A hardly sensitive guide to buying for these special people

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 will occur 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 gift shopping for that special wino that 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 our wino friend without encumbering his or her enviable lifestyle.  This modest guide is intended to assist in the 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.  Cologne or after-shave may seem to be an 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 type 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 value.  A cash gift is often appropriate, but too large of a cash 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 people 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.  A little bit of common sense will save you the needless embarrassment and wasted expenditure for a gift that will do your favorite wino very little good.

Now, how to find out what your wino friend wants and needs.  An obvious approach is to consider the subject while buying a drink for your wino friend.  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 and incomprehensible story about it they probably don’t care.  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. 

Even if delirious, your wino friend can often point you in the right direction.  Bartenders are also a valuable resource in your quest for the appropriate gift.  Not only are bartenders quite likely to have overheard the monologues and conversations of your wino friend, but long hours of interaction and one-to-one contacts while breaking up fights or when extending invitations to vacate premises provide bartenders with revealing information about winos. 

Another good source of information is the liquor store where your wino friend’s social security disability check is mailed. 

These good merchants can not only tell you what kind of liquid refreshment your wino friend favors, but can also inform you based on their frequent contacts and conversations with your wino friend.  Winos often reveal their fondest and innermost desires to liquor store clerks, since they always feel safe and at home in their favorite liquor store. 

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 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 stores and brand names.  Army surplus merchandise is often not only the most economical choice, but from a practical standpoint, is 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.  Do not get hung up on tradition. 

It is neither necessary to wrap gifts to winos, nor is it reasonable to expect them to not open till Christmas.  Winos live in the here and now.  If an item is of use to them they need it now.  Liquid gifts should also be practical.  Most of the favored wino refreshments (fortified wines, cheap rum and malt liquor) are available in plastic 1/2 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.  Plastic bottles also eliminate the heartbreak that can occur when a valued gift is lost through breakage.  Gifts of food should not require special opening appliances, like can openers, which may be unavailable and 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.

In summary, 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.  The warmth and good cheer of the holiday season is always enhanced when you feel you have done something to help your good friends. Most importantly, sit (or fall) down and enjoy a drink with your wino friends who always provide a cheerful perspective on life since they quite simply know what is important and how to have a good time.

Dwin “King” Hevaway    


“There’s no money in feeding the poor yet your Bible tells you to do just that.”

– from The Crusader’s Dilemma  by Dieter Upanishads

Filed Under: Reflections on Disorder


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