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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

Holiday Presents on the Cheap

25 Inexpensive Gift Suggestions

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Yet a mere hour in front of the TV deluges the victim with exhortations to spend lavishly for the holidays—HDTVs, diamonds, even motorcars are said to be within our reach, happiness in a box with no money down until March. Yet what of those on limited, fixed incomes? The student, the senior, the hack at the alternative weekly? What for this disproportionately large demographic, which views the fantasy images of opulent possibility and then slumps dejectedly back into the second-hand sofa?

Despair not. Like a bowlegged Republican senator, the Shepherd Express is here to reach under the stall door of despondency and offer a helping hand with our guide to swell gifts, each priced less than $25 (or €12, if you prefer.) Tarry not: The hour of gift exchange draws near, and the Poindexters who publish The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have, in their most recent issue, set the Doomsday Clock— which “conveys how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction”—at five minutes to midnight. Get going.

1. Shmaltz. Forgo the mass-produced canned swill and get into the spirit of things by getting a quality sixer from a brewery called He’brew: The Chosen Beer. Our favorite flavors here at the office include Genesis Ale and Messiah Bold. Head to Discount Liquor (5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.) for the best price on these heady brews.

2. Grape Juice. Maybe you have a pal who hates the Brewers, wears corduroy sport jackets and always kicks your ass in Scrabble. What you’ve got there, my friend, is a wine drinker. Head to any fine wine shop such as Sheridan’s in the Milwaukee Public Market (400 N. Water St.), where for less than $20 you can walk away with a nice bottle already in a gift bag.

3. The Great Outdoors. Unless they avoid a sudden mass die-off like their honey-producing cousins, the killer bees likely won’t arrive round these parts until 2011, at the earliest. That leaves plenty of time to enjoy our wonderful state park system. A year’s pass to Wisconsin State Parks costs only $25, and is available either at the DNR location at North Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive or online (www.dnr.wi.gov). Make sure to have the license plate number of the recipient.

4. Sex Appeal. I first met Antonio Banderas on a location shoot down in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I found him to be an actor and human being of the highest order, and he makes a killer omelet. Your brother likely does far worse with the fairer sex than Antonio, so why not improve his chances by getting him a bottle of Zorro’s own essence, Antonio, available at your corner pharmacy for about $20.

5. AClean Car. Washing a vehicle in winter is decidedly uncomfortable. Head to one of the 12 area Scrub-ADub Car Wash locations, where for 20 bones you get a gift card for six car washes, and they’ll even throw in a free one for you when you make the purchase! (www.scrubadub.biz.)

6. On the Head. There are plenty of men over the age of 12 roaming the streets in baseball caps, and the less said about that, the better. Grandpa remembers when a stylish chapeau was an extension of one’s singularity, so head to the City Life Boutique (1323 N. 12th St.), where you can find a nice lid for the dapper Dan in your life.

7. Sweet Stuff. Grandma still loves you, even after that stunt you pulled on Thanksgiving. Return her affections with a confection from the Northern Chocolate Co. (2036 N. Martin Luther King Drive), which offers toothsome temptations artistically rendered at a walletfriendly rate.

8. Spice It Up. Sure, the force-fed, genetically modified, halfpig/ half-cow hybrid can outwit most college students, but once chopped up and on the plate, the flavor comes up short. Give your friends a leg-up in the seasoning department with one of the many four-jar gift boxes a v a i l a b l e from The Spice House (1031 N . O l d World Third S t . ) , each abut $20.

9. Good Viewing. A new rug to tie the room together might be out of your range, but for the nihilist, kegler or film buff on your list, consider picking up a DVD copy of The Big Lebowski (1998), $10 at many area electronics stores. Be an achiever and couple it with the recently published I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What-Have-You by Bill Green, Ben Peskoe, Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt, available at most bookstores for $15, and you’re set for league play.

10. Read Up. Speaking of books, get the serious reader on your list a gift certificate to Woodland Pattern Book Center (720 E. Locust St.), which has been lining its shelves since 1979 with the finest local, regional and international poetry and fiction. Twenty-five bucks will get the recipient a lot of free-verse at this Riverwest stalwart, which also hosts visiting poets and artists monthly.

11. Go Into the Light. Declining daylight hours makes the already dicey commute even more t reacherous for the winter bicyclist, so protect the velocipedist you love with a Planet Bike Beamer 1 Lightset ($16.99), available at Ben’s Cycle, 1018 W. Lincoln Ave., where they’ve been catering to Milwaukee’s bikers for 75 years.

12. European Vacation. Well, not quite, but a rechargeable Diablos Rojos gift card and a short ride on the No. 15 route will put you within blocks of both Paris and Amsterdam, where the Trocadero (1758 N. Water St.) and Caf Hollander (2608 N. Downer Ave.) ably capture the atmosphere and menus of their respective old-country counterparts. Pick up the “Chicken Bus” card at either establishment.

