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The holiday season places a heavy burden on our scarce organizational resources.

The simple task of evaluating holiday invitations and culling those that do not seem to involve free alcohol (coupled with the tragic choices presented when more than one well-oiled affair occurs simultaneously), is quite enough to drive one to the local for a splash or two of respite. No task, however, so beleaguers one as the daunting prospect of shopping for that special wino we all seem to have on our holiday gift list.

Of course, we know exactly what type of gift will scream “open me first” on that magic morning. We so hope, however, to do more. We hope to enrich the life of our wino friend without encumbering his or her enviable lifestyle. A little common sense will save you the needless embarrassment and wasted expenditure for a gift that will do your favorite wino very little good. This modest guide is intended to assist in that difficult process of shopping for the person who needs nothing.

Start by eliminating those many popular gifts for which a wino has no use. A clock radio is a good example. In fact anything that needs to be plugged in is right out. Very few bridges have outlets underneath them.

If you’ve ever sat next to your friend in a warm room, cologne or aftershave may seem to be a very appropriate gift. However, mixing perfume with a wino’s natural odors may induce vomiting, and if they read the label and discover the alcohol content they will invariably drink it, which will also induce vomiting and perhaps blindness since it is the wrong kind of alcohol.

Also forget about any item that can be easily pawned. The obvious result is that your wino friend will only realize the discounted value of the gift while some pawnbroker will receive the lion’s share of worth.

A cash gift is appropriate, but too large of a gift will inexorably inure to the benefit of those who prey on winos and/or be squandered immediately in an unholy binge benefiting merchants and other winos more than the object of your generosity.

Anything not easily carried will be of little use to the wino. Few winos have access to any kind of reliable storage, and once out of sight the item will most likely be forgotten and abandoned.

Anything that would be highly coveted by other street denizens, such as gang members, is not a wise gift. Gold chains, boom-boxes, Air Jordans and Raiders jackets are bad, even dangerous gifts for winos.

So, how does one discover what our wino friend wants and needs? An obvious approach is to consider the subject while buying him a drink. Examine his or her costume for items that obviously need replacement. Keep in mind that many winos become irrationally attached to certain items of clothing and you should determine if that is the case by pointing out the item and asking them how they feel about it. If they don’t tell you a long, complicated, and incomprehensible story about it, they probably wouldn’t mind a replacement.

Pay special attention during those quiet moments when your wino friend goes into soliloquy. Many winos reveal their deepest wants and needs while talking to themselves. For example, you may be able to sift through his alien-abduction tale and discover he wished he had had a large knife when that alien attached its suckers to his forehead.

Bartenders are also a valuable resource in your quest for the perfect gift. Not only are bartenders quite likely to have overheard the monologues and conversations of your wino friend, but long hours of intimate interaction while breaking up fights or extending invitations to vacate the premises provide bartenders with revealing information about winos.

Another good source of information is the liquor store where your wino friend’s disability check is mailed. These good merchants can not only inform you of what sort of bottom-shelf refreshment your wino usually buys, but also the more upmarket liquors he attempts to steal.

Finally, you can talk to the local constables who often know your wino friend quite well. While such public servants can often be insensitive and crass with their opinions of what your friend might really need, they can just as well be quite insightful and are therefore worthy of your inquiries.

When executing your holiday purchases for winos, be practical. Very few winos are the type of snobs who examine boxes and labels for prestigious store and brand names. Army surplus merchandise is often not only the most economical choice, but from a practical standpoint, often of appropriate quality so as not to make your wino friend feel out of place when interacting with colleagues. Items that can be hosed off rather than laundered are always much more convenient for winos. Dry cleaning is not a practical requirement for wino attire.

Try not get hung up on tradition. It is neither necessary to wrap gifts for winos, nor is it reasonable to expect them to wait until Christmas to open it. Winos live in the here and now. If an item is of use to them, they’ll want to drink it immediately.

Liquid gifts should also be practical. Most of the favored wino refreshments (fortified wines, cheap vodka and malt liquor) are available in plastic half pints, pints and quarts. Larger bottles are impractical (except in the case of malt liquor, which is consumed on the spot), and may even injure your wino friend during falls. They can also make him feel guilty about not sharing with his alley friends, and who wants to feel stingy during the holidays?

Gifts of food should not require special opening appliances, like can openers, which may be unavailable or may injure your wino friend. Food gifts should also be very rich in protein, fat and calories, since food is a rare treat for many winos and should be as nourishing as possible.

Gift shopping for winos can be a rewarding experience, both for you and the wino. Don’t worry about making a mistake, since winos rarely remember where they got things anyway. Most importantly, always try to take the time to sit down and share a cup of holiday cheer with your wino friend.  They always provide a cheerful perspective on life, and if they try to follow you home you can always duck into a non-wino friend’s house then sneak out the back door.

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