Gift of the Magus

It's nice to think the right presents could make this a merry holiday season. Nice, but not particularly wise.

This November and December promise to constitute San Francisco's Merriest Holiday Season Ever. At the very least, it will be merrier than either the 1992 or 1995 season, when there were 16 and 45 confirmed suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge, respectively.

What with anti-terrorist National Guard troops lurking in the bushes around the Bridge Cafe, anti-al Qaeda police bicycle patrols rolling along the bridge walkway, and an anti-suitcase-borne-nuclear-device Humvee in the parking lot just to the span's northwest, the dramatically depressed will likely reconsider leaping to a watery death. "If a person knows they're being watched, they're going to think twice," says Robert M. Guernsey, chairman of Citizens for a Safe Golden Gate Bridge. "But you know good and well, it only takes two seconds to jump from the bridge."

I suppose an aspiring GGB suicide might exchange the depressed person's wrinkled sweat suit for a pressed, flowered pinafore, skip gaily along the walkway with nary a hint of suspicious-looking anguish, then abruptly plunge into the bay. But wouldn't that ruin the aesthetics of a Golden Gate Bridge suicide?

Because it appeared so likely to be happy and suicide-free, this holiday seemed to call for delightful goodies under the Christmas tree. With a carol in my heart, I set out to compile San Francisco's Merriest-ever Holiday Gift Guide.


The Direct Marketing Association Inc. seemed to magically know this would be the Merriest Holiday Season Ever, and that I would need to do something about it. The association delivered a 16.6-pound box of retail catalogs to the SF Weekly Enterprises door.(1)

Astonished, I spoke with Amy Blankenship, who's appeared on Good Morning America as director of the Shop at Home Network.

"You sent us 17 pounds of catalogs," I said. "Why?"

"We thought we would put this together in a convenient package for the holiday season," Blankenship explained.

Convenient? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Service, if Blankenship's catalogs were a holiday turkey, and SF Weekly's offices were preheated to 325 degrees, it would take 4 1/2 hours to cook them.


It was starting to seem like I might have to create a holiday gift guide without the help of PR flacks when I discovered the following in my e-mail inbox:

"The BE A PILOT Introductory Flight Lesson would be a great addition to a story on unique holiday gift ideas," public relations specialist Gary Beckett wrote. "That's because the BE A PILOT Introductory Flight Certificate makes a great last-minute stocking stuffer. There is nothing quite so exciting as pulling back on the controls and guiding a private plane skyward as it lifts off the runway, or making turns while taking in the breathtaking view from inside the cockpit."

With sugarplums flying through my head, I called Father Joe Meinhart, pastor at St. Thomas More University Parish, in Norman, Okla., home of the world-famous Airman Flight School. Sadly, Meinhart wasn't in a mood for chatting about stocking stuffers.

"There's fear that people are being arrested for guilt by association. People are afraid to visit people who are in jail, show any kind of support or anything," said Meinhart, who had been visiting students jailed following INS sweeps of Norman. The sweeps began after the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the flight student indicted last week on murder conspiracy charges related to the Sept. 11 attacks. "This is the first time anything like this has happened here. People are afraid to go home for the holidays because they might not be able to get back into the country."

Having friends who've taken flight lessons -- or even having a vague ethnic resemblance to certain aspiring pilots -- is perhaps the least desirable distinction in America right now. Acquaintances of Moussaoui, who stands accused of being part of the plot to attack the World Trade Center, have been rounded up by the FBI and held as material witnesses. The INS has followed with a broader sweep, jailing anyone whose appearance suggests they're of Middle Eastern or South Asian ancestry.

I called Gary Beckett, the PR specialist who sent me the flight-lessons-as-stocking-stuffer e-mail, to ask whether his was actually a good idea.

"Unfortunately those with evil intentions can use that for evil means. But for the 19 people who did that, there are thousands who are doing it for the usual reasons," Beckett said. "It's designed for someone who's thought about taking flight instruction in the past but never acted on this desire."

World events being what they are, I'd just as soon people didn't act on their desires during this holiday season.


Beginning to feel a bit desperate for gift ideas, my mind started to reel; I began staring into space, I started feeling funny, and peculiar notions oozed into my mind. It felt like ... weed! The San Francisco Board of Supervisors kicked off the 2001 yuletide season by declaring San Francisco a medical marijuana sanctuary. It would be almost humbuggish not to take the supervisors up on their idea and give your special someone a kilo of Humboldt County's finest, or for weird Uncle Harry an ounce of Acapulco Gold.

I called a supe for advice. As bad luck would have it, I chose the only supervisor who voted against last month's sanctuary measure.

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