KLEPTO was sitting on his front stoop. "I'm waiting for the mailman," he told me.
"You must be expecting an important letter."
"I'm actually on the lookout for Christmas packages. The more I get, the happier I'll be."
"Most of us feel that way," I said.
"The gifts are not for myself -- they are for other people
I looked confused.
He explained, "As you know we're having a conservative holiday and are being frugal. So Ruth and I came up with this idea. Instead of buying any new gifts, we'll just pass along the ones that are sent to us, minus the card, of course."
"But if you give away everything you receive, you won't have anything for Christmas."
"It doesn't matter. Most of the presents we get aren't anything to write home about. Look at this Ratatouille Popcorn in a can. Many folks couldn't do without it, but we can. Believe it or not, Ruth and I have spent eight or nine Christmases without Ratatouille Popcorn."
"What will you do with it?"
"I'll send it to my brother-in-law, Toady. He mailed us a pound of goat's cheese last year which, I am certain, his boss gave him. We've been very lucky this December. The Rapps sent us a letter-opener, which we immediately passed on to the Ludwigs after they mailed us a Christmas washcloth."
"Who got the washcloth?"
"We can't decide. We still haven't received a gift from the Lyons or the Porters."
"The system is great as long as you don't get the presents mixed up," I said.
"We did that last year. The Constantines gave us garden shears. By mistake we sent the shears back with our card attached. Damned if we didn't get a rave note from Fitzi Constantine saying that they were the most beautiful garden shears she had ever seen."
"That must have made you feel good," I told him.
"Sending other people's gifts for Christmas isn't as cheap as you might think. There is the cost of wrapping paper, ribbon and postage."
"Why can't you use the same wrapping paper that it came in?"
"That would be cheating," he said.
"Suppose you pass along a gift to someone, and that person doesn't send you one?"
"You mean like you?"
"OK, like me."
"I don't keep score. You can still hold on to the cactus plant from Mary Ellen Clarkin with no questions asked."
"If I mail something to you, Klepto, can I designate the person I want you to send it to?"
"No, because you may not know what he or she likes -- and when it comes to gift-passing, the most important thing is to do it with love."
"You certainly have taken the Grinch out of Christmas," I said.
"Someone has to support the economy."