Friday, February 29, 2008

BEST OF: Tagging the hard way

As a reporter, I'm used to finding things in odd places -- a goat on a barn roof, a tree growing through the middle of a house, an elephant seal marching up Highway 1.

At home, I've found my cell phone in the refrigerator, my breakfast muffin in the closet and you don't even want to know all the places where I've eventually found my car keys.

But, even for me, it's a stretch to find a 6-year-old's birthday gift by the men's restroom at Wal Mart.

It all started with our decision to stop giving our grandchildren toys as special-occasion gifts.

Most kids already have enough playthings to stock their own Toys R Us branch. Some kids must host regular toy garage sales to have enough room to get into their bedrooms, let alone sleep there.

You've seen those compress-your-clothes bags that presumably make it easier to jam more stuff into your suitcase? That's what those youngsters need for their toy boxes.

So, in lieu of toys, we're trying to wrap up special experiences and family memories instead, taking them to shows and on vacations.

But the "experience gift" concept muddies a little with a younger child, who really does need a package or two to open.

No, not a toy. For a recent birthday, granddaughter Alyssa and her big sister Caitlyn each received a set of binoculars, for otter searches, tracking boats and birds, or even watching ballerinas on stage.

In preparation for the gift-giving, we gleefully bought two smallish pairs of Bushnells. Could I leave well enough alone?

Naturally not.

The girls need a way to differentiate between the two identical sets, I asserted. Labels would help alleviate the "Mine!" "No, those are mine!" arguments. And, with a name and phone number on each set somehow, a lost pair might -- just might -- get returned.

The tags had to be sturdy, but not too big, or they'd get in the way of little hands. The labels must be big enough to read easily or they'd be useless.

Luggage tags were the obvious answer, but way too big. So were wrap-around, business-card bands for briefcase or suitcase handles.

Little, round write-on key tags with the metal frames around them? Too flimsy. We purchased brightly colored, plastic auto-key tags. Clunky, but they'd work. It was a start.

We searched Cambria, San Luis, all over the Central Coast. I checked catalogs for camera supplies, office supplies, auto, gifts, travel.

The ideas got more convoluted. How about small plastic envelopes, into which we'd insert a printed card, and through which we'd punch a hole and thread a double-loop key-ring or leather strap? We bought them, came home to try them, and they screamed out "funky."

Later, we found some quarter-sized brass disks with holes at the top.

"I can engrave a name and phone number on this," husband Richard bragged. While I wondered if anybody would be able to read his engraving, I agreed to let him try.

We kept looking. "How about ...?" "Nah, won't work." "Maybe, if we ..." "Fahgedit."

In our three-day search, we accumulated lots of "not quites," sore feet, a massive gasoline bill and a lot of frustration.

Discouraged, we gave up. I left our last-resort stop, Wal Mart, heading for the van, while Richard stopped at the restroom. Moments later, he came bouncing back to me, like a golden retriever that discovered a Nerf ball. "Come with me! I found it! I found it!"

At the men's room? Sure enough.

He led me to a machine set up right outside the restroom -- a contraption we've all seen in hotel lobbies, amusement parks and tourist traps. The computerized device engraves tags for dog collars.


About 10 minutes, $16 dollars and four tags later, we had our solution: Little metal hearts, each engraved with the girls' hometown and phone number, plus "Alyssa, age 6" or "Caitlyn, age 9" (anyone who finds binoculars belonging to a 6 year old and doesn't feel guilty about not returning them should be deep-fried).

All this has been a lesson. We do want to share experiences with our offspring, but bullheadedness isn't one of them. Of course, we want them to have open minds while trying to solve problems, and to keep their eyes open for unlikely possibilities.

But this was absurd.

And yes, our next garage sale will feature the Tanner Spring Collection of rejected designer tags.

This column appeared originally on March 17, 2005, in The Cambrian.

No comments: