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Finding the right (odd) gift

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 9, 2001
(Issue 1945, Holiday Shopper)

Every family has one – an uncle or cousin who's just a little off. While entertaining at get-togethers, they're weirdness also makes the rest of the family dread picking their name at holiday gift-exchange time.

In our family, I'm that oddball.

My passions are music, books and computers, roughly in that order. But since I review CDs and books, most folks are too intimidated by my Amazing Wall of Music (okay, it's still more LPs than CDs) and 1,000-plus books to ever try buying me either. (Although for my 40th birthday back in September, two friends each got me a jazz disc I didn't have – very impressive and quite appreciated!)

So even I have to admit that shopping for me is a bit of a toughie.

Rhino Handmade Records

Rhino Records is famed for its slick "best of" collections. If K-tel Records was the Volkswagen of compilations, Rhino is the Stutz Bearcat. Their boxed sets are always complete, informative and well-packaged.

If that's not enough, they're now selling limited-edition, hand-numbered box sets from the above site. When we visited, topics ranged from The Monkees to blues great Taj Mahal, Cher to John Coltrane.

And with the pressing runs generally limited to about 3,000 each, it's not likely that the pickiest recipient will already have one of these.

Mosaic Records

Mosaic does for jazz what Rhino does for everything – turn out the very best boxed sets you can imagine. As with the Rhino Handmade releases, everything from Mosaic is a limited-edition set, hand-numbered. Current titles range from Anita O'Day to Chico Hamilton; typical runs are 5,000.

Toaster Central

Remember those cool, old chromium toasters that your grandmothers used to have? With the black Bakelite handles and darkness adjusters and the cool, thick fabric-covered electric cord?

You can still find them at Toaster Central. From the 1930s-'50s, the old toasters for sale here are still in working condition, generally in beautiful cosmetic shape as well.

They're not cheap – most are over $100. But they're like nothing being made today, that's for sure.

Touting itself as "The Source for Hard to Find Spark Plugs," might be just the spot to go shopping for the automotive or motorboat fan in your social circle.

Now, at this point, you may be thinking, "How on Earth do I know what spark plug to buy Uncle Maurice?" has a useful little utility to walk you through this – all you need to know is the year, make and model of their vehicle. Now, if you're shopping for a real motor buff, getting them to talk about their car/motorcycle/boat (or even snowmobile) isn't going to be real hard. Just listen away and then scribble down their answers. If you don't get all the categories the first time, it's not as if getting them to talk about their hobby a second time is going to be all that tough, either.

Couldn't find anyplace to buy gift certificates here – too bad about that.

While they don't have much other than stuffed animals right now, the online version of the gift shops from the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park is a pretty cool place for finding different stuffed animals. Sure, you can get a teddy bear – but you can also get opossum, snakes, gazelle and wildebeests. Won't find those at the local Hallmark.

And they have recently added a few items beyond the stuffed animals – click on the "Exclusive Souvenirs" button on the home page, and you'll find a small selection of ties, videos, and various knick-knacks.