I Saw It On TV
By Audrey W
It never failed. Year after year, the gifts were all the same. . .at least where they originated. He’d watched as each Christmas, one of his crew mates opened the package that cost nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, plus shipping and handling.
It must’ve showed on his face that he was worried about something, because his best friend and work partner suddenly assured, “Relax, you’re winning.”
John Gage looked up from the chess pieces on the board in front of him.
“The game. So far you’re doing better than I am.”
Johnny looked down at the pieces again, moved one of his pawns, then sat back with a sigh.
“It’s not the game, Roy. It’s not the game I’m worried about.”
“What is it?”
Gage gave it a few seconds of thought.
“Maybe, but it’s probably going to help if you get it off your chest.”
After a few more seconds of pondering, the younger man agreed with, “Maybe.”
Roy waited as there was another pause.
“You sure you just aren’t trying to distract me? Make me make a mistake?”
“Well, I’d be lying if I said I thought that would be so bad. But, no, that’s not the idea.”
Finally convinced, Johnny pushed the board game aside. “We can finish that later.” He then leaned forward, his facial expression very thoughtful. “Remember when Chet drew your name for the gift exchange? What he got you?”
“Sure, how could I forget? The Clapper. Clap on, clap off. . .once the kids figured it out, which didn’t take long at all, they were clapping constantly. Our livingroom was more like a discothèque with strobe lights than a place to relax. It wasn’t a day or so later, Joanne and I decided it was much better to have things back to how they were before.”
“Right. And remember what he got Cap the Christmas before that?”
Roy gave it thought. “Oh, the Chia Pet. Yeah, if I recall right, Mrs. Stanley said it was either the Chia pet going, or he along with it. She hated it.”
Johnny nodded. “Exactly. Then think about Marco before that.”
“The knife set that was supposed to stay sharp forever and by the second month couldn’t cut through butter. . .”
“The automatic hotdog cooker that blew the things to bits as soon as he plugged it in. . .”
“You got it.”
“That’s your problem? That none of our presents from Chet worked out?”
Johnny sat back in his chair. “No. . .uh. . .yeah. I mean. . .Roy. . . Chet drew my name this time. He gets everything that’s advertised as just bein’ available from TV an’. . .well. . .there’s just nothin’ I’ve seen on the tube that I could possibly want!”
“Maybe he’ll surprise you.”
Gage sighed as he moved the board back between them. “I can only hope.”
Midway through the morning on the following shift, it was time for the men of Station 51s A-shift to do their gift exchanges. Johnny was surprised at how big the wrapped package for him was. He thought feverishly of what he’d seen advertised lately that might come in a big box. So far he was drawing a blank.
Roy opened his present from Marco. A coffee mug with his name on it. Chet opened his from Mike at the same time. It was the same as Roy’s, only with Chet’s name on it of course.
“We kinda gave each other the idea,” Mike and Marco admitted.
Both Roy and Chet assured the two gift-givers that the cups were fine.
Johnny frowned. He would be completely satisfied. . .he’d even go so far as to say very happy. . .with a cup with his name on it. But glancing at the big box again, he figured the chances of his present being one of those was zero.
Captain Stanley opened his gift from Johnny.
“Ah, a new stapler.”
Gage grinned. “I’ve noticed it takes three or four tries with the old one ta get the staples to take. I know you’re not the only one who uses it here, but--”
“No, it’s fine, John,” Hank interrupted. He eyed the somewhat shiny new piece. It was red-colored metal with a shiny silver-colored bottom to it. “Really, this’ll come in handy. And it looks a lot spiffier than the ones the department supplies, too.”
Mike had just finished opening his present from the captain. Hank held onto the stapler as he watched for a reaction.
The engineer held up the box with a picture of a small hand-held vacuum on it. It was a new contraption designed for vehicles that plugged into the cigarette lighter holder for power.
“You’re always complaining about the sand and stuff that gets in your dune buggy when you take it to the beach. I figured this would make it easy to keep up on the mess.”
“It sure will. I can’t wait to try it out. I’ve heard these things have quite a bit of suction. Thanks, Cap”
Marco was already opening his present from Roy. He grinned as he held up a cup with his name on it.
“Kinda funny how that worked out, huh?” Roy said.
The fireman agreed. “At least three of us won’t forget which cup is ours.”
Hank then turned to face Gage. “Well? Aren’t you going to open yours, John?”
“Yeah, c’mon, open it,” Chet urged.
Johnny gave a quick glance Roy’s way, then slowly removed the wrapping paper as his present sat on the table. He was almost afraid to look at what was underneath. His serious face soon brightened.
“Yeah, you know. You hook it up to the vacuum and cut your hair.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t own a vacuum cleaner. . .”
Mike held up his box again, while Gage smirked.
