The Gift of the White Elephant

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The Holiday Game that Highlights the Best and the Worst

 

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash, and slightly modified by the author

“Okay, everybody take a number!” she chirps while walking around the room holding a small jute bag containing blue slips of paper with numbers ranging from 1 to 25 written in black Sharpie marker.

25 slips. 25 people. 25 gifts that range from boring, to gag, to “oh that’s sort of nice.”

I draw my folded slip and put it in my pocket. I’m in the middle of telling some nonsense story that gets a laugh from my coworkers, spinning a yarn in between sips of good red wine.

It’s the annual holiday party. It’s the boss of my boss. We are at her house and enjoying catered appetizers. Two weeks ago we were commanded to attend and to bring a $15 gift. Pay for play. “Remember, $15 is a ceiling and not a floor!”

The White Elephant is among us.

Some people love the White Elephant. Some people loathe the White Elephant. One thing is for sure, there are no set rules for playing the White Elephant’s dangerous game.

How many steals, how many rounds, what value, and what is proper etiquette depends on who is running the game. The Ring Master controls the Elephant.

My favorite annual White Elephant game is played with a group of salty network engineers. Instead of using slips of paper with numbers, they use two decks of playing cards. It lends a little gambler’s air to the proceedings.

Today it is slips of paper and when my story is told and the laughs die down, I head to the kitchen to refill my cup. Only then, alone with bottle and corkscrew, I allow myself a peek at the blue slip in my pocket.

I groan. There on a background of robin’s egg blue is the number I least wanted to see. A single dark slash on a pristine paper background.

My number is 1.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

(I’d have shown you a photo of the actual slip if I hadn’t washed it in the pocket of my jeans in the weekend’s laundry run.)

I have been chosen to start the game. Fate has determined that I select the first gift. How the game opens sets the tone for the entire White Elephant event, and that responsibility now lies with me.

I nervously gulp red wine from the plastic cup, tannins bitter on my dry tongue.

I recalled a day several years ago when I — a confused, jet lagged, and nervous American — rode a busy commuter train between Reading, UK and London. No seats available, I stood in the packed rail car near one of two doors. At each train stop the other door provided egress onto the platform, so I felt safe by the door across the aisle.

But as the train slowed, making its approach and then stop into Paddington Station, a train car filled with intense British commuters turned to look at me. I was unprepared for my moment, which demanded that I quickly and without delay lower the window, reach outside, turn the handle to open the door and usher these good people on their way.

It was a terrifying yet exhilarating event. I’m glad to say that day in London I executed the door as well as any foreign traveler could be expected to.

I drew from that memory to find my confidence on a rainy holiday evening in Northern California. My coworkers now turned to me to open the door to a successful White Elephant gift exchange.

I doubted myself in that moment just as I had doubted myself in Paddington Station. I knew I needed to stay grounded. I needed to visualize my way through the process. I needed to control the speed of the game.

And I needed to smile genially and do my best.

When the time was right and all were seated around the tree, my number was called. I raised my hand, saying “right here” and the crowd roared “oooooooooooh! Karen has number one! This should be good.”

I slugged back the last of my cup of wine and allowed the game’s host to refill it with champagne. The bubbles were too festive for such a solemn task, and I carefully set the newly full cup down on a coaster and stepped up to the tree.

Its genuine pine boughs welcomed me under its skirts. Salt and flour dough ornaments with a child’s paint job gave me a true horizon to focus on while I got my sea legs. I paced the half circle around the tree, side to side, like a caged panther scanning my holiday wrapped prey.

“Let’s see, what present looks good?” I said aloud, encouraging suggestions from the audience in the style of Price is Right.

Finally, when I felt I’d eyeballed every present under the tree, I made my selection. A long narrow box tightly wrapped in red and gold paper. It was crisp, clean, and inviting.

Quickly I skinned the paper from the gift and found an Amazon box. Cue a round of jokes about “Does anyone shop in the stores anymore?” and “Why would we? Amazon has everything!”

I pulled at the clear packing tape sealing the box and with no small amount of trepidation parted the flaps and peered inside. Would a pearl lay inside the cardboard oyster? Or only rotten sand?

My eyes landed on the treasure that lay within and my shoulders fell. Hope died when I saw clearly the item that began our game of chance.

