Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 Gift Swap of Horror - A New Way to Alienate Friends

The holiday season has bulldozed its way through again, leaving in its wake the lingering scent of hot chocolate and sugar cookies, the residual whispers of Christmas songs that have festered in your brain, and the smouldering wreckage of all we have ever loved.

We have suffered through another Gift Swap of Doom and have managed, somehow, to retain dear, meaningful friendships with those who would willingly inflict such suffering upon us. I'm not one to generally point fingers and cast blame, but I blame Ben for my personal suffering this year. Not directly, mind you, but his eloquent, scotch-fueled response to an email from Ryan, left me and my family in possession of some truly spectacular crap this year.

I've detailed past swaps here.
And here.
And here.
And here.
And here. 

But if you're impatient or averse to seeing people suffer, here is a brief run-down of how The Swap works:

1. Buy (or obtain) a hideous thing of your own choosing for less than $5.
2. Bring it to The Swap.
3. Draw names.
4. Swap things.
5. Display the thing you got, prominently, in your home until the next Swap.
6. Weep silently and consider finding new friends.

Got it?

So Ryan sent out this message about The Swap to confirm #1:

"[I] have a question for the ASoDGB (Art Swap if Doom Governing Body)- there is a five dollar limit, that is well established- but what if a piece of art was procured so long ago that the currency that it was purchased with no longer exists on this planet- how does one determine if the value would be over/under said five dollar limit?"

Ben, in a heroic effort to ruin my life, responded as follows:

"Ryan, as a charter member of the art swap of doom and as a seat holder on the grand governing council I would council you to keep to the cheep ass and resourceful spirit of this event. If you are so ill prepared as to have to resort to souvenirs purchased before the knowledge, awareness or enlightenment of the great art swap of doom then first I potty you for your poor preparations and second suggest that this is as much a contest if honor and if you feel you are keeping in spirit of the founding fathers then..... Game on. Otherwise may a plague be put upon you and all of your kin for resorting to such treachery and deceit."

Yes. It is eloquent.
Yes. It is funny.
Yes. It is hilarious that Auto Correct changed the word "pity" to the word "potty".

And Ben's response is why I now own these:

Katie is merely helping to hold up this triptych of tackiness. I do not own her. She was just on loan for a few minutes.

The evening began, as they always do, with food and drinks and fun. We chatted and ate and drank and tried hard not to think about the motley assemblage of gifts that waited us.

Our friends make an effort to wrap their Swap gifts nicely.

I toss a blanket over it and secure it with a clothes-pin. Because I am classy like that.

I need to pause a moment to, once again, discuss my dearest friend, Ben. He and his wife, Ann have, for months, been cackling and crowing about the supremacy of the gift they have for this swap. They have been taunting us and teasing us to the point that I have screamed myself awake on several nights, drenched in sweat. "We drew Ben and Ann's name!" I scream into the darkness of my bedroom.

Kerri will then roll over and ask me, politely, to keep my stupid nightmares to myself so she can get some sleep.

The point I'm making is that I have been somewhat - let's say "concerned" - about what Ben and Ann may have acquired. They are battle-hardened veterans of The Swap and have no mercy. The gift they brought was not huge, but as a fellow battle-hardened veteran, I never confuse size with potential to be really, really horrible.

When we felt that we could no longer put it off, we began the process of selecting names. Over the years we have developed an elaborate ceremony surrounding the selection of names, that we feel is the only way to fully express the sacred poignancy of this event.

We write all the names down on scraps of paper, toss them into a dish which is, preferably, salsa-free, and walk around the room so all may choose. The only requirement is that you may not select your own name.

As the names were drawn, a tense silence settled over the room. Shaky hands reached tentatively toward the salsa-smeared scraps of paper that would determine our fate. One by one, we revealed our choices.

Ben is delighted to have selected Julie's name. Julie is somewhat less enthusiastic about the fact that she drew Ben and Ann's names.

Ryan and Nichole look upon Katie with a mixture of relief and sadness as she reveals that she drew my and Kerri's names.

Alex and his friends, Kayley and Molly are ambivalent, as they are not subjected to the drawing of the names. Kayley and Molly are only spectators and can walk away at any time, unscarred by The Swap.

Kerri and Victoria are slightly unnerved by the fact that we have, once again, drawn Ryan and Nichole's names. They are relative newcomers to The Swap, but we have suffered dearly at their hands over the years. The Swap is strong in them and we have good reason to be fearful.

 Ben, ever chivalrous, volunteered to be the first to unwrap his gift.

Ben grabs his gift and bravely shakes it.

It is bendier than he expected.

Dauntlessly, he carries on.

Molly is impressed by Caleb's show of bravado as his father unwraps the gift.

Or, possibly, she is not.
Ben carefully reads the instructions.

Ever the showman, Ben begins a slow, sexy reveal of his gift.

