This year, my suffering will be legendary.
In order to fully explain my suffering, I must tell you about my honeymoon.
My beautiful wife (Kerri) and her beautiful husband (me) went to the beautiful White Mountains to behold their beautiful beauty. When we had beheld all the beauty we could possibly tolerate, we opted for something slightly different. Something to counteract the overdose of beauty we had subjected ourselves to.
Imagine our joy then, when we discovered, nestled amid the majestic mountains, a tiny shop like nothing we had ever seen before. FiFi's Clutter Shop.
FiFi's was home to the most amazing collection of eyesores the world has ever seen. So dense was the collective ugliness of its offerings, I am surprised that the building didn't form its own ugly black hole and suck itself into some alternate dimension.
We immediately sprang into action and spent hours shopping for souvenirs for all our friends. We were panting and breathless as we staggered out of FiFi's, struggling to carry the immeasurable ugliness we had purchased.
Needless to say, our friends were delighted with their gifts. It was their obvious thrill at receiving such wonderful treasures that gave me The Idea.
Really, it's quite simple. Every year, everyone who wants to play goes shopping to find the most awful, ugly, horrifying objet d'art he can. The rules are few and simple. It cannot cost more than $5 and it cannot pose an actual health hazard to humans or domestic animals (including children), the gift you receive must be prominently displayed in your home until the next swap. Once a date is decided on, we gather together to eat, drink, and inflict a year's worth of heartbreak, despair, and depression on one another. Names are drawn, gifts are swapped, and lives are ruined.
The best part about The Swap is when somebody new joins. This sucker typically has no idea what sort of depraved lunatics we are and thus, his contribution is invariably supremely inadequate. My friends Jay and Cris came up from North Carolina to play a few years ago. They brought a soap dispenser which would be considered slightly tacky at best.
They left with a terrifying, life size, light up witch head that would have given Charles Manson nightmares. Jay told me that Cris was weeping profusely for much of the ride back down south.
The unpleasant part about that is that typically those people will return the following year seeking vengeance. Jay and Cris came up the following year in a large pickup truck with a tarp wrapped around something huge in the back. We were seized with an unnameable horror, but they walked into the swap with a small gift bag. Kerri and I drew their name and opened the bag to reveal a fairly ugly framed picture of five fairly ugly chairs. No problem. We'd had worse. Much worse.
We laughed, telling them that we had been concerned that the cargo in the back of the truck was their contribution. As it turns out, it was. The photograph depicted the five horrid black, purple, and turquoise velvet covered chairs stacked in the back of their truck.
That was a grim year in the Kelley household.
There have also been backfires where the recipient actually enjoys the gift. Julie and Scott received a gigantic painting of an old waterwheel mill that they adore, It is still hanging prominently in their home several years later.
Last year, I myself was given a delightful light-up Jesus picture so unthinkably, exquisitely tacky that I cannot bear to remove it from my studio. Here you can see it lit and unlit. Feel free to bask in its beatific splendor for as long as you wish. I know I do.
Here are a few more selected highlights from this year's Swap:
Ben finds the real moth entombed in this display case strangely compelling. The fake birds and clumps of dead foliage act as a delightful counterpoint to everything that is beautiful.
Julie is nearly rendered speechless as she beholds the awesome spectacle of her light-up glass tiles with the festive Christmas bow. Her husband, Scott immediately realizes that the gift, with its Christmas trappings will be rendered even less appealing when July rolls around.
Tim enjoys his 300 pound door knocker, but wonders if there are any doors sturdy enough to support its crushing weight. This is one of those dangerous cases where the recipient may actually enjoy the gift. He will suffer greatly for that next year.
Jo-Ann contemplates the sweeping, all-encompassing horror of the oil portrait she and Ellen will display in the home they are trying to sell. Their idea to include the painting with the house as part of the sales agreement was denied by general consensus.
Here I am squealing with delight as I see the fun loving, oddly misshapen unicorn that will haunt my dreams for the next year. You can also get a slightly closer look at Ben and Ann's dead moth display near the top right of the photo.
The most grave danger of The Swap is the simple fact that you grow immune to these eyesores after a remarkably short time. Thus, when company comes, you never think to explain why there is an inflatable stool filled with flowers in your living room, or a slab of varnished plywood adorned with a glossy Elvis photo hanging above your toilet, or a gigantic wooden fork and spoon set dangling in your dining room.
So, when you come and visit and you see the unthinkable horrors on display in my home, remember, I have suffered for that art.