“Oh, I’m just messin’ around with ya, Chet. Of course I do.”
“Well, then, you can use it. I saw it on TV, looks pretty cool.”
“But this isn’t nine dollars and ninety-nine cents plus shipping and handling. More like nineteen dollars and ninety-nine, plus the other.”
“I don’t know. I actually get these things from a closet at my mom’s. For free. She can’t resist buying them in twos and getting one free for just the price of shipping, so she has them for gifts.”
“How can it be ‘free’ if it costs for shipping?” Mike wondered.
“It sounds better, okay?”
“You shop from your mom’s closet?” Marco asked. And all this time they thought Chet was really into going the extra mile for their gifts. Turned out they were useless extras.
“Hey, don’t knock it, it’s convenient.” Chet then faced Johnny. “Now you don’t have to pay for a haircut and you can get the chief off your back about your out-of-regulation length.”
Johnny studied the front of the box with a picture of the contraption in action on it. It looked simple enough. What could go wrong? Maybe Chet had finally gotten the as-seen-on-TV gift giving right.
Two days later the men were back on duty again. Roy, Marco and Chet were enjoying coffee in their ‘named’ cups while they waited for Captain Stanley to summon them to roll call in the apparatus bay.
Mike had just joined them, and as he poured himself some coffee into a generic community cup, he told them about his chilly trip to the beach with his dune buggy.
“I took it out just so I could get some sand in it.”
“Hey, Mike,” Chet began. “You know what you sound like? Like one of those as-seen-on-TV commercials my mom falls for.”
“Uh oh. You’re tradition is rubbing off on us.”
Chet looked at Roy. “Yeah, but the kicker is, not only is his present not from me. But it’s not even from the TV!”
That was followed by a few snickers, which were interrupted by Captain Stanley calling out “Roll call!” as he passed by the doorway.
Mike took one sip of his coffee before setting the cup on the counter and following the others out of the room.
The captain watched as his men gathered in the bay where the trucks would normally be parked. For the moment they were not there, as C-Shift had yet to return from a structure fire they had been at for over two hours.
Something else was missing too. His youngest paramedic.
The rest of the crew looked to Roy for an explanation.
“How should I know?” He asked.
Hank glanced at his watch. “Well, if he’s not here in--”
Just then Johnny came into the apparatus bay from the locker room. He was running his fingers through his hair, a dissatisfied expression on his face.
“Sorry I’m late, Cap, but man! Ever since I used that flow thingy on my head, I can’t get my hair to do anything right!”
His fellow shiftmates, including the captain, just continued to stare as he made his way over. When he noticed the gazes all locked on him, he stopped in mid-stride.
“Is it supposed to look like that?” Hank wondered, an ill expression on his face.
“That bad, huh?”
The captain and others nodded. What else could they do? Gage’s hair was sticking out and up in all directions. . .in clumps!
“That Flowbee may work all right for some people. But I don’t think it’s quite right for you.”
Chet kept quiet, wondering how long it would be before Johnny blasted him for giving him the thing in the first place.
“If we’re going to take a vote on it, I say Cap’s right,” Roy offered.
“Yeah?” Johnny asked, running a hand through his unruly but a bit shorter hair again.
Gage let out a sigh. “Man, you’re right. I tried to make it work, but it’s just not my thing.”
Chet was still waiting for the anger toward him. Surely Johnny would take it out on him. Maybe if he spoke about it first, he could smooth things over before they escalated.
“I’m real sorry, John.”
Gage leaned forward from where he was now on the other side of Roy. “What for?”
“What for? Your hair! I gave you the 'flow thingy'.”
“That’s right. You did. So?”
“So aren’t you mad?”
Chet nodded, ready to shrink back.
“Nah. . .nah, I’m not mad at you, Chet. So far not one of your as-seen-on-TV gifts have turned out right for anyone over the past five years! Why would I expect this one to? Nope, the way I see it, I should be mad at myself for actually believin’ it would work for me in the first place.”
Chet looked on in disbelief.
"Don't even try to figure him out," Roy advised. "Just take it and run."
Hank Stanley chose not to try and understand it all either. But he did have one detail to cover.
“Just one word of advice, pal.”
The just-off-the-hook fireman turned to face the captain.
“From here on out when it comes to gift exchanges. . .if you’ve seen it on TV, please make sure we don’t see it around here.”
Note: Some of the products mentioned in this story were real ones offered on television. They may have worked fine in real life, but for fictional purposes, not for everyone. Can't recall when the car vacs came out, but for story purposes it was in the mid 1970s. :o) This story was inspired by my brother, who the past two years has shopped at the As-Seen-On-TV section at Walgreens for Christmas. :o) I could just imagine Chet doing a similar thing, only 'shopping' from the closet.
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