And Mexican dip.
And beans and rice.
And Mexican mac & cheese.
And rich, aromatic gas produced by the Mexican food.
And, possibly a stunning miracle.
On the down side, there was this.
Last Friday, several of my boldest and most self-destructive friends gathered at our house to engage in a yearly ritual of self-induced suffering. The Gift Swap of Horror. Click on that link if you are feeling a desperate urge to learn the history of this sacred event. (The link takes you to another blog post, but it also has pictures, so it's really not a good way to escape the horror.)
The Gift Swap of Horror has developed and changed only slightly over the years. It has reduced friends to tears. It has made others laugh until they lost control of their sphincters. It has cost me some dear friends; though, in retrospect, that might also have been directly related to the loss of sphincter control.
This year, we gladly welcomed new friends to The Swap.
See how happy they look?
That's because they hadn't received their gift yet.
We, the original members of this happy crew who have been swapping gifts and causing each other to suffer for more than a decade, love it when new people join our swap.
Because new people don't get it.
We warn them; oh yes we do. But still, they don't get it.
We tell them all about the swap, explaining in graphic detail gifts from past swaps that were so horrible that to describe them here would cause you permanent mental harm.
And still these people want to play.
And they come to the swap sniggering slyly and chuckling about the gift they have brought, never suspecting that when the gifts are actually exchanged, they will be reduced to sobbing, helpless shadows of their former selves.
The new people tend to bring a gift that, at worst, might be described as "sort of tacky".
And they leave with a four foot poster of Elvis shellacked onto a cross-section of pine tree.
My friends Jay and Cris come to mind as perfect examples. Jay and Cris are both smart and fun and have excellent taste in everything. They thought our swap would be fun. We warned them against it.
"Jay. Cris," we plead. "We really like you guys. Save yourselves! Don't do it! It will ruin your lives!"
We say things like that to make them extra curious. Just to make sure they play. Because we know that they will suffer greatly. And when you play The Swap, you want people to suffer.
Jay and Cris ignored us and showed up at The Swap with a small soap dispenser that, while ugly, somewhat paled in comparison to the horrifying 2 foot tall light-up ceramic witch head that they went home with. I cannot even attach a picture, because it was so ugly, it did not show up on film.
Jay and Cris told us later that Cris spent much of their ride back home to North Carolina sobbing and weeping and lamenting the fact that she had ever met us.
The suffering of newbies is an integral part of the game, however, as it toughens them and makes them hungry for revenge. Jay and Cris, for example showed up the next year driving a pick up truck with the entire bed shrouded in a tarp.
Everyone watching their arrival wept with fear. Then they got out of the truck carrying a tiny gift bag. And we laughed. "They didn't learn," we whispered amongst ourselves.
Kerri and I drew their names that year and Jay handed us the tiny gift bag.
"Ha, ha," I chuckled, reaching into the bag. "We all thought that your gift was taking up the whole back of the pick up. Boy, were we scared for a minute."
"I'll bet," Jay said, smiling brightly as I removed a photograph of 6 hideous purple, teal, and black velour dining room chairs from the bag. "The chairs are in the back of the truck. You want some help getting them in the house?"
And thus, they were avenged.
And this year, Ryan and Nichole stepped into the fray and, much to our bitter disappointment, proved themselves worthy of playing.
Julie, one of the old timers, suggested that newbies, on their first swap, be made to receive a gift without giving one. The executive council of elders held a high level secret meeting on the subject and decided that it was cruel and unusual and we really liked the idea.
Eventually, it was decided that newbie gifts were a sought after commodity and we would only be hurting ourselves by not letting them contribute.
The night was a festive combination of events. It was a The Gift Swap. It was also my wife Kerri's birthday. Plus, everybody brought Mexican food so guests could go home with a horrible gift and horrible gas. It added a festive olfactory element to The Swap.
Once everyone had eaten and we had sung "Happy Birthday" to Kerri a half dozen times, because she hates being sung to, it was time for the gifts.
First, some before pictures.
|Ben and Ann. Happy (but nervous).|
|Tim and Katie. Happy (but equally nervous).|
|Scott and Julie (Julie offering a silent prayer for mercy from The Swap gods).|
|Caleb, Rayla, Alex, and Tori. (Couldn't care less about the pain the adults are inflicting on one another).|
|Kerri and me (putting up a false show of carefree bravado–inside, we are weeping).|
|The gifts, guarded by Caleb, lest, thought their collective powers of evil, they should try to escape.|
And then The Swap began.
Ryan and Nichole, being newbies, were allowed to go first. They were delighted with their gift, brought by Tim and Katie.
|Seeing one small corner of her gift, Nichole searches futilely for a barf bucket.|
|Another show of false bravado.|
|Behold its awe-inspiring beauty.|
Nichole and Ryan were deeply awed by the transcendent beauty of their gift, a gilded, three dimensional scene of the last supper, backed with a mirror so you can always see your own look of horror when gazing upon it. In fact, their real gift didn't come until a day or so after The Swap.
Ryan and Nichole are serious mountain climbing enthusiasts (nuts). They had attempted to bag their last 4,000 footer twice before The Swap, failing both times.
After The Swap, they successfully summited Owl's Head.
I think not.
They just couldn't wait to return home and continue staring at their gift.
|Scott is speechless with joy. Julie, however, has much to say about their new little friend. None of it printable here.|
Next up, Julie and Scott unwrapped their gift, brought by Ben and Ann. The sad-eyed embroidered bird will most certainly warm their hearts on the coldest January days.
|Just before Katie burst into tears, fearing for her safety.|
Tim and Katie were next. Their gift, thoughtfully supplied by Julie and Scott, was charming and creepy in equal measure.
|Katie uses her gift to hide her tears of anguish.|
|A bargain at 50 cents.|
|His expression seems to say, "At night, I will come to life and kill you."|
These delightful, hand made faces, framed under plastic wrap to keep them fresh, will likely come to life at night and steal Tim and Katie's souls.
Or their wallets.
Ben and Ann were next, with our gift. They were giddy with anticipation.
Until they saw the turquoise ceramic kangaroo who will be sharing their home with them until next year.
|Ann is considering using it as a decorative toilet paper holder next to the toilet.|
Ben is considering using it as a toilet.
Kerri and I were next. We were delighted to have drawn Ryan and Nichole's names. Because they were the newbies. Until we unwrapped their gift.
|Kerri briefly loses control of her face upon witnessing the horror of The Pink Rooster.|
On the couch, Victoria is obviously delighted with our new house guest.
And then the night was over. With Mexican food percolating in our guts, we said goodbye to one another. Everyone went home to find a suitable place to display his new gift and to seek relief from the Mexican fiesta.
Ben likely found relief in the kangaroo.
Ryan and Nichole have proved themselves worthy of The Swap. And that means that next year, we need fresh meat.
Anybody want to play?