A friend of ours teaches 8th grade English and has professed to have a hard time defining “irony” for her class.  When she gave a definition, supported by strong (so she perceives) examples, they still failed to latch onto it.  So now, whenever I come across my own example, I think of facing her class and saying, “that  is irony”.  Hmpf.

As a result of birthday, Hanukkah and other “wisted” item debaucles, I have tried to be more specific in requesting gifts for occasions.  My mother usually asks if there’s something I have in mind, which is a great opportunity to ask for a GPS or a new set of mixing bowls.  It works best with things I don’t care so much about.  Or things I’d think they wouldn’t be able to fuck up.  When I have something exact in mind, I of course, try to describe it using key details, brand names, giving links to website when available.  That is how I ended up with Honda-brand floor mats designed and fit (ha ha) exactly to my car as a birthday gift.  My car, being “used” (for all of 4,000 miles) did not come with floor mats, and the dollar store variety left me with doubts about the relationship between a floor mat and my accelerator.  Seeing as how many thousands of Toyotas were just recalled with such an issue, I asked for, and received, the right floor mats.  Because my husband gets it and knows what I want.

He’s awesome, by the way.

Many Hanukkahs ago, before I knew the mantra of “If you want something done right, do it yourself” I let myself get very disappointed over a gifted sweater.  I had wanted very badly a turtleneck sweater, which was in fashion in 1999, I think.  I asked that it be cotton, and a turtleneck.  That is all.  I don’t even like turtlenecks, but all these sweaters were coming out in flattering shapes with ribbing and cables, so I asked for one, letting the color decision be totally irrelevant.  I knew they were in EVERY store that year.

I opened a Ralph Lauren Chaps (yes, men’s label) crew neck sweater.  Oh, but it was cotton.  She had listened to one aspect of my request.  How do you lie about liking that one in front of your mother?  “Thank you, but it’s men’s size Large and I will never wear it.  Oh, and it’s nothing like what I wanted.”

Another time, the same year (I struck out quite a bit before I wisened up), I asked for the proverbial, everyone-on-campus-had-it peacoat.  Color, again, was not important, but I wanted basic, boring, easy-to-find.  And was given what looked like a men’s brown tweed blazer, not even warm enough to serve as a winter coat. 

This year, my uncle (Mom’s brother) was pestering her to find out what I wanted for my birthday, so she decided to give him one of those specific, can’t-mess-it-up missions.  I had this summer, when Mom was at the outlets, asked if she could get me a new pair of 3-strap Birkenstocks, as my current pair are, in the usual fashion, wearing completely through the soles.  They were out, it being the end of the season, but she entrusted this mission to Uncle Leo.  3 strap Birkenstocks, color unimportant, price no object (since he lives for ebay and outlet shopping).  What do you think of when you hear “3-strap Birkenstock”?  As opposed to “2-strap Birkenstock”?  What would be so important about that third strap that I would specifically ask for it?  Wouldn’t you think it would serve some additional purpose other than the 2 straps already on it such that I would prefer it?   Here’s my schematic of the 3-strap Birkenstock; and here is my Uncle’s/mother’s schematic representation of a 3-strap Birkenstock.  So, as you can see, I received not one, but two pairs of the latter, in both brown leather, and black suede.  They may not stay on my feet, but they sure are pretty.

However, the story does not stop here, because we still haven’t gotten around to irony in birthday presents.  So far, we’ve only explored expected results given my blind foolishness and my family’s ill-fated, yet predictable, attempts to fulfill my wishlist.

Today I signed for another package from my uncle, a random box that arrived with little warning or purpose.  I opened it to reveal…

Wait.  I forgot to tell you what I told my mom I wanted for my birthday this year (aside from Birkenstocks).  I wanted a modern wearable-to-work rain coat.  My rain gear currently consists of a “rain cape” circa 1972, a surplus air force rain jacket, and a royal blue double-breasted raincoat with huge white buttons and lined with red fleece.  But nothing I can feel secure going out for a nice evening out, or to wear to work and be taken seriously.  Unless they took Zorro seriously when he swooped in for a business meeting in his cape.  I don’t have the matching mask, though.  So I asked for a trench coat, something which I think is an easy style to find in impermeable fashions these days.  Mom’s package hasn’t arrived yet with the rest of my birthday presents (only the aforementioned birthday suit came on time), but you’ll never guess what Uncle Leo’s box contained.

A gorgeous lambskin trenchcoat in ochre with an asymmetrical closure and stand-up collar.  Perhaps not a “raincoat” in strictest sense, but a beautiful garment.  How did he know?  I’m so glad I didn’t ask him for it, or I might have gotten this instead.

And that, my friends, is the definition of irony.

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