A class at Oxnard College shows that no one needs to put up with a bum wrap.
It's the thought that counts, of course, not the crinkled corners and the exposed Scotch tape. But over these last few busy years, the packaging on your outgoing Christmas gifts has begun to slip out of control. Shoe boxes swathed in Sunday comics. Department store wrap jobs blemished with labels and logos. Books in bags.
You really do care. You just lack that particular mixture of patience, holiday wiles and hand-eye coordination that makes a pretty present. And that's why you resolved to spend five hours at Oxnard College, learning the fine art of gift-wrapping.
"We're going to let our imaginations soar," said instructor Anita Dean, flanked by an array of ribbons, bows and wrapping paper. "Everyone's creation will be their own."
In the corner, Dean's display of model packages shimmered with possibilities: frilly bows, daring colors, reusable boxes. Out in the seats sat a dozen of you, 12 to 50, all female but one. As instructed, each had two unwrapped gifts, a pair of scissors and a little money.
The fee for the onetime class, through Oxnard College's community services department, was $20, plus $4 for materials. Dean, who works on weekdays in the college's purchasing and accounting department, said the fees just cover expenses--a convincing claim, given the gift dressings about the room.
First she ran down some simple tips:
* For a modern look, some people use white butcher paper with colorful adornments.
* At least one company has started printing wrapping paper with graph lines on the back, a handy aid for measuring and reckoning lines.
* Several companies now print paper with patterns on both sides, thereby providing flexibility in folding.
* If you need it, you can often get water-resistant wrapping paper through florists.
* If you want to recycle, you need not trust friends and family to carefully open presents and save the paper. Instead, put your gifts in boxes with lids, and wrap the boxes and lids independently. You have a gift box that can be reused easily.
Next came student participation. You pulled out Gift No. 1, rectangular and the size of a shoe box, and set to swaddling it in green paper.
"A lot of people don't bother to measure when they take out a package--they just slap it on there and fold over what's left over," said Dean, disapproval in her voice. "I like to measure."
As she spoke, her scissors glided along the paper like a hot knife through butter. Behind you, the scissors of Carrie Wade, 12, also purred.
"My best friend and I have a business, sort of," Carrie explained later. "We do crafts, and I came to learn bows."
Your scissors caught and ripped, just a little. You shrunk down in your seat, tried to measure, abandoned the idea and set about winging it. You creased the corners as Dean suggested, folded over the last edge, secured it with double-stick tape. (Double-stick tape is necessary to aesthetically pleasing gifts the way uranium is necessary to nuclear weaponry.) And then you were done, with only a few imperfections. Your creation.
You put it on the corner of your desk and peeked at the presents being wrapped around you. Down the row, a carton of Benson & Hedges 100's. Just in front of you, a Presto Fry Daddy, the better to make french fries at home. There wasn't much chatter among the gift wrappers. These were serious students, somberly bent to their tasks.
Next came bags--the kind you have been dropping books into for several years now. In a store, the bags go for $1.50 up. In Dean's class, you learn to make your own out of a pattern with little ducks on it, a length of wrapping paper and glue. You could hear Carrie struggling behind you, but you prevailed.
And the bag was just large enough to accommodate Gift No. 2. With craftsman's pride, you approached Dean to request a length of green yarn for a handle. Dean looked your way and stopped what she was doing.
"Uh-oh!" she said.
Now most of the class was looking with her, grieving countenances on their faces.
Your ducks were aiming down, not up. Your classmates regarded this as a problem. You, however, were ready for them. This was your own creation.
"It's normal behavior for them to head south in winter," you explained.
On to bow making. This was the subject that had attracted not only Carrie behind you, but also Terry Cobos in front of you.
"Every year, I try to do more things on my own," said Cobos, who works with Dean at Oxnard College. "But I've never been actually able to make bows on my own."
Ever since that flower-arranging class fiasco back in April, yours had been a happily bow-free life. Now a coil of ribbons is on your desk demanding action.
This time, you delivered. Folding and cutting under scrutiny, you produced a basic pompon bow, then a variation on that theme with a different ribbon. You looped, you tied, you trimmed. When Cobos came up with a top-notch pixie bow, you nodded knowledgeably. As Bo knows football, you know pixie bows.
There was another hour to the class, but the key victories now were won. The double-stick tape. The bag from scratch. The bows, in all their bewitching varieties. And two Christmas presents, packaged with weeks to spare. Never let it be said that the Novice does not learn.
And next year, you may remember to take off the price tags.
There are plenty of things you have never tried. Fun things, dangerous things, character-building things. The Reluctant Novice tries them for you and reports the results. After all, the Novice gets paid to do them--and has no choice in the matter. If you want to tell the Novice where to go, please call us at 658-5547. If we use your idea, we'll send you a present.
This week's Reluctant Novice is staff writer Christopher Reynolds.