Last year, on Facebook, I posted a list of five things I bought in 2018 that I thought people ought to get others for Christmas. Literally tens of people feted me for my genius, or at least that’s how I chose to interpret the no less than twenty-seven blue and white thumbs ups I received.
Specifically I recommended, in no particular order; SOFlete Monthly Programming Subscriptions, any of David Joy’s books (and you ought to order his new one, When These Mountains Burn, due in August 2020 but up for order right now), Twisted X Moccasins, Tyler Childer’s CD “Purgatory”, and butchery from Left Bank Butcher in Saxapahaw, NC. Every one of those recommendations holds this year.
The problem last year, as legions of people noted (actually, just my cousin Chip), is that I posted it on December 21, too late for the tardy gift buyer to do anything about it. Now it’s a year later and the masses are once again crying for more suggestions. It didn’t hurt that Doug practically begged me to do it again this year, saying, “Um, yeah man, that, uh…that sounds…fine.”
Anyway, because I am a great humanitarian, I now offer you my unsolicited opinion upon how you ought to spend your gift buying dollars. In keeping with the self-aggrandizing theme that my opinion is so important it should matter to you; I’ve organized this curated selection along the lines of things that matter to me; Writing and Reading, Outdoors and Fitness, and Music. Because I care deeply about each of you as actualized individuals, each category is ordered most to least expensive so there’s something here for everyone and all financial situations. Most importantly, everything I recommend here has been field tested by me, a self-proclaimed authority. In the internet age, that’s the only standard that matters. Now settle in and get ready for some Yule time wisdom from your personal Die Living gift consultant.
Writing and Reading:
Ryan Krusac Pens
Here’s the deal, Ryan Krusac’s pens ain’t cheap. Some of these pens cost more than the monthly rent on places I’ve lived over the years. Furthermore, I am not generally a pen guy or a watch guy or a cufflink guy. I don’t like things that I think are ostentatious, require much in the way of maintenance, or cost a lot while being simultaneously easy to lose. But my mom gave me one of these handmade pens, likely as a psychological operation designed to get me to write the thank you notes she’s been after me about for forty-seven years. Simply put, I love it. Consequently, I enjoy making time to sit down and write people notes, as in actual notes without an @ sign in the address. My burlwood fountain pen by Ryan Krusac is the only thing I use because it is the kind of tool that makes you want to use it for its intended purpose when you hold it.
Yes, electronic communication offers a convenience and immediacy that paper can’t. Yes, stamps get more expensive about every seventeen minutes. But there is a value in the human connection required to put pen to paper that electrons just don’t offer. The sub-textual message about effort and commitment sent by taking that time should be immediately understood by people who value putting in the work to build a back squat 1RM or take two minutes off a 5K. If you want to give someone something really nice this year, this is that thing.
Tiny Love by Larry Brown
If you’ve been paying attention, you know I would rather read Larry Brown than anyone in the world. The problem is he’s dead so there’s nothing new coming. But, if you’re new to reading Larry Brown, this new release is a good place to start. Tiny Love contains two of his short story collections, “Big Bad Love” (which inspired the Arliss Howard movie of the same name) and “Facing the Music”, as well as seven stories I haven’t been able to find previously because they were published in a wide variety of outlets in the 1980s and 1990s. The seven stories I’ve not read are worth the cost of the book by themselves, but it also prompted me to re-read my favorite author with twenty years of changed perspectives.
Larry Brown wrote with incredible sympathy and unsparing honesty about the kind of people he knew and was himself, people who get left out in a culture where networks are increasingly “virtual” rather than front porch based. The stories in Tiny Love are about poor people, drunks, criminals, and simple folks just trying to meet simple needs. He wrote about the life he lived and people he knew. I meet people I already know every time I read him, but I come away with a better understanding of them for his explanation.
