., (707) 938-4741.
A fleet of 72 cars, a skid pad the size of a football field and an accident simulator are part of what will justify the long trip to this school north of San Francisco.
The small classes include one-day advanced street driving, which teaches basic car control, evasive maneuvers and skid control ($325, driving your own car), and a four-day Grand Prix competition road-racing class (in a school car), which features 19 1/2 hours on a full track ($1,995). The latter class earns you a novice's permit from International Motor Sports Assn. and fulfills half the requirements toward a Sports Car Club of America license. The full license allows you to race in SCCA events.
Three or four days' training exclusively with Bondurant runs $1,200 per day.
Students must have a valid driver's license and at least six months' driving experience.
Rusty Wallace, 1987 Winston Western 500 winner, told a Times reporter last month: "I guess I owe a lot to Bob Bondurant. I went to his school up at Sears Point in 1984 and found out how little I knew about road racing."
Fly fishing. Jerry Bliss, 8476 Hollister St., Ventura, Calif., (805) 642-4359.
Ever try to lure a rainbow trout or sockeye salmon from a river or stream and come up empty-handed? Bliss, 60, international director of the Federation of Fly Fishers, has been fishing since he was 7, and he says, "Presenting the fly is everything. But to present the fly, you have to be able to cast."
The federation's 1987 Man of the Year, Bliss recently taught classes on casting, stream reading and knot tying at Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and the Mulchatna River in Alaska.
He also teaches at Ventura College (Community Services, 4667 Telegraph Road, Ventura, (805) 654-6459). A $60 series of four Saturday lessons beginning Feb. 20 includes classroom instruction and practice casting, first on a lawn, then on water.
Fly Fishing Weekend: orientation Jan. 9 with field trip Jan. 16 and 17, $50. Individual instruction can be arranged for $20 an hour.
Chess. Matthew Beelby, Chess Computers and Games, 911 E. Walnut St., Pasadena, (818) 440-9210.
"A good chess player is anyone who loves the game, has an innate interest in thinking and an artistic taste for creating," says Beelby.
A "life chess master" rated in the top 1% nationally by the U.S. Chess Federation, this former member of the board of directors of the Southern California Chess Federation has been playing tournament chess for more than 15 years and has won the San Gabriel Valley Chess Championship, in addition to winning the Isaac Kashdan Tribute Tournament for chess masters.
"As a teacher, I'm very conscious of my student's strengths and weaknesses. . . . I look for students who control their emotions and who have a strong desire to win," he says.
Private lessons for amateurs or more experienced players are about $25 per hour.