Contrary to popular myth, the sound heard most often during the holiday season is not White Christmas but the universal whine of persons with two X chromosomes that guys are hard to shop for. Even though not in all of recorded holiday history is there an documented instance of a guy collapsing under the tree in tears because that scarf makes him look fat or that jacket isn't the color of the contact lenses he was secretly planning to buy.
We men are genetically programmed to be enthralled by practically anything that emits a powerful projectile or a loud noise. Add in stuff that can be barbecued, hit with a stick or gambled upon, and the world is your shopping oyster, ladies.
Still don't believe me? Let's go to the list:
• Bombing missions: It's not always easy to channel the innate guy urge to blow up things in a socially acceptable direction. Fortunately, the Commemorative Air Force -- the Texas outfit formerly known as the Confederate Air Force, which collects antique war planes -- has flown to our rescue. For a mere $995 (or just $595 if he'll be satisfied sitting in the back), the Commemorative Air Force will take your guy on a half-hour flight aboard Fifi, the last B-29 bomber left in the skies.
It was B-29 bombing runs over Japan -- including those that dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- that brought World War II to an end. No actual bombs get dropped during Fifi's flights into the countryside outside Dallas, but your guy can wheel machine guns (firing pins safely removed) around in turrets, scramble up to the navigation dome and chatter on the intercom with the flight crew. Afterward, he gets a video of the flight.
"You feel the vibrations and hear the engines," says Autumn Hicks, the Commemorative Air Force spokeswoman and definitely an Honorary Guy. "It's cold, it's bumpy, it's not pressurized, and all the time you're remembering that those crews flew for hours to get to their targets. It's an awesome sensory experience . . ." Info: www.cafb29b24.org; 432-413-4100.
For a more sedentary -- and considerably less expensive -- way of experiencing what it was like to fight in the Pacific during World War II, check out the DVD of HBO's riveting miniseries The Pacific (which won eight Emmies) for $80, or The Pacific: Hell Was an Ocean Away, the Hugh Ambrose book on which it was based, for $27. You can find them at www.store.hbo.com.
• Carpe diem, or at least the first hour of it: No guy past the age of 4 likes to get up in the morning. So buy him something that makes it easier by combining waking up with the secret dream of all guys: to be under attack by space aliens. The Sonic Alert-Sonic Boom alarm clock ($43) goes off with flashing blue lights, a weird whining and a vibrating attachment that is practically indistinguishable from an assault by Martian war machines. Order online at www.amazon.com or www.sonicalert.com.
Once up, most guys start the day by holding cold steel blades to their throats in a ritual known as shaving. The folks at The Art of Shaving offer cool little boxes of creams, oils, brushes and blades that range from a $25 Starter Kit for rookie Guys to the $150 Fusion Chrome Collection ProGlide Power Shave Set capable of buzz-cutting a werewolf. See for yourself at www.theartofshaving.com.
• Man vs. fish: This immortal struggle offers endless gift possibilities. For just $425, Dream Catcher Charters (www.dreamcatcherchartersew.com) in Key West will take your guy and a fellow fish-fighter on a four-hour shark hunt during which they'll get a shot at hooking lemon, bull and hammerhead sharks. This is catch-and-release fishing, though there's no guarantee that the shark will reciprocate if he gets the upper hand.
If that seems daunting, resort to the most time-honored custom of fishermen: Lie. Order a package of six swordfish steaks from Bigeye Fish Guys (www.bigeyefishguys.com) for $70, then tell everybody it's really from a shark that nearly ate your boat before you reeled it in after a five-hour battle.
• Building a safer America: The natural guy predilection for crime detection can be addressed with a gift of Bert the Farting Hippo puppet, just like the one that weird goth-girl DNA analyst Abby has on her desk in NCIS. $40 at www.ShoptheShows.com.
• Not dying: A normal guy day of shark-fighting and bombing the Texas prairies requires a certain degree of physical fitness. Obvious answer: a health club membership. But they're expensive, and there's always the possibility that your guy runs off with his hottie trainer.
So go digital with a membership in Mytrak (www.mytrakew .com), a virtual health club that costs $80 plus an $8 a month subscription fee. Your guy exercises at home under the online or telephone supervision of an assigned personal trainer, who monitors what's going on through a little gizmo worn on the guy's belt. The device also gives instant feedback, glowing green when the pace is good, red when your guy is threatening to turn into a slug.
• The other half of the TV: The dirty little secret of television sets: As the picture gets better and better with high-definition and LCD screens, the sound gets worse and worse, because that's how manufacturers keep prices under control. "Sound on TV -- even the fancy sets -- is totally compromised," says Steve Shenefield, product manager of Boston Acoustics.
The TVee Model 20 Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer sounds highly technical and intimidating, which of course is one of the things guys will like about it. Really, it's just a slender horizontal bar that lies in front of your TV. Your guy plugs in a single wire and he can blow over houses down the street with the gunfire on CSI: Miami.
"It's easy to use -- you don't have a separate remote control, or change any settings on your TV," says Shenefield. "You just plug it in and everything, including video games and DVDs, instantly sounds so much better. $300 at Best Boy and other electronics stores or www.bostonewacoustics.com.
• This sporting life: Guys are almost invariably fascinated by anything that involves hitting, kicking or throwing any object that's even vaguely spherical. For $129, you can get your guy an authentic reproduction of the jersies worn by the old Havana Sugar Kings minor-league baseball team, just like the ones worn by legends like Luis Arroyo and Cookie Rojas. Visit www.ebbetsew.com or call 888-896-2936.
For small-ball fans, Golf Pride is marketing personalized golf-club grips like those used by most of the pros, which will not enable your guy to hit a ball about halfway to China, but will help him remember his own name after a long day of blowing double-bogey putts. $62 and up at www.golfpride.com.
If your guy is a baby boomer, reduce him to a slobbering pile of helpless gratitude with a gift from his past, an electric football game. Invented in the 1940s and wildly popular into the early 1970s, these games feature two teams of little plastic players set upon a vibrating metal field connected to a small motor.
When the motor is turned on, the players jiggle and skitter around, sometimes racing downfield for a glorious touchdown but more often zig-zagging in the wrong direction to the soundtrack of anguished guy screams. In short, they're much like most of the recent Miami Dolphins teams. Miggle Toys (www.miggle.com) has various versions of the game, ranging from a $32 battery-operated model to a $500 edition in which the players take steroids, join unions, strike and father hordes of illegitimate offspring with little plastic groupies (separate purchase required). OK, I made up everything about the $500 edition except the price, but for that much money, they oughta.