In “The Crying”, he writes about a moment anyone who has ever walked in the woods with a rifle can understand,
“It was old timber, good, heavy timber, some of the best left in the land. There was enough of a canopy in the tops to keep the sunlight blocked and prevent the undergrowth from taking over, and I’ll tell you that’s something rare in this day and time. The floor was so clean you had shooting lanes anywhere you wanted to look, and it was easy to see movement in all that open space of dead leaves. I was lucky to be able to hunt on it. I knew it might not last much longer. Not that you can blame people for wanting to sell land and make money, or for getting old and in bad health and unable to pay the taxes on it. You just hate to see it leave, because you know that particular forest will never be back. It takes a hundred years to grow a forest like the one we had…
…We had a five-year lease. All written down on paper and typed up in a lawyer’s office, all duly signed by all involved parties, the money paid. It was safe, at least for a while. We didn’t know what we’d do if Mr. Barlow upped the ante the next time around. We were all getting to the age where we had to start thinking about things besides deer hunting, things like college educations and car insurance for the teenaged boys, additions on our homes. Our sons were growing up you see. That was the kicker. We hadn’t leased all that land just for ourselves. We’d leased it for our boys, too.”
I recently read a quote from Ernest Hemingway. He said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
Every damn word Larry Brown wrote was true. Go buy them for yourself and others at your local independent book seller if you can see fit to spend just a few extra dollars.
Public Library Memberships
This is the greatest budget gift you can give. Take someone to your local Public Library, especially your kid(s), and sign them up for a library card. I write at the library, I read at the library, I check out books at the library. Sure, you may have to put up with the weird guy that sniffs book spines, repetitively and loudly (I’m not making that up), but you can also get new release books, research materials, take your kid to a special event, or hear an author and it won’t cost a thing but the taxes you already pay. Let your kids wander and find things that interest them. If the library doesn’t have it, they can order it for you or get it on inter-library loan. There are few better public assets. Even as an obsessive book buyer, I measure a community by the emphasis placed on the library system. Don’t wait for the Christmas rush, head down to the library with your gift recipient and tell them, “I rendered unto Caesar all year so you could read any one, or all, of these books for Christmas.”
Outdoors and Fitness:
Altra Lone Peak 4
I like to run. A lot. I like to run semi-Forrest Gump distances that take me more than twenty-four hours to complete. The problem is I also like to lift heavy and eat things that would make Brooke West break out in hives. Gravy? Yes, please. Fried whatever? More, please. Oh, you’re carb loading? Let me join you. I can eat three Kenyan marathoner’s worth of Chori-Pollo Chimichangas upon demand. As my mom once said, “If it is brown, white, or cheese colored, Worth wants it.” Therefore, I am not what you would call svelte and thus I need a bit more cushion between me and the earth. I’m also forty-seven and besides being relatively bad at landing parachutes and prone to rely on pain tolerance more than grace or dexterity in pursuit of certain goals, I’ve humped or run countless miles since I started running seriously at seventeen. I have the back, knee, and hip pain to prove it. I actually tried the barefoot thing after I read Born to Run. That lasted about 400 yards. The fad I jumped on with both feet though (see what I did there)? Maximalist running shoes, specifically Altras.
I have different Altras for speed work, mid-distance, and ultra-runs. I don’t love them all because Altra is spotty with quality control with some models. Read reviews (to their credit they leave bad reviews on their website) and you will find passionate wearers who keep buying them despite early blow outs or holes in the heels. In an odd but relatively effective choice, Altra chose to have really good customer service over fixing that quality issue. So if you have a problem, call them and you’ll generally get taken care of quickly. Regardless, I keep buying them because they work for me. Altras are known for their wide toe box which is great for those of us with hobbit feet. Despite their out the norm width, you should buy them a half size larger than you or the person to whom you’re gifting them wears. They can be pricy at MSRP ($120) but one google search will find sales that make them very competitive (around $80) with any other premium brand and make getting some for the larger runner in your life as pain free as the shoes make my knees.
