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Hard Times Holiday Guide

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Run DMC said it best when they rapped the words, "Hard times are comin' to your town!" I guess that legendary hip-hop group was being prophetic because these days, times sure ain't easy. And without going over the blow-by-blow of how screwed up our economy is, I'm sure you will agree that things in America and around the globe could be better, right?

But, hey -- lets look beyond the doom and gloom; I mean, this is the holiday season. And you can't let a little thing like a global economic meltdown ruin your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or whatever you celebrate. That's why we -- the fine editorial staff at Creative Loafing -- have assembled 40 of the best (and weirdest) holiday-oriented things to do and buy for $10 or less. So before you go shopping or start planning activities, peruse our list; we've undoubtedly found something that can save you money, time or a headache ... or at the very least make you shart with laughter.

Happy holidays!

1 Magic 8 Ball: Will I have a job next week? Is Christmas spending going to max out my Visa? In this time of uncertainty, the round ball with its icosahedral die may dispense answers that are as good as any. Inventor Abe Bookman probably didn't know just how timeless his toy would be. Found at Paper Skyscraper and other gift shops.

2 Gift certificate from RealEyes Bookstore (or other indie bookstore): A gift certificate from any independent bookstore, whether RealEyes, Park Road or BookBuyers, would be a welcome gift for any reader. And it'll support local businesses that offer incalculable value to the community.

3 Movies from eBay: You can purchase cheap new movies online, often at prices much cheaper than Target or Best Buy; sometimes they're even more affordable than used copies found at video stores. Buy now so you can count on receiving your wares by Christmas.

4 Donkey Cigarette Dispenser: If someone you love just doesn't give a damn what the surgeon general says, the donkey cigarette dispenser may be the gift you're looking for. Your friend can stash cancer sticks in the donkey's pack. When she needs a smoke, she can just press the burro's ears and voila! The donkey will dispense one from his butt. It may not be the classiest gift, but it'll be a memorable one. Mcphee.com, $7.95.

5 Donation to Crisis Assistance Ministry: Unless you've been living under a rock or spending money like Gloria Pace King at a Donna Karan sale, you know times are tough for a lot of Charlotte folks. The people at Crisis Assistance Ministry deal daily with long lines of people needing help with fringe expenses such as rent. Donating money in a friend's name gives your loved one the knowledge that he's helping someone keep the lights on and the rent paid -- a much better gift than slippers or some silly trinket. Except (cough, cough) a donkey cigarette dispenser, of course. www.crisisassistance.org. 500-A Spratt St., 704-371-3001.

6 Donation to spay/neuter fund: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control has more than 600 applications from people who want to get their pets spayed or neutered. What the shelter doesn't have is money to keep the free clinic going: it's suspended new appointments until it can get more funds. The animal lovers in your life would love to know that, instead of buying them the usual crap, you gave money that prevented an unwanted litter of kittens or puppies from suffering. Send checks to Charlotte/Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control, 8315 Byrum Drive, Charlotte, N.C. 28217. Make sure to write spay/neuter clinic in the memo line.

7 Obama Paper Dolls: Do you know Obama fans who can't spring for a trip to D.C. next month to see him inaugurated? With these paper dolls they can stage their very own inauguration at home, and they won't even have to worry about parking. Your friends can dress Barack up in a snazzy wool topcoat, perfect for those chilly D.C. Januarys, or put Michelle in a paper replica of a sheath she made popular. The cost is $7.99 at Obamapaperdoll.com.

8 Holiday Film Series: Treating the whole family to a trip to the movies can be expensive, starting with those hefty admission prices. But thanks to the Holiday Film Series currently playing at the Ballantyne Village Theatre, tickets can be had for the low price of $5 each (or, if you want to watch in style, $7 for those plush leather seats). The lineup for the theater's latest Retro Series consists solely of seasonal fare. Upcoming is the classic It's a Wonderful Life (Dec. 12-14), the modern favorite Elf (Dec. 19-25), and the timeless The Wizard of Oz (Dec. 26-Jan. 1). For times and other details, call 704-369-5101 or go to www.bvtheatre.com.

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