First Published in The Record on Dec. 26, 2016
On day after Christmas, big hopes Come in small packages
Sometimes we carry our biggest dreams in the plainest packages. Victor Morgado sat in an armchair at the back of a Barnes & Noble bookstore on Monday and held his dream on his lap, wrapped in a white plastic bag.
The bag contained two hardcover books. One was titled “Crock Pot: The Original Slow Cooker,” and the other was “The Paleo Slow Cooker.” At age 62, Morgado spent decades eating stir-fried meat for dinner, and now he has a chunky torso and high blood pressure. His daughter is 15, and her parents’ divorce in 2011 left her estranged and angry.
When will she forgive him? Morgado doesn’t know. Maybe it will take years, he said. This is why he went to The Shops at Riverside mall the day after Christmas to buy books on slow, healthy cooking.
Someday his daughter will love him back. Morgado is preparing to wait.
“I need to start eating healthier food so that I can be here when she’s ready,” Morgado said. “The main thing is that I have to stay alive.”
Many gifts are uncomplicated, devoid of meaning or portent. We give a pair of gloves for Christmas, we receive a gift card for Hanukkah, and we smile and soon forget it. Other things are so tied to personal taste they rarely work as holiday presents.
“People don’t really give comfortable shoes as Christmas gifts,” said Andrew Green, manager of the Aetrex shoe store in downtown Englewood, which was open but quiet Monday morning.
Other gifts carry deeper purpose. As they visited shops in quiet historic downtowns or battled for parking spaces in busy suburban shopping malls, some people in North Jersey found the day after Christmas to be the perfect time for buying gifts that align with their highest aspirations.
Many of those gifts were small and informally wrapped, if they were wrapped at all.
Others came packaged exquisitely. Cory Nieves aspires someday to be rich. He is the founder and CEO of Mr. Cory’s Cookies, a cookie baking company he started when he was 6 years old. Now, at age 12, he appears to be reasonably well on his way, walking down Dean Street in Englewood on Monday wearing brown wingtip boots, tight-fitting blue jeans, a belt buckle shaped like a lobster claw, a blue mock turtleneck, a blue blazer with a white kerchief tucked into the breast pocket, eyeglass frames with no glass inside, and his hair picked into a high, round Afro.
In his right hand he carried two bracelets from a Pandora jewelry store.
“That was his idea,” said Cory's mother, Lisa Howard. “I mean, not a lot of kids think of things like that.”
Cory hopes his circle of friends soon will include Howard Schultz, the longtime CEO of Starbucks. So he had a little stunt planned. He walked into Englewood’s Starbucks store carrying a Starbucks teddy bear in his left hand. After some quick consultations between his mother and the store’s manager, five Starbucks employees walked around the counter and posed around Cory for a photo, which Howard snapped with her iPhone.
“This is our office. We’re here all the time,” Howard said. “All the people here know Mr. Cory, and sometimes they take messages for us.”
Cory and his mother hope their relationship with Starbucks will grow. They’ve already sent Schultz a number of letters, they said, with no response. This year, with a teddy bear in hand and the gift of a photo from a perfectly dressed kid, they hope to get Schultz’s attention.
“I would like him to be my mentor,” Cory said.
Back at the Barnes & Noble in Hackensack, Bondette Tangen held gifts she hoped would help bring her angry, suffering family back together. Her daughter suffers from scoliosis and arthritis, and needs surgery to correct a twisted vertebra. Her son is in a tempestuous marriage, which grew even rockier when he supported Donald Trump for president and his wife voted for Hillary Clinton.
“The fighting has been going on for years,” said Tangen, 72. “It’s complicated now by different political views.”
To help her 11-year-old granddaughters take a break from all the stress, Tangen took them shopping. One, Charlotte, has been so down from all the arguments at home that she’s stopped doing her homework and paying attention in class, Tangen said, which leaves her in danger of failing some subjects. Her other granddaughter, Gianna, just needed a break from the house.
“My aspirations are just for my family to be happier next year,” said Tangen, of Garfield.
So Tangen sat at Barnes & Noble holding gifts the girls had picked out, including a Batman figurine and a package of nonstick Playfoam balls. For Christmas she gave each girl a camera that instantly prints small photos, and she carried a small metal tin with some of the prints inside.
“It’s to help them take pictures, and hopefully have fun together,” Tangen said.
Many important gifts were left at home on Monday. Morgado’s daughter is an artist and a budding punk rocker, he said, with hair dyed bright pink and an image of the Buddha tattooed on the back of her hand. To support her, Morgado bought her a pair of maroon Dr. Martens boots. He wrapped them in Christmas paper and positioned the box just inside her bedroom at Morgado’s house in Bergenfield, just in case.
“She doesn’t come over much, so I have them in her room for when she comes over,” he said. “Or, I guess I should say, if she decides to come over. I hope she does.”