I was a huge fan of the Olympus 2.0 but the romance ended with subsequent models. I have worn and enjoyed every version of the Lone Peak though. My latest is the 4.0. It is a well-padded, zero drop, gaiter ready, trail shoe that I like for everyday running on trails or pavement. You should get a pair for multi-surface use. My knees, back, and ankles all thank me.
A 50-pound Kettlebell
There’s not much to say about my 50 pound kettlebell. It sits in my garage with my other weights. I use it for kettlebell things. I put it in a ruck and carry it. I use it in lieu of dumb bells. I row it, press it, farmer’s carry it, curl it (barely), and swing it. It travels with me when we go places that a gym is not an option. It doesn’t take up much space and it has a predictable, if not particularly engaging, personality. You should get one too and give some to the fit people in your life. I don’t know that mine has a brandname. I think I got it from Amazon. It cost me fifty bucks. If you buy one, it’ll likely cost you around fifty bucks too. If you can’t handle fifty pounds, or that’s too light for people on your list, get a different weight. I like fifty pounds for flexibility’s sake, I don’t care what you do, get off me.
Anyway, get people kettlebells for Christmas is what I’m saying.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) Membership
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers does more to protect public access to public lands, ensure land and water conservation, and support the growth of hunting and fishing and healthy populations of the animals than any group I know of. It’s not conceptual to them. BHA is composed of actual hunters and anglers who value clean water and unspoiled land. Though it’s the focus, you don’t have to be a hunter or angler to be a member of BHA. They partner with likeminded, grass roots, conservation groups to protect all the resources essential to our collective ability to #DieLiving.
Hunting and Angling is a dying lifestyle, so BHA is also focused on “R3: Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation”, the process by which new hunters and anglers are born and old hunters and anglers are brought back to the way of life. Local BHA Councils in your area will help you get out in the woods and secure clean, healthy, ethically sourced meat.
Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming are the kind of public land-rich states where BHA really makes their mark, but there are chapters in almost all fifty states. I am a blood and bone resident of the Southeastern US where public land is less prevalent and I was raised hunting and fishing on 500 acres of family woods and pasture, so my knowledge of public lands was pretty limited before I learned about, and joined, BHA. Based in Montana, there’s an organizational bias for big game hunting. It doesn’t matter. I’ve only hunted elk (unsuccessfully) once in my life. I’m a fish, duck, turkey, and deer guy. The largest Wildlife Management Area in North Carolina is fifteen miles from my house (that sits on less than an acre). I want that land as pristine and unfettered as possible for my daughter’s use some day as it is for mine now. If you’re active duty military, an annual membership is fifteen bucks. If you’re not, it’s twenty-five. Both get you the quarterly Backcountry Journal which is a pretty good read. All of it goes to protecting a way of life and the lands critical to it for all Americans.
As one guy I know said, “My conservative friends think BHA is a bunch of tree huggers, my liberal friends think they’re a bunch of gun nuts”. That pretty much sums up the kind of people I want to hang with.
Tyler Childers “Country Squire”
Last year I told folks they could get ahead of the cool kids and order Tyler Childer’s “Purgatory” for fifteen bucks and thus be able to tell the hipsters they liked him before it was cool. Now the hipsters and frat boys are figuring it out, which is unfortunate for those of us that love a live show without the presence of experimental facial hair and ironic trucker hats or twenty somethings who apparently have never had a beer before. Still, if it supports original, authentic artists who can write songs that speak to 47-year-old me as well as the aforementioned forms of life, I’ll endure a drunk Sigma Whatever who thinks I came to hear him sing at his bro’s face.
For my money (and yours for purposes of this article), Tyler Childers is one of the most important voices in country music today. Hell, hold that. Tyler Childers is one of the most important voices in music today. “Country Squire” is the second of his works produced by fellow country music savior and Kentuckian, Sturgill Simpson. The formula clearly works. They make sing along songs that matter. You can’t play all of them in front of your mom or your kid, but they work well at a hunting camp, in your truck, or as background music when you’re sitting around the fire in your yard with the neighbors. Unless your neighbors suck and then they shouldn’t be in your yard anyway.
