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by Wendy Vapors, 12/24/99

Wendy: An old song says it best ... "Christmas is coming ... time to remember the poor." Although most people can agree with the sentiment in principle, when it comes to putting it into practice, Melvin Fleeger has a different idea.

Melvin: Oh, I believe in helping the poor. They certainly need it. But when Christmas comes, I always make it a point to do something special for the rich. The richer the better. I love to surprise 'em.

Wendy: He's not kidding. This year, Melvin Fleeger will make over 100 Holiday Baskets and will leave them on the doorsteps of wealthy people in affluent suburbs.

Melvin: (sorting through basket) Soaps. Safety pins. Breath mints. A blanket or a towel. Mittens. The kind of stuff that's important to me. Matches.

Wendy: But the people you're giving these things to ... don't need anything.

Melvin: Oh, I suppose. But ... does anybody ever NOT need socks?

Wendy: For Melvin Fleeger, it isn't about "need." His generosity to the rich has it's roots elsewhere. Irma Jean, Melvin's wife for the past 34 years, says her husband's way of celebrating sets him apart.

Imra Jean: I've been trying to get him put in an institution for the last decade or so. Nobody seems to think he's that bad, but ... he sent Bill Gates a pair of earmuffs! There's something wrong there.

Wendy: Why did you do that, Melvin?

Melvin: I was just showing that ... no matter how big Bill Gates is, he's still not so big that he's above getting a gift from me. I also bought a tie tack for Don Trump. And a fruit basket for the Sultan of Brunei.

B Marty: It's not an unusual motivation, Ms. Vapors.

Wendy: B. Marty Barry is a therapist and counselor.

B Marty: When you give someone a gift ... there's a little bit if a power thing going on there. When you give a gift to someone who has higher standing because of ... say ... money or prestige ... you're saying "I am big enough, and am worthy to give a gift to you, and you have to sit up and take notice no matter how important you and those around you think you are."

Wendy: It says ALL THAT?

B Marty: And more!

Wendy: I was thinking this story would be about the pure joy of giving and goodness and sweetness and all of that, not another alpha male contest for top dog.

B Marty: I wish everyone's dream could come true, especially at Christmas time, but in this case ... you didn't get what you want. Sorry.

Wendy: Gift giving controversies have also made it all the way to the Supreme Court! Right now the court has under consideration the fascinating case of Keefe V. Fellows. Elmer Mootort covers the Supreme Court for Minutiae Magazine.

Elmer: (phone) Keefe worked for Fellows. One Christmas Fellows gave Keefe a gift ... a frosted glass paperweight. Mr. Keefe felt obliged to give Ms. Fellows a gift in response ... which turned out to be one of Marilyn Monroe's discarded nylons which Mr. Keefe bought at an auction for $1500 dollars. Ms. Fellows refused the gift as being too expensive and inappropriate and weird. Mr. Keefe insisted. Ms. Fellows resisted.
So Mr. Keefe resigned his position and then sued Ms. Fellows and the employer for harassment and discrimination, arguing that her initial gift forced his response and he was just "doing his job." He lost in the lower courts and the case is on appeal.

Wendy: Wow ... all over a little gift.

Elmer: Many employers are starting to ban gifts in the workplace. Which raises other constitutional questions that will likely find their way to the court ... such as the question, is a ban on gift giving a limitation of free speech.

Wendy: Gifts as speech?

Elmer: Watch TV. How many times do you hear about the gift that says "you'd marry her again," or "you're something special" or "you have a discriminating palate' or Blah blah blah." Fill in the blank. Our gifts are talking all the time ... we think they're talking about the recipient, but mostly they're talking about us!

Wendy: Who would have thought giving a simple gift at the office could be so difficult! And with work place etiquette already such an awkward issue, how can anyone do "the right thing," or even know what "the right thing" is? And more importantly ... what can I get that doesn't seem cheap but costs less than ten dollars that I can give to a dozen different people who like to compare notes and talk behind my back? And where?
I'm Wendy Vapors, and I'm reporting.

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