I have a cat who is fond of sleeping on his back with all four paws up in the air while hanging his head backward over the edge of something. Which explains why Max fell from the top of the refrigerator last week and landed in a Wedgwood soup tureen that used to be part of my matching set of wedding-gift china but now serves as a cat food bowl.

The cat survived. The cat food bowl didn't.

And while your average, uptight person might have gone ballistic about the loss of such a treasured heirloom, I saw in it the opportunity to cross off another question mark on my Christmas list and replace it with the following notation:

Max -- Red, possibly orange, plastic cat food bowl. Also, if finances permit, cheap catnip mouse.

There. That leaves question marks next to only 14 of the 15 names on my list.

Amazing! A whole week left until Christmas and I'm already ahead of my usual pace.

"How's the Christmas shopping going?" are the five words I do not want to hear.

The person to whom Christmas shopping comes easily cannot possibly identify with the plight of one who simply draws a blank when trying to match up gift with giftee.

I won't go into every little detail, but both my psychoanalyst and my chiropractor tell me that I'm too much of a perfectionist and instead of worrying so much about whether it's appropriate to give a gift certificate for obedience training lessons to a neighbor with a passion for unruly dogs, I should just do it. If the neighbor doesn't like it, they tell me, he can always return it. (The certificate, of course, not the dog.)

That's easy for them to say. They probably do not have a childhood history, as I do, of giving their mothers -- five Christmases in a row -- a Deluxe Spice Rack Set containing your 50 most-used spices (everything from anise to turmeric) while, at the same time, observing a brother giving that very same mother the most imaginative, unique and often handmade gifts.

Nor do they suffer the consequences resulting from such repeated trauma; which is to say, a complete breakdown in whatever emotional or neurological function controls one's ability to exercise an appropriate set of criteria when purchasing gifts for loved -- or liked -- ones.

It is the kind of lingering malfunction that has led me in Christmases past to contemplate giving the following inappropriate gifts:

* Bowling lessons to a music critic.

* A WaterPik to Cousin Jane's newborn baby.

* Circus tickets to a shut-in.

* A charcoal grill to a vegetarian.

* A basket of assorted condiments to a new and sizzling Significant Other.

* A certificate for a year's worth of dry-cleaning to my 9-year-old goddaughter.

* A silver-tipped walking cane to the teen-ager who cuts my grass.

Personally, I do not care what people give me for Christmas. Although, should you be considering gifting me this season, I say right off: Please, no appliances. No major appliances. No minor ,, appliances.

Years of child-raising and accepting gifts from the children so raised have left me with a sizable Appliance Graveyard: toaster ovens, mini-vacuums, Swedish pancake machines, vegetable slicer/dicer/choppers, Mr. Coffees, patio vacuums, electric combs, ice crushers, yogurt makers and my personal favorite, a small soda fountain. All these and more can be found in the backs of my closets and kitchen cabinets.

(Note to the interested: I would not mind receiving a certificate for a year's worth of fingernail transplants. If such a thing exists. Or a voucher that entitles me to an evening spent in the company of new Orioles outfielder Dwight Evans. If such a thing is possible.)

Not everyone, of course, is as easy to please as I am. And I freely admit there have been, and continue to be, moments when I wonder if I should just throw in the towel and give money or home-baked goods to everyone on my list.

But then, just as I'm about to go to the bakery to buy some home-baked goods, a light bulb in the shape of a Christmas tree goes off over my head and I'm up and running again: A monogrammed smoking jacket for the mailman, a black lace bustier for the cleaning lady, a red wool beret for Max, tap-dancing lessons for Aunt Eunice, and for the New Boyfriend, a copy of "Alan Alda: A Guy for all Seasons."

It's a wonderful life!

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