Everybody’s got talents. Some people can sing a pretty tune or dance in rhythm to a sonorous waltz; others can swallow swords while juggling bowling pins with one hand and humming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in a lilting falsetto. Pretty sure I saw that on the Internet once.

Both feats are impressive, but this is the time of year when my amazement at these skills is reduced to insignificance by a talent so shockingly simple, yet so frustratingly out-of-reach, that it takes all of my willpower to keep from drowning myself in a bowl of figgy pudding.

Adequately wrapping a present. Now that’s a skill.

Regarding adept gift-wrapping as worthy of genuine awe probably places me in a small minority. Most presents, whether tucked underneath Christmas trees or arranged in glittering storefront displays, look as though they’ve been wrapped by someone who knows what they’re doing. The explanation for this is likely simple: Most people know what they’re doing. We’re talking about placing a strip of paper around a box, for cryin’ out loud, not programming landing instructions into a lunar module.

As many competent gift-wrappers as there seem to be, though, I can’t count myself among their ranks. Certain tasks, no matter how basic, are simply beyond the grasp of some. “Some,” of course, being a euphemism for “those of us lacking in motor skills and patience.”

Think of a typical present you’ll receive for Christmas. Nothing amiss, right? The paper is smooth and taut, conforming perfectly to the contours of the box. There’s a delicate bow perched atop the shimmering package, a solid color to offset the gift’s snowman-and-reindeer motif. Maybe there’s a well-placed tag with your name on it. It’s the kind of presentation you’ve been expecting for years, because the people in your life who buy you things either know how to wrap, or know enough to bring their cargo to the skilled gift-wrapping professionals at the mall. Rarely do you find yourself sitting under your tree on Christmas morning with a monstrosity in your hand, turning it this way and that, and muttering to yourself, “What the (bleep) is this?”

Unless you’re a member of my family.

If you’re in the Lagasse clan, or otherwise warrant a gift from me, then you’re in for a unique visual experience. First of all, I lack consistent access to quality wrapping paper. With a small family, and not many items to purchase, it’s just never at the forefront of my mind to actually go out and buy some. This turns every gift-wrapping session into a last-minute, frenzied search for any materials I can use; one year I used the cover of a Time magazine. Which doesn’t sound all that absurd, until you consider that the cover photo that week was Saddam Hussein protruding from a tank. Hey mom, merry Christmas! Death to infidels!

In recent years, my job has given me access to reams of newspaper that’s adequately suited for the purpose. To keep the spirit festive, I typically employ the Sunday comics pages for my wrapping endeavors; the Hussein experiment highlighted the deficiencies of wrapping material that’s plastered with photos of war-torn cities and smug dictators. Garfield and Luann don’t always serve as the most Christmasy of themes, but when opening presents, it’s better to see a cat scarfing lasagna than militarized police envoys whacking protesters upside their heads with bamboo poles.

Even with that consideration in mind, the newsprint idea only works if you can pull off a clean wrapping job. This is my ever-vexing Achilles’ heal. When I’m done camouflaging my gift, it looks like a bomb that was covered in old Beetle Bailey strips and then detonated in transit. There are beaver dams that have been assembled with more talent. It’s fortunate that I’ve only got a few items to buy each year; if I had a sprawling, Full House-type family, the floor under the tree would resemble the bottom of a bird cage, minus the dried poop.

I’ve tried. I really have. On extremely rare occasions, I’ve done a less-than-embarassing job, giving me a jolt of holiday confidence that lasts for about five minutes. Then it’s on to the next item, and when it comes out looking as though it were assembled by an epileptic spider monkey, it’s back to those old, familiar doldrums.

Diagnosing the problem has proven tricky. Employing other areas of my life as evidence, it seems the most likely explanation is that I have trouble folding things. An excursion through my unmentionables drawer serves as pretty compelling proof. When it comes to clothes, my folding style is about two steps removed from not folding at all; you could drop a cat in my sock piles and not find it for weeks. If I can’t even master the correct folding of a T-shirt, which wraps around nothing, how am I expected to fold a swatch of paper over the contoured case of a power drill? It’d be easier to engineer my own space craft and go rock collecting in the Sea of Tranquility.

Luckily, I’m a decent gift giver. The folks on my “nice” list might scratch their heads at the disturbing lumps they receive, but at the very least I try to put some thought into what’s under the lumps ”“ diamonds, essentially, swaddled in coal. The always-ubiquitous “they” say it’s the thought that counts, and that’s good news, ’cause if they were handing out points for presentation, I’d get a meaningless participation award and a dime-store cigar that tastes like raccoon droppings. That’s what they give to last-place finishers, isn’t it? Sounds about right.

No seasonal gig at the North Pole for this renegade elf. Instead, Christmas survival hinges on two glorious words: Gift bags. They’re not perfect. But considering the alternative, I’ll take ’em.

— Jeff Lagasse is a staff writer and columnist for the Journal Tribune. When not using found objects to disguise packages of tube socks, he can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 319 or [email protected]