Sunday, January 12, 2020

Gift Swap 2020: I Can See Clearly Now, But I Wish I Couldn't

Do you see this face? 

Lauren: A True American Hero
That is the still-smiling face of the bravest person you will meet for the next year. Because she's still standing strong while the rest of us look like this:

No, no, no, no, PLEASE not me...
Or like this:
Oh, dear god, when will the suffering end?
(Spoiler: It will end in 364 days, but then it will start afresh.)

We recently endured that annual event of self-inflicted unpleasantness, The Gift Swap of Doom™.

As an added bonus, we had fresh meat new friends who joined us this year. Some new victims had attended the swap before, and therefore should definitely have known better (Lauren, I'm looking at you). Some new victims had only seen the swap online (Julie 2.0, who actually brought her poor college-aged daughter, Annie and her husband, Greg), but still really should have known better.

We live. 
We learn.
We suffer.

You can print that on a plaque and hang it in your living room. And if it's an ugly enough plaque, you can bring it to the swap.

As always, the evening began with eating and drinking and festivities designed to lull us into a sense of ease before the main event.

Veteran swappers fully appreciate the value of a bit of psychological warfare before the actual event. Smack talk designed to frighten and demoralize your fellow swappers.

Example of good taunt:
Our gift is so awful you are going to dehydrate from crying. Every day. For the next year. 

Example of inadequate taunt:
Our gift is sort of tacky.

Example of a BRILLIANT taunt:

A couple weeks before the swap, Ben, an OG swapper from the very beginning, casually let it be known that his daughter Rayla, who has endured a swap every year for her entire life, thought that their gift was the worst one she had ever seen.

See how genius that taunt is?

We had a couple weeks to worry and stew about how our lives could be altered by fate. And Ben.

Ben is a master.

And Rayla was right.

Queitly lurking.

This is the only photo I have of Ben and Ann's gift before it was opened. This blurry image, like blurry images of Bigfoot or UFO's will not convince an unbeliever, but please believe me that when Ben staggered through the door, carrying something the size of a queen bed, draped parachute-sized swaths of cloth, a very uneasy silence settled over the room.

Hushed prayers, gasps, and whispers punctuated the sudden quiet. I know for a fact that Ben was particularly upset about the billboard-sized painting he got last year and I am certain that he seeks revenge. 

Ben eventually maneuvered it to a spot on the floor and casually cracked open a beer. "Hey. How's everyone tonight?" he asked the crowd, as if he didn't know the answer.

Absolutely terrified, Ben. That's how we are.

I would love to dwell on the delicious food, the tasty beverages, and the sparkling wit of the assembled guests, but that's now why you're reading this is it, you vulture? You're reading this to see, from a safe remove, the suffering of others.

We'll get there, you sick twist. But first, the fun part.

Lauren, who doesn't know her life is about to be ruined, chatting with Tori, who is home from college to watch other people inflict pain upon themselves.

Tori knows that she is going back to Florida tomorrow and will not have to deal with whatever we get for more than a few hours.

The kids hang around the food. Because they are smart. 
Scott, Ann, Julie, Kerri, and a disembodied, floating can of beer have a nice conversation. 

Lauren, still unaware of what fate has in store for her, smiles. Annie and Greg are rightfully wary.

Kerri tries to convince the new victims, Greg, Annie, and Julie 2.0 that the swap is fun.
Ha. Suckers.

As we talk, we all shoot quick, nervous, sideways glances at the giant pile of suffering that Ben & Ann have plopped on the floor like a huge turd.

Isaac, Emily, and Rayla are also free to enjoy themselves, safe in the knowledge that they are just observers and will not be permanently damaged by whatever is lurking under Ben & Ann's blanket.

Eventually, with no signal, we all instinctively know it is time for the swap. We trudge into the living room and prepare for our fate. The rules are simple. You draw a name. You get the gift that that person brought. You display it prominently in your home until the next swap, a year later.

Even if it's that huge thing that Ben & Ann brought.

Names are drawn, lives are ruined, the game is afoot.

Tori still doesn't care.
Tim and Katie, who brought the huge painting that enraged Ben last year go first. They did not draw Ben & Ann's names. They drew Ryan and Nichole's.

Somebody else will suffer in their place.

Tim is cool and collected. 

Katie sits across the room, out of the splash-zone.

Tim is delighted that it is smaller than a '57 DeSoto.

The classy wrapping belies the slightly less classy contents.

Yarn, glued to a paper bag and framed. It's beautiful beyond description.
Admit how jealous you are.

Ryan and Nichole were next. They drew Julie 2.0 and Greg's.
Ryan bravely steps into the abyss.

Nichole tries to give him secret hand-signals, but that's not how this works. Nice try!

They, too, are happy that they won't need a trailer to get this thing home.

The suspense is palpable. What did the newbies, Julie 2.0 and Greg bring? How strong is their game?

Nichole endures the 4 stages of suffering:


Discomfort and mild shock.

A desperate attempt to eat it so you don't have to befoul your home with it.

Acceptance. Dare we say, Love?
No, we daren't.
Price tag included!

Since theirs was drawn, Julie 2.0 and Greg were the next victims. They drew Julie and Scott's offering.

Julie 2.0 opens it as Greg sits behind her, ready to catch her if she passes out from grief.

Julie 2.0 has different stages of suffering:


Deeper, existential confusion.

Deep pondering about what the hell this thing actually is.

Bold attempt to wear it so she doesn't actually have to look at it.

Success! Her daughter, Annie, is thrilled that her mother might wear this when she brings her back to college next week.