13. For the Ladies. Are you a nice guy like Peter Parker who has no luck with women? I hope not. I hate Peter Parker! The guy is a loser, bug-outfit or not. Don’t believe the false hope of comic books! They are full of bad advice and unrealistic scenarios, and defy the laws of physics. What women really want is for you to take them to a 5 Card Studs show! Money spent frugally on drinks and dancing while band members Les Vegas, Reno Nevada, Blake Tahoe, Asti Spumanti and Cesar Palace work their magic cannot fail to bring home the bacon. Take your lady to the inexpensive Cactus Club (2496 S. Wentworth Ave.) on Dec. 21 to get her in the spirit! (www.fivecardstuds.com.)

14. Bag of Walnuts. Hey, they taste good, and a small handful a day can lower cholesterol. This will run you about $4 for a large bag. Look into cinnamon as well.

15. The Gift of Spam. “Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government,” but it probably has much to recommend over our disenfranchising Electoral College system. Constitutional peasants far and wide will be flocking to the Marcus Center April 29-May 4, 2008, when the wildly popular Spamalot hits town. Based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, balcony seats (available now, and not for long) go for as little as $25. Don’t worry: If the recipient can quote Python chapter and verse, chances are slim-to-none he or she has a potential date anyway. (Marcus Center Box Office: 273-7206.)

16. Hands-on Fun. Gifts are all well and good, but like a prison shower , there is nothing quite like an experience shared. You could get your son a football or Elmo doll, but instead, why not take him to t h e Betty Brinn Children’s Museum? A mere $6 (each) admission gets you and your small-fry access to hours of hands-on, intellectually and artistically stimulating activities. (929 E. Wisconsin Ave., 390-KIDS.)

17. The Joy of Toys. It’s easy (and fun) to blame China, but first examine your own portfolio. Here are a few stores where you can find gifts for your children that were not made by child slave labor in other countries so that American companies and their stockholders could see a bigger year-end profit: Sprout (320 E. Buffalo St.), Freckle Face (407 E. Buffalo St.) and B.J. Beck’s Toys (W62 N204 Washington Ave., Cedarburg) all offer unusual items in every price range.

18. All Downhill. The high-tech wonderlands available on pricey video game systems are captivating indeed, but for sheer visceral joy, kids enjoy nothing better than careening down icy slopes at 30-plus mph. Call your insurance agent, then head to any area Ace Hardware and pick up a Snowsprint Racer Sled ($21.99).

19. It’s a Pleasure. For the librarian on your list, head to AWoman’s Touch (200 N. Jefferson St.) and pick up a jar of Chocolate Body Frosting, which comes with a brush for $10, or better still the Beginner’s Restraint Kit, which comes with a comfortable blindfold and four Velcro cuffs for less than $20!

20. Nimrod Nation. Following the recent cable-TV special on the school district in Watersmeet, Mich., Nimrod gear is flying off the shelves, and we all know someone who would look good with a hoodie or T-shirt emblazoned with “Nimrod” upon it. Better move quickly, though: When I purchased one online for my brother this morning, supplies were very limited. (About $25, plus shipping; www.watersmeet.k12.mi.us.)

21. Four-Legged Friends. If you have the winter blahs, just imagine how Fido feels. Pep up your pet with a gift from Metropawlis (317 N. Broadway). From the essentials to the esoteric to the downright cute, this Third Ward boutique offers the pet owner many choices that won’t break the bank. Shop in-store on Tuesdays and a portion of your purchase goes to the Wisconsin Humane Society.

22. The Greater Good. Get into the giving spirit of the holidays and make a deposit in your karmic savings account by contacting the Hunger Task Force, where opportunities abound to help with food sorting and distribution to the less fortunate in our community. Contact them at: www.hungertaskforce.org/volunteer.

23. Much-Needed Calm. After negotiating mega-mall parking lots, preparing the roast beast and high-sticking hordes of bargain shoppers, Mom could probably use a little relaxation. It’s your mother, after all, so go a little above budget and get her a half-hour, $35 session at Bay View’s Apple-A-Day Massage (437 E. Lincoln Ave.).

24. Good Coffee. Let’s face it: The canned dock-sweepings sold in supermarkets wouldn’t pass muster in a rehab-center break room, let alone your kitchen table. Duck into any Alterra Coffee shop (www.alterracoffee.com) and grab a bag of fresh, locally roasted beans for the java nut on your list.

25. And Finally, Political Bribery. Following this fall’s bar-whistle-stop campaign tour, Art Kumbalek’s war chest still sits at a measly buck-two-eighty. Head to the Uptowner at Humboldt and Center for cocktail hour, where for the price of a Pabst and shot chaser, our Candidate for Whatever the Fock You Got will happily write a new plank into his platform, which currently consists of getting a topless bourbon tent staffed at Summerfest.