That e-vite arrived weeks ago and you promptly replied with a confident yes. But somehow it never registered in the brain. And suddenly here it is, 5:30 -- and you're about to hop on the Metro, giftless and guilty. This is when creativity kicks in, folks: Walk into the first drugstore or supermarket you see.

Safeway is chock-full of gift certificates (Gap, Blockbuster, the Olive Garden). "There's always lottery tickets," says Lisa Arbetter, Cargo magazine's executive editor.

But if you don't want to look too last minute: "Kill them with quantity if you can't get quality," Arbetter says. She suggests baskets -- with themes like "watch a movie" or "pampering" or just a "fave thing" -- where you can walk up and down the aisles and grab things that fit in with your theme.

At Rite Aid, while looking for a gal pal's birthday present, we scored retro wrapping paper (Strawberry Shortcake!) and an Elle magazine. When she rips open the gift, that's your cue to gleefully explain, "I got you a subscription!" This can be subbed with any fashion/gossip trash/gadget/home monthly.

At Whole Foods, we went in search of a last-minute new-baby gift. Aside from champagne and flowers -- it's easy to put together a little tyke grab bag filled with all those newborn essentials: diaper cream, soap and powder. At Starbucks, we scored a CD for a friend who's about to road-trip cross-country. (Drinking-straw wrappers make a nice bow.) And one time, super late and desperate, we ducked into our neighborhood 7-Eleven searching for a "welcome to the neighborhood" gift; there behind the counter we saw a map of the Washington metro area.

The point is anything is better than being empty handed. "It shows you took the time," Arbetter says, "even if you know you didn't."

-- Janelle Erlichman Diamond

For a baby: Roger La Borde gift bag ($3.50) and card ($2.75), Burt's Bees Baby Bee diaper cream ($7.99), Healthy Sunflower soap ($2.99), Country Comfort baby powder ($6.55) and California Baby moisturizing cream ($8.95) at Whole Foods.For your guy friend: Coldplay's "X&Y" CD ($15.95) at Starbucks.For your new friend: Metro Washington map ($12.95), at 7-Eleven.For your girl friend: Retro Strawberry Shortcake wrapping paper ($2.59), red bow ($1.29), pink ribbon ($1.39), Elle magazine ($3.50) and Pixy Stix (.99) at Rite Aid.