I withdrew it from the box and said:

“I believe I have found the gift that will be coming home with me.”

With left hand firmly on hip, I took a solid stance and raised my right hand high above my head in the style of Lady Liberty, then announced to the overhyped crowd:

“It is a Donald Trump toilet brush.”

The crowd roared and the White Elephant smiled, for it was the perfect holiday gag gift.

“And with that,” I say,

“We are game on.”

 

 

Did You Ever Have The Kind Of Day Where….

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Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

 

Did you ever have the kind of day where you are going ninety miles an hour at your work desk, cranking out the emails, spreadsheets and taking phone calls left and right, all while balancing the Greyhound bus stop that is the chair in front of your desk….

And despite all the chaos and kerfuffle, just in the nick of time, you manage to whip out one page with a beautifully wrought, easy-to-read table that contains the cheat sheet you’ll need to answer every question that will be machine gun fired at you at your 3:00 meeting.

So you send that sumnabitch to the printer and grab your notebook, hike up your pants, run to the copier, and grab that thing off the machine so you can make it to your meeting at something less than five minutes late.
Then you squeal your tires around the corner into the copy room and you are heartened to hear that the machine isn’t working. It’s done. It’s printed your copy.

Only it hasn’t.

The screen reads “out of paper, load tray three.”

Inside your head, you say, “I can deal with this.”

It’s one of those big industrial machines and to fill the paper tray takes not one, not two, but three reams of ecologically friendly 50% post-consumer lily white paper.

Being a good office citizen, you could throw half a ream in there and call it good, but you don’t. You fill it up to the top, slam the drawer and the machine fires up.

Sweet sound of the Gods!

And the machine begins spitting out page after page after page…..

After page.

After page.

And you realize the guy in front of you must be printing like a hundred copies of his forty page slide deck and it’s HIS FAULT that the machine was parched for paper when you arrived.

Photo by Kev Costello on Unsplash

Nothing you can do now but watch that machine like a bird dog after a duck, all the while not-my-copy, not-my-copy, not-my-copy shoots out of the machine, perfectly stapled and collated and tidy as you please.
“Ok,” you say to yourself. “I can deal with this.”

Then the machine stops again. The engine winds down.

“Thank god!” you think.

But wait, your copy isn’t there.

“WHAT THE [EXPLETIVE DELETED]!!!” You may or may not shout.

The LCD screen on that machine says “Replace Toner” and provides helpful animated arrows to guide you through the process.
“Ok,” you think to yourself, “I can deal with this. It can’t be that hard.”

So you find a box with a new toner tube and you follow the bouncing arrow on the screen and the old toner comes out and the new toner slides in and now you may or may not have black toner dust peppering your arms.

But you slam closed the toner door and the machine begins to make a noise.

“Warming up,” it tells you.

And you wait for what must be an [expletive deleted] eternity while the machine “cleans the wires” and “recalibrates” itself at the pace of an anemic snail.

Then Holy Mother of Xerox, the machine starts spitting out copies anew and more and more of not-my-copy of someone’s presentation comes out.

Then, most miraculous! The single sheet that you desperately needed finally exits the machine!

Victory!

So to be helpful you pull the other copies off the machine to lay them aside in a nice, neat stack.

And because you are nosy by nature, you look to see exactly what is the document that held up your progress and made you irretrievably late for a very important meeting, and you come to realize that it is…..

Handouts for someone’s upcoming Cub Scout meeting.

You ever have a day like that?

No way, right? Because that story just has to be made up.

Unless truth really is stranger than fiction.

The Meme is Not Me

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I am a middle-aged white woman named Karen.

I’m not even ironically a Karen, like a teenager wearing some sort of normcore olive green cardigan. I really am named Karen.

I am not blonde. I do not have a severe jaw-length bob haircut. I do not want to speak to your manager.


From the Know your Meme website.


I know none of that matters, for I am a Karen, which was a perfectly good name in the 1960’s when it was applied to my natal form, but is now a burden upon which I have been saddled.

Memes, jokes, and Reddit threads all define what it means to be a Karen and none of them adequately describe the real me. I just have to wear the veneer of the meme, but on the inside, I know the truth.

Please embrace me in these troubled times.