When informed that it wasn't a hat, Julie 2.0 tried another tactic, also unsuccessfully.
Honestly, we STILL don't know what this awful thing is.

Julie and Scott, other long-suffering veterans from the old days are next.

Julie acts cool and calm. Because they didn't get Ben & Ann's gift either. Scott offers a silent prayer to the gods of bad gifts.
It is unheeded.

Nicely wrapped. No sharp edges. Nothing leaking. No worries!

Scott is trying a different prayer.

Why, it could be anything!
 Scott's stages of suffering:

Mild alarm.

Deeper, more fully-developed alarm.

Attempting an exorcism.

Life imitates art as Julie cradles her new art, inadvertently copying the pose in her piece. Scott is awe-struck.

Julie actually looks at it carefully for the first time.
Words cannot capture Julie and Scott's joy.

"Can I use it as a guacamole bowl?" Julie asks.
"That would make it holy guacamole!" I reply brilliantly.

Scott does not appreciate my hilarious joke.

Neither does Julie.

Or Julie 2.0.

But Ben does.
Thanks, buddy.

Next up, Ben and Ann! They got the gift that Kerri and I brought. We are excited.

So is Tori.

Ben unwraps as Tim prepares to jump away if things get ugly.
Scott ponders how much guacamole could fit in their new gift.

Pro-Tip: Note Ben's stance - ready to jump away at a moment's notice. 
Scott bows his head in silent prayer for Ben. 

Ben is cast into a vortex of suffering and horror.

And then, in a feeble attempt to distract us, he shows us his cool robot dance from the '80s.

And tries to dive into the bag to hide.

But there is no escape.

From the light-up fiber optic joy he now owns.

Ben stood frozen like this for at least a half an hour.

And when he finally regained the function of his body and mind,

He was cast into a vortex of love and delight.

It looks like Tim's head in a jar.
Note to self for next swap: Try to get Tim's head in a jar. Check with Katie first.

Ben, I am deeply saddened to report, actually loves this thing.

Ann is enraptured and immediately begins plans for an addition to their home so it can be properly displayed.

It lights up.

And it spins.

Ben and Ann drew ours, so we are next.

And Tori still doesn't care.
"I'll be back at school in Florida in less than 24 hours, suckers."

Kerri carefully makes her way to the dwindling pile of gifts. She avoids stepping anywhere near the still threatening form of Ben & Ann's offering.

Experience has taught us all that small packages can still hold much horror. They need to be handled with care.

 Kerri's stages of suffering:

Incapacitating shock.
Scott is thinking about guacamole. 
Distaste as realization dawns.

Deeper shock.

Pained acceptance.

Desperate bargaining with Scott to trade it for a holy guacamole bowl.

But there will be no trading. Our fate is sealed. Nicely done, Annie.

Annie goes next. She was dragged to this by her mother and is a brave, brave soul.

There are only 2 gifts left.

One smallish.

One Ben & Ann-ish.

We hold our collective breaths as Annie slowly makes her way to her fate.

She gets the smallish one.

Thusly, Lauren's fate is sealed.

Come at me, fate.

Annie opens her mercifully small gift.

She digs in, satisfied in the knowledge that whatever is in this wrapping, it's not what Ben & Ann brought.
 Annie's stages of suffering:

Mild confusion.

The realization that everything is relative and no matter how bad this is...

And how ugly it might be...

Julie 2.0 reassures Annie, "At least it's not whatever Ben & Ann brought." 

As you behold yourself, you simultaneously ponder the horror of The Rooster.

Annie was heard to sigh, "At least I have a single dorm room." in the sudden silence that engulfed the room as we realized what we were all about to witness.

There was one gift left.

Lauren took a deep breath and bravely stepped up to meet her fate with her head held high.

"Bring it."

Sensing the drama of the moment, Lauren made a brilliantly theatrical production of removing the cloths covering the gift.

We all know Ben & Ann well, so everyone scuttled away and cleared out a 50 foot radius.
I know Ben & Ann very well, so I went outside and hid behind a tree.

When she pulled off the sheet, she found:

Another sheet!

With slightly less pizazz, Lauren yanked off the second sheet to reveal:

A sexy, life-size wax replica of Ben!


It was...

Six artfully arranged human heads.

The room was aghast.

Nichole, a brave, battle-hardened former teacher and veteran swapper, screamed and sobbed uncontrollably.

Rayla delights in the realization that in a few days, she will be leaving for a two year Peace Corps stint in Ghana and, half-way around the world, will probably be safe from Lauren's retaliation. 

And Lauren?

How did she handle this?

Exactly like any of us would have.

Uncontrollable projectile vomiting.

Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness.

Trying to kill Ben & Ann with her mind.

And then, recovering like a trooper, immediately deciding what to name each head.
Meet Bridget!

Can I interest anyone in a head? Perhaps Erica, here?
Several people offered helpful suggestions:

Use them as hat racks.

Use them as a second head so you can drive in the carpool lane.

Wrap them in plastic wrap, put them in the freezer, and ask a friend to get you an ice cube.
(What kind of child have I raised?)

Practice your MMA fighting skills on them. 

Lauren is a cool customer. She quickly adjusted to her 6 new roommates.

And she found the best use for them.

Now she just needs 5 more drinks. She has the best collection of coasters in the world.
The mug is filled with Lauren's tears.

After we cleaned up the puddles of tears pooling on the floor, it was time to say goodbye.

Friends hugged, wished each other well, and secretly plotted and planned revenge to be extracted next year.

"I'll get you next year, Ben & Ann. Just you wait..."

"Bring it."

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