BRAINTREE — The supplicants, one after the other, approached the table bearing gifts they carefully placed before people who would somehow make everything right.
The Christmas gifts were not brought by wise men, and certainly not by handy men. They were carried to volunteers at the South Shore Plaza who possessed a very mysterious and very essential talent: how to wrap a present.
“No matter how easy it is, I screw it up,” said Mike Rusconi of Dorchester, a lawyer who watched with awed detachment as Desiree Jenkins confidently wrapped a large, ungainly gift for his boss. “I think it’s the attention to detail that men lack in general.”
Jenkins cut, folded, tied, and taped at a table staffed by volunteers whose wrapping, at $5 to $12 per gift, benefited the Boys & Girls Club of Brockton. She was rarely idle at a station where team leader Janet Allen of Avon estimated that 99 percent of the customers are men.
“The other 1 percent seem to be elderly women with arthritis,” Allen said.
As the days until Christmas dwindle, demand for wrapping rockets. Lines grow longer, the wrappers pick up speed, and paper cuts sting more frequently.
But Allen said she does not mind. She considers this work less hectic than her regular job, from which she used vacation time to volunteer here.
“I’m in accounting; it’s the end of the year, and this is less stressful,” said Allen, who stood behind a table surrounded by the tools of her holiday trade. There were upright carousels of festive wrapping paper; red, pink, green, and silver spools of ribbon; dispensers filled with tape; and shiny scissors to cut paper and curl ribbon.
Between customers, Allen did not equivocate. She politely, but firmly, stated that men are inferior to women when it comes to wrapping.
“I don’t think they’re nimble with their fingers, and their hands are bigger,” Allen said. “There are crooked edges, and the corners are messed up, and it looks like a pillow. They don’t know how to get it tight.”
Despite the best intentions and a healthy work ethic, Rusconi said, he cannot seem to deliver. “I’ve been trying to wrap my own gifts for years now, and I botch it all the time,” he conceded.
Inside neighboring Macy’s, between bustling counters in the men’s fragrance department, a cluster of paper-cutting, ribbon-circling, corner-folding experts awaited an onslaught of wrapping-frantic shoppers that they know will be clamoring for their services.
“The customers ask for it. They love it,” said Chris O’Connell, the Macy’s manager, whose store opened at 7 a.m. Friday and will not close again until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve. That’s 107 consecutive hours of round-the-clock wrapping opportunities.
Isn’t that a recipe for bow-tying burnout?
“No, I never get sick of it,” said Sue Cutter of New Seabury, who has worked the Christmas season for decades. “We have customers who come back for 20 or 30 years, to see us every year, and to catch up and talk.”
These fragrance experts — some who work for Macy’s and some for vendors — pitch in at the wrapping table when they can take a break from selling. The storewide wrapping service was discontinued several years ago, they said, and this smaller table is a way to meet some of the continued demand.
Here in the men’s fragrance department, at least, women were well represented among the wrapping-seekers one recent afternoon. Sometimes, convenience trumps all.
Karen Summer, who lives in Braintree, said wrappers all have different styles. She prefers wrapping paper to be thick and easier to manipulate. “You have to be really careful if the paper is thin,” she said.
That skill set developed during childhood, when wrapping chores were given to Summer, as the youngest of five children.
Other traits are patience and attention, said Jeanette Abboud, who acknowledged that wrapping gift after gift can get tedious.
“It can be more fun to do it for others than it is for your own family, especially after work,” Abboud said with a small laugh.
As she spoke, Jennifer Affanato of Mansfield pitched in, tying ribbon and preparing gift boxes with a bit of paper filler.
And what about the busman’s holiday aspect of the job: wrapping for the family after wrapping at work?
“If no one’s home, you can always put on some music,” Affanato said with a smile.
And that, it seems, is a wrap.
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.