I remember when Becky carried this burden. Who didn’t disdain Becky with the Good Hair? Or barbeque Becky? I laughed and laughed for the Becky memes were funny (and a little sad), but now fate has turned like the worm that it is.
Ask not for who the meme tolls, it tolls for me. I swallow my Becky laughter and stoically take my unearned meme lashings.

I do not have kids, but if I did they would be vaccinated and would attend public schools. I believe the earth is as round as a shiny blue marble. I do not try to cure my ailments with oils, balms or salves unless medical science calls for that, then oil, balm, and salve me up.

I’ve always seen myself as the very anthesis of the memeified Karen.

And yet here we are.

Karen is not a person, she’s a state of mind that shall live on in internet form for many, many years.
When I was a kid, I always wished for a hurricane to be named after me. I wanted to hear every weather person on every news station say my name.

I wanted hurricane Karen to be a good strong storm.

Just a few months ago, the name Karen was applied to a developing hurricane.

And then this happened:


From Peter Matti on Twitter


Not only was the hurricane joy stolen from me, storm Karen couldn’t even gather together enough wind to become a hurricane. Downgraded to tropical depression, she just sat out there being petulant, demanding attention without putting in the work.

What a disappointment. I refuse to allow this to become my metaphor.

I am not meme Karen. Meme Karen is not me.

My name may never be associated with something like Good Guy Greg, but at least I am not Scumbag Steve/Stacy.

Today, I shall go out, order something and not demand to speak to anyone’s manager, because I am a good Karen and I will represent my name nobly for all the decent Karens of this world who will redeem our name, one positive encounter at a time.



Pondering My Existence In Two Languages

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Last night I found myself on the Southwest Waterfront of Washington D.C., right on the Potomac River. The neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying and filled with shops, restaurants, and a music venue.

My coworker, who used to live and work around here, says she remembers when the Wharf wasn’t much of a place to hang out on a Wednesday night. But now it’s welcoming, fast paced, and vibrant.


Like, didn’t George Washington cross the Potomac? Well now I have too.

This just in….ol’ Jorge crossed the Delaware not the Potomac in that mas famoso painting. My bad. Thanks, Google. No thanks ABQ public schools.

So on a beautiful evening after a very long day at work, we headed over to a schmancy so-called designer Mexican place to eat. Now, as a New Mexican, anything called “designer Mexican” gets a hard side-eye from me, but I went along to get along, as they say. Plus, I was hungry.

It was a short walk and we got there early so I looked around, got a couple photos and then noticed this:


How great are those annotations, huh?

To answer a few questions: Those are two different restaurants. I don’t think this was a planned thing. No, they are not owned by the same people. Mi Vida is Mexican, with a “celebrity Chef” (I know, I know), La Vie is a Mediterranean restaurant.

(For a side road, this review of La Vie in the Washington Post worth the read for sheer snark: La Vie on the Wharf is so bad I’m only writing about it as a warning.)

So there I stood on the banks of the Potomac, in a place where I could feel the gentrification galloping by like wild horses, being imposed upon to ponder the nature of life. In two different languages. What course of events brought me to this place where two restaurants, one on top of the other, are called Life and My Life? What message are they trying to send?

Then I laughed. I shook my head. I took a photo.

In the words of the droll host of a favorite podcast:

“That’s so delightfully…stupid.”

My existential crisis didn’t last long. Soon we went to eat, snagging a table up in that balcony section toward the middle of the building. Lovely views. Decent food. Excellent night.

And the basis for a fair to middlin’ blog post, with photos to remind me of it all.

Boom. That’s life, baby.

Apropos of mostly nothing, my favorite rendition of “La Vie en Rose”

Photos ©2019 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.




Should I….?

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Over the weekend, in rainy day internet wanderings, I found an article that provided details for Google searches that start with the phrase “should I…?”

The results provided were sorted by state.

Here’s the link: What Questions Do People Ask Google In Each State

For example, California is “should I move out?” – makes sense given the cost of living here.

Nevada is “should I buy bitcoin?” – again, makes reasonable sense in a state that’s all about making money in risky ways.

Florida asks “should I text him?” – Very Florida. If you have to ask the question, the answer is no.

Then there is my Fair New Mexico who most frequently queries, “Should I care?” As if the entire state of NM is one big shrug emoji.

If that’s not just the most New Mexico thing…..





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