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GETTING CARDED 


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Two weeks past the Christmas season, it's become clear; that the gift card has supplanted the dollar as the basic unit of currency.; While you're squeezing the last penny's worth of purchasing power out of your; precious Target card, you might be wondering what kinds of highly specialized; vouchers the rich and famous found under their own trees Dec. 25. According to; store reports, here's how our society's movers and shakers are swiping their; way to nirvana:

Tom and Katie Cruise — The first couple of the American; screen were delighted to the point of diabetic glee when their remaining; friends presented them with a gift card to The Scientology Store, the; one-stop-shopping outlet for the spiritually superior. The avowedly happy; lovebirds used their card to procure the raw supplies all new parents need,; including baby clothes, nursery decorations and a $360,000 machine that removes; the souls of dead space aliens from the infant's body while it sleeps. Mom and; Dad did allow themselves one prideful, if baby-related, indulgence: a $999 Dell; Inspiron that will make it easier to upload their hourly ultrasound updates to MySpace.;

Danny Howell — Things haven't been the same on the Ocoee; City Commission since the departure of Howell, a colorful, controversial figure; who in 2004 was found sleeping in his car in a public park, with his pants; around his ankles. But if Howell has been harboring any worry that his retreat; into ordinary life might lessen his chances of public humiliation, it had; evaporated come Christmastime, when pal Tony Cristelli — who had claimed; responsibility for the infamous pantsing — presented Howell with a gift card to; The Belt Outlet. Immediately laying in a supply of attractive leather models; two sizes larger than what he actually wears, Howell drastically increased the; possibility that he will unexpectedly drop his drawers at the most amusingly; inopportune of times —during Sunday worship services, at his children's; graduation ceremonies, or while in court on charges of violating our state's; open-government laws.

Elton John — Now that Sir Elton is playing hide the; scepter with hubby David Furnish in royally sanctioned bliss, friends and other; thirds thought that a gift card to Harrods would be just the tribute for Father; Christmas to bestow upon the happy honeymooners. But they were forgetting a; serious gaffe committed by Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed, who last July had; given voice to the innermost thoughts of the entire Western world by; pronouncing John's hair plugs "quelle horrible." So John and Furnish gathered; up their so-called dignity and flounced over to rival store Marks & Spencer, which has a policy of accepting all Harrods cards as long as the; bearer promises to never again let a note of "Candle in the Wind" pass his; lips. Not a pound in product value was lost as Mr. and Mrs. Rocket Man laid in; a hefty supply of sequined steak knives, plumed shoe trees and this cute little; lawn jockey that plays "Rule Britannia" when you smack it on the ass just so.

Jack Abramoff — When critics say that Abramoff's conduct; typifies cash-and-carry government at its most heinous, they're only showing; how out of step with the times they really are. Even before the survivor totals; for this year's Macy's parade had been announced, it was gift-card-and-carry; government that was driving the Beltway's underground economy. Sympathetic; senators chipped in this yuletide to present Abramoff with a portfolio of cards; redeemable at businesses known as "front" organizations for the U.S. Congress,; including the Salvation Army Thrift Store and Victoria's Secret. Reports that Abramoff; swiftly lost more than half of the cards by putting them up as insurance in; seafaring games of baccarat were unverifiable at press time.

Pat Robertson — God's infallible messenger on this Earth; received a joint gift card issued by the CIA and La Cosa Nostra, which in 2005; became tired of making their mutual clients pay them in unmarked bills and; heroin, and streamlined their collusion into one handy piece of plastic. The; Rev. Robertson quickly settled on a constructive use for his present: He; purchased clandestine strikes against the leaders of several sovereign nations,; all of whom had defied God's carefully delineated prescriptions for moral; living and the competitive trading of petroleum. A small amount that remained; on Robertson's card after the hits were called in was spent entirely on; biscotti.

Manuel J. Padin — Princeton resident Padin became something of a; celebrity on June 18, when he claimed his share of a Florida Lotto jackpot that; netted him a one-time, lump-sum payment of $1,764,710. When Christmas rolled; around, distant relatives and long-lost schoolmates toyed with the idea of; giving Padin a gift card to Sanchez Exxon of Homestead, where he had purchased; his winning ticket. But finding such teasing in poor taste for a season of; generosity, they opted to hew more closely to tradition and dispense a good; old-fashioned jealous beating instead. He is currently in stable condition at; Sacred Heart of Mary Hospital, where the cafeteria coincidentally does a brisk; trade in gift cards.

sschneider@orlandoweekly.com

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