He works the crowd.

Teasing and tantalizing us with a slow, measured reveal.

Until finally, the tension is at a fever pitch.

He and Ann display their lovely beaded parrot from Colombia.

Molly is not impressed.
Ben and Ann sat down to recover from the gaudy awfulness of their parrot and Julie, perhaps realizing that nothing was to be gained from putting it off any longer, trudged giftward, resigned to her fate.

Smiling on the outside, but wailing with terror on the inside. Julie probably learned that skill as a teacher.

Julie shook the package vigorously, pretending that she didn't see this stamped in huge letters across its front.
The tension mounts as Julie slowly works the ribbons off the package.

A heart-wrenching scream fills the room as the wrapping is finally shed and Julie's gift is laid bare for all the world to see.

As an added benefit, the shiny waterfall picture can - and indeed must - be plugged in. It lights up and through some form of dark magic, the waterfall appears to flow. As an even more extra super special added benefit, it also comes with real, actual waterfall sound effects that will no doubt form the soundtrack to Julie's nightmares for the next year.

Molly is not impressed.

Tired of waiting, Tim leaped from his seat and stalked toward the gift that Kerri and I had supplied this year.

Tim is eager to see what awaits him and Katie.

After much ooing and ahhing about my exquisite wrapping job, Tim unveiled his new home decor.

Katie shields her eyes, lest she be stricken blind by the sight that is unveiled. This is a basic precaution that all advanced Swappers take.

Elan, flair, and masterful presentation run in the family as Ben and Tim are natural showmen.

Tim is frozen like this for several minutes because, in his quest for showmanship,  he failed to take the basic precaution of shielding his eyes. Katie's eyes are working perfectly, though she wishes that they weren't.

I am so thoughtful that I had their gift all plugged in and ready to go for them. Please note that the cloud emerging from the cauldron has a face. Why? I do not know, but Tim and Katie have a year to figure it out.

Snapping out of his frozen state, Tim attempts an exorcism on the gift. His efforts are futile, however. It is his and will not go away no matter how loudly he yells, "THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!"

Molly is not impressed.

Ryan and Nichole were next and, with forced airy detachment, began unwrapping their gift.
They are slightly alarmed to discover that the gift has replicated itself and is actually 2 gifts, a very dark portent, indeed.

Gamely, they carry on unwrapping.

A moment of confusion as Nichole reveals an unidentifiable creature.

She checks the orientation of Ryan's painting and quickly corrects hers to reveal...

Paint-by-number doggies!

Three insipid, staring collies who are joined by...

Three German Shepherds - two alert ones flanking a third, who appears to be dying. Or on the verge of puking. Or suffering some sort of debilitating puppy stroke.
Or all three. Ben noted the delightful color repetition between the flowers and the dogs' tongues.

The art is signed and dated. Joe Kelley (no relation, I hope) August 1965.

Molly is slightly impressed.

But not for long.

It is finally time for Kerri and I to unwrap our gift. We drew Ryan and Nichole's name and are understandably wary of what we will get, especially since receiving Ryan's cryptic and disturbing question to the group.

I began unwrapping the gift as Katie sat by, ready to shield her eyes.

And I kept unwrapping.

And kept unwrapping.

And kept unwrapping.

And kept unwrapping.

People excused themselves to get second helpings of food or to refresh their drinks as I continued to pull layer after layer and mile after mile of wrapping off the gift. I soon began to hope, however faintly, that the gift inside would be no larger than a postage stamp.

That hope was quickly extinguished and replaced with another sort of hope. One from a recent presidential campaign.


All hope was lost as I finally tore the last of the wrappings from three of the tackiest objets d'art that the mind of man could conceive. Katie is wisely using the gift as a shield against itself.

Kerri quickly ran to get a pin she still had from the same election.

And she began asking some pointed questions about our nation.

It seemed odd to me that these keepsakes of a historic American presidency were made in Canada. And I suspect that Fox News might use price tags marked like this as a way to calculate presidential approval rates.

Nobody was impressed.

Especially not Molly.

As I pondered how it could be that Kerri and I had been saddled with a triptych twice, Ryan and Nichole explained that the gift we got had not been their first choice. Their first had been a small wooden sculpture that Nichole had picked up in Spain many years ago. Not knowing the exchange rate for 1990 Pesetas to 2014 Dollars, they opted to hit the stores and saddle us with the tackiest things we have ever owned.

For this, I blame Ben.

After the gifts were examined and the tears were wiped away, Ryan, in his infinite wisdom mollified the entire crowd by bringing out a birthday cake that they had picked up for Kerri.

Cake. Please note that it looked much nicer before everyone ate it.

And cake made everyone happy.

Even Molly!

I'm thankful to have such an amazing and fun group of friends. Ones who make me laugh. And cry. And remind me that my wife's birthday is next Tuesday.