Wrapping up the long career of Mr. Tape
THIS JUST IN ... It turns out that, despite decades of what I believed to be carrying out my best efforts, I’ve actually been annoying those around me during the holiday season.
I know this will come as a great shock to those who were certain that I was annoying at other times of the year — days of the week that end in Y, for instance — but it appears that by performing a particular Christmas duty, I was even more annoying than usual ... if such a thing was possible.
The crime for which I must confess my guilt? ... I wrap gifts too neatly.
The evidence against me comes from researchers at the University of Nevada, whose study in the recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology presented the conclusion that a neatly wrapped present — for instance, taut, attractive paper, secured by cohesive strips of tape and topped with a perfectly knotted ribbon in the upper left corner — created an unreachable level of excitement in the minds of those who would rip apart the wrapping in a matter of seconds.
The Grinches behind the study have labeled this phenomenon “Expectation Disconfirmation Theory” — which results in the giftee (you) finding inside the package an offering of lesser-perceived value that they would expect, given the work the gifter (me) put into its appearance.
Not only that, the researchers say that this disappointment is amplified depending on how close a relationship the giftees (that’s you, remember?) believe they have with the gift-giver.
A lackluster present inside a box wrapped with panache by someone who you thought cared can send otherwise level-headed folks into the pit of despair.
Don’t blame me for this; take it out on those researchers at the University of Nevada (and, while you’re at it, cancel your subscription to the Journal of Consumer Psychology)... they’re the one who are really annoying.
I learned to wrap at the knee of my mother, who noticed that even at an early age I had a fascination for straight lines, proper angles, and tape that would be free of air bubbles and those annoying ridges that erupt when the tectonic plates of the paper weren't properly flattened.
My mother would sit back, chain-smoking in a chair, and hand me the gift, tell me who it was for, then watch me go to work.
By my early teens, I had the worst-wrapped Christmas presents in the family ... since, obviously, like the small town with only two barbers, I couldn’t wrap my own gifts.
I became obsessively systematic. One year, each sibling’s gifts would be covered with the same patterned paper; another year, they would be color-coded. I would determine when childhood paper of snowmen and cartoon reindeer were now “too young” for those entering their later teens.
And I became an adhesive addict (to the point where the woman who has lived with me the past 40 years despite my ability to annoy started calling me “Mr. Tape.”)
Tape had to be just so. The bubbles and ridges were just the baseline prerequisites: There had to be three pieces of equal length spaced equidistantly across the back of the box. Tape would be in an X-pattern on the sides (she weaned me down from my preferred asterisk pattern). Most importantly, no strip of tape should “fall over the edge” and interlope upon a side for which it was not intended.
We went through a lot of tape.
The one year my mother excluded me from this tradition, I started to get the shakes ... until she informed us that she was doing something special that Christmas, and we would have to wait to find out.
When the morning arrived, we headed downstairs to find each gift had a tag with only a number from one to five attached. We did the math, and realized that these somewhat adequately wrapped presents would depend on which number corresponded to which of the siblings.
Our mother was quite pleased with herself — until she realized that she hadn’t kept track of which of us was which — and we spent the morning exchanging opened gifts with one another as she became increasingly flustered and our father couldn’t stop laughing.
It might be anecdotal evidence, but that incident would seem to verify the findings of the Nevada researchers’ corollary to the Expectation Disconfirmation Theory — that Christmas presents wrapped in a haphazard, homespun or even slipshod manner tug at the heartstrings of the giftee and linger in the memory.
In their later years, when their children had each moved away and family Christmases were a thing of the past, gifts would arrive from my parents accompanied only by the distinctive heavy odor of cigarette smoke.
What wrapping there was would be quickly removed and thrown away, and the contents either aired out or immediately washed.
Even the most tightly secured tape cannot withstand the flipping of the calendar, however; this year went sent off envelopes to various points on the compass, each containing one of those store cards that allow giftees to choose their own gifts.
No deciding on the style or color of wrapping paper. No ribbons or tags. No chance of breaking the rules of the Expectation Disconfirmation Theory.
Well ... that’s not quite true. Each envelope, properly licked and smoothly fastened, does have an extraneous adhesive strip cutting directly through the center of the triangles on the back.
After all, it’s Christmas — and what would a holiday season be without a traditional hint of annoyance from Mr. Tape.
Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin tapes sticky notes to his desk at firstname.lastname@example.org