Christmas in my house was always an exercise in overcompensation. My parents were both middle children and felt slighted all their lives, so they made up for that by spending way too much money on their kids at Christmas. Now we had three types of presents. Gifts from friends and family. They just went under the tree as soon as they arrived. Gifts from my parents were placed under the tree closer to or on Christmas Day itself. And gifts that were just out in the open Christmas morning were Santa's doing.
So Christmas, 1990, I was in the 7th grade, and the only thing I wanted was a pair of Nike Airs. Nike Airs were the first shoes I remember costing $100, but they were the ultimate symbol of awesome. The word Nike over the word Air, elevated you from pretender to contender, just like Michael Jordan himself.
And you had to have Nike Airs. If you just wore Nikes that meant your parents were poor and you were stupid. I mean they obviously weren't poor poor. I mean they weren't buying you Cugas. They just didn't love you enough to keep you from looking like a total idiot in front of the entire school.
And I knew $100 was unbelievably steep for a pair of shoes, but I had focused all of my gift-receiving power on this one cherished item. I don't want socks, I don't want chocolate, I don't want anything else. Tell grandma and Aunt Geri and Uncle Lenn, if they're going to get me anything, give me money toward these shoes. Please, for the love of God. Because I had already told all of my friends that I was getting Nike Airs. It wasn't going to be Davey Nelson equals Converse any more. When you thought of Davey Nelson, you were going to think of Michael Jordan himself. Taking off from the foul line — tongue out, lights flashing. Women would line up to be with me. Men would nod their heads as I walked down the hall. Life as I knew it was about to change.
I was literally praying for these shoes. I could already smell the shoes. I could already see the shoes in my closet. I was even looking forward to the day my shoes were about to die, and I could pop that air bubble thing on the side.
Christmas morning, 5 a.m., my sisters and I are up like a pack of rabid hyenas ready to tear any gift that stood in our way. My parents were trying to take pictures, but eventually they relented and unleashed us, and there under the tree it was. Something the size of a shoe box, wrapped but not there before, which meant it was from my parents, which meant they wanted credit, which meant this was good. And I picked it up, and shook it, and it didn't make a sound. And it was lightweight. And I started to open it, all of my dreams about to come true, the women, the fame, the fortune, and there they were, my Nike ... my Nike ... oh my God they had only gotten me Nikes. And I looked at my parents and they were making the do-you-like-them eyes.
These are Nikes. These are Nikes.
I know Davey, they're Nikes. We got you what you wanted.
I didn't want these. I wanted Nike Airs. I told you a million times Nike Airs.
Well, we can just take them back.
When next month? Oh, I hate these shoes. I hate you guys. You've totally ruined my Christmas.
And I went to my room, and I locked the door. And I was hurt. And angry. And humiliated.
My parents were not happy with me. Not only had my behavior ruined their Christmas, but it had also exposed their only son as a spoiled little brat.
From then on, when my parents gave gifts they weren't sure if we were going to like or not, they left them unwrapped. Let Santa deal with all of that.
David Lee Nelson is an actor, playwright, and comedian. He is the playwright in residence at PURE Theatre and his new play, A Sudden Spontaneous Event Parts 1, 2, and 3 will open at PURE in March.