No Take Backs

Christina Ruffini is a CBS News broadcast associate based in Washington.4691284In the aftermath of the holidays, I have been left with more than a few things that I would like to give back.

First there was the collection of bargain impostor perfumes I received from my anosmatic aunt, which exploded in the mail and arrived at my door smelling like a French brothel.

Then, there was the half-empty bottle of liqueur I got from a friend who simply shrugged and said, "Sorry, I had unexpected company."

I was emailed a lovely collection of digital items – a picture of a teddy bear on Facebook, a singing elf E-card, etc. – that my especially cheap friends sent out in lieu of legitimate gifts (Yes, Jenny, I am talking about you).

The piece de resistance, however, came courtesy of my mother who gave me a floor-length leather jacket that looked like it had been stolen from one of the extras in the Matrix Trilogy.

"I think it's kinda fun," she quipped as I pulled the sheet of dead cow hide out of its box. I smiled, thanked her, and then asked if she had kept the receipt.

Of all the tragic gifts I received this season, the leather tarp was the only one that was actually returnable, so I packed it up, grabbed my keys, and headed to the local mall.

I know it is supposedly better to give than to receive, but as I joined an endless group of embittered store patrons in the "Returns and Exchanges" line, it occurred to me that I was not the only one who thought they had gotten the short end of the adage.

The woman to my left was returning packages of chew toys that a senile relative had sent her long-deceased dog. A few rows up there was a teenage boy exchanging a violently hot pink Ipod for something black, stapled and with the word "death" in the title.

The most disturbing, however, was the young man who had sold his Playstation to buy his girlfriend an engagement ring, only to have her turn him down and then present him with a collection of videogames he no longer had the ability to play.

"Can't I just exchange my girlfriend?" he joked with the humorless, red-vested employee at the counter as he tried to return both the games and the ring.

While I listened to him explain his Gift-of-the-Magi-like situation to the clearly uninterested clerk, I started to think about how nice it would be if we could simply exchange anything in life that we didn't like for something else of equal or lesser value.

This poor guy could trade in his girlfriend for a more commitment minded lass who wouldn't trample on his heart. That lady could exchange her deceased pet for a new one that was still kicking. The sad, malcontent teen could swap his emo melancholy for a cheerier outlook - provided he actually wanted one.

Even better would be if we could expand the exchange program to a national level. Home owners could switch out their foreclosing mortgages for ones they can actually afford. Detroit could trade in its debt-riddled auto makers for companies that turn a profit. Illinois could even barter itself a new governor, one who understands when to let go.

But unfortunately for Illinois, Detroit, and thousand of cash-strapped homeowners, there is no such customer service department. Even if there were, judging by the glacial pace of most return lines, the people in it would likely die of old age long before they ever reached the counter.

I guess, in the end, it's probably better to try and make the best of even the truly crappiest of gifts rather than waste our days standing in roped off rows trying to give them back.

After all, I may not have liked my coat, or the booze, or the bottle of shattered love potions, or the digitally festive facsimiles, but at least I had people who loved me enough to send them.

And that is something much more valuable than store credit.