Illustration by Emma MathewsShopping is great for people who have, you know, time, but for the rest of us, the real art of giving is giving art—art that we find around our apartment moments before we're due at a holiday party with the deviled eggs we agreed to bring but don't know how to make. Here's how we handle the challenge at La Casa Mathews: looking at the oven clock, we discover we have hours left before party time, so we take it easy, pick up Graham Greene's The Third Man—and then recall the oven clock runs on electricity and the bastards at Edison have decided we don't deserve electricity because we don't have—what's that thing?—money to pay—what's that thing?—a utility bill. Looking at our watch, we realize the party started 20 minutes ago and is 30 minutes away and we haven't got a gift (no one will miss the eggs). We grab a nearby five-year-old (a neighbor kid will do) and ask him or her to draw a picture of a man. "What do you mean, what man?" we ask incredulously, and then explain patiently: "Any fucking man." Supply the kid with a Sharpie pen and a single sheet of acid-free, 100 percent cotton paper from Smythson of Bond Street, England's most exclusive stationer—nothing else will do. The gender of our artist is irrelevant, but age—five—is critical: any younger, and you'll get a mere stick figure; older, and you may find yourself working with a budding prima donna who, obsessed with painterly quality, will labor with her tongue poking out the corner of her mouth and then produce work that is childish in a fucked-up way. Five-year-olds are the key: they're primitive moderns, or modern primitives, and their men—whom we'll call "figures" because that's what our sophisticated friends will want to hear when they receive this gift—echo the grim realism of early anti-Soviet art; there's pent-up proletarian rage. The minimalist sun over the figure's left shoulder is ironic, mocking, a dream deferred, a utopia that might as well be a carrot on a stick. We pay the kid with kind words, remove from one of our walls a frame and dump the photo of Central Park that came with it. We frame the minimalist man and wrap him in castoff paper—not the Times or Register, nor even the Weekly, please, but something that shows without shouting that we are smarter than the average American, that we know our Keith Haring from our Thomas Kinkade—Architectural Digest, maybe. Arrive an hour late. Explain to friends the gift is something we've been keeping around because it reminds us of Vladimir Tatlin or maybe Antoine Pevsner, the Russian Constructivists and, I don't know, a little bit of the famous standoff at Tian An Men Square or Albert Camus in Algiers—an image of man's integrity in the face of diurnal tragedy, or maybe the refusal of some of us, simply, to see the good, the gracious, the sun. No one misses the eggs.
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