“But Worth”, you say, “I like all kinds of music except country”.
One, stop being an idiot. Two, take a listen. There are themes here that matter whether you’re from Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles or one of thousands of little places in between: loss, loneliness, violence, addiction, survival, and triumph. These are musical threads that cut across genres. Get some.
Drive By Truckers “Southern Rock Opera”
This is the album that put the Drive By Truckers on the national map in 2002. It’s a two-album rock opera about Lynrd Skynrd, the American south, the Civil Rights movement, George Wallace, 1970’s stadium rock, and Hell. DBT recorded the masterpiece in an un-airconditioned space over a uniform shop in Birmingham, Alabama during a heat wave. They worked on it from 6 pm to 6 am because of the heat and then they ran out of money to put it out. Rather than sell their collective ass, they looked for investors and put it out themselves because Rock and Roll will never die. The resultant buzz lead to a major indie label deal and wide release in 2002. I didn’t live the lifestyle that Patterson Hood growls about in “Let There Be Rock” but there’s no doubt it’s rock and roll, and it speaks to my inner problem child:
“One night when I was seventeen, I drank a fifth of vodka,
On an empty stomach, then drove over to a friend's house.
And I backed my car between his parent's Cadillac's without a scratch.
Then crawled to the back door and slithered through the key hole,
And sneaked up the stairs
And puked in the toilet.
I passed out and nearly drowned but his sister, DD, pulled me out.
And I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd but I sure saw Molly Hatchet
And the band that I was in played "The Boys are Back in Town".”
What’s that got to do with Christmas? Not a thing. It’s just music that ought to be played at eleven as you drive around with nowhere to go. You and the people on your Christmas list can’t do it if y’all don’t have it, so you damned kids get busy with your spotify and apple music and Let There Be Rock!
Run the Jewels “Run the Jewels 2”
I am very conscious that I, a 47-year-old, middle class, suburban military guy and Eagle Scout, am not the target audience for this one. I stopped paying attention to rap and hip hop somewhere around 1998, though I will still debate you on whether or not The D.O.C. is the greatest MC of all time (hint: The D.O.C. is the greatest MC of all time). I love Eric B and Rakim, NWA, solo Ice Cube Public Enemy, and Sir Mix A Lot’s “Seminar” album (it ain’t all “Big Butts” at your sister’s wedding reception). But I lost the plot somewhere around the time Ludacris blew up. I still haven’t picked it back up and the likelihood of me “getting it” again when I am within shouting distance of fifty seems unlikely. Despite all that, Run The Jewels is a group that I got on first listen because I am a guy who likes to write and read other’s writing and RTJ emphasizes lyricism and brilliant word play delivered over beats that hit hard. Buy “RTJ 2” for your lifting partner. If he’s that horrible guy at the gym that thinks everyone else wants to hear the music on his phone through a crappy Bluetooth speaker at least what he plays won’t suck.
Takis Fuego Chips
You thought I forgot stocking stuffers? Never fear. Takis Fuego Chili Pepper and Lime flavor combines like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Hint of Lime Tostitos got together in the most blessed of gustatory unions and the offspring is like Las Canciones de Los Angeles en tu boca. No salsa required, just buy them and put them in stockings for all the kids, good and bad. These snacks started in 1999 in Mexico, came to the US in 2006, and are so good that even your angry Uncle Slayton will stop watching cable news and saying, “See what you don’t understand is…” long enough to crush a bag. Isn’t peace in the house AND deliciousness enough for you people?
There you go. I just made your holiday shopping easy for you. That gives you plenty of time to get out and Die Living or at least do deep breathing exercises as you prepare to spend time inside with Uncle Slayton.