Thursday, December 23, 2010

On White Elephants

Most people love white elephant parties, but some people don't understand them. I think this is because the white elephant of the past and the white elephant of the present are different things. Everyone hears stories of the best gift ever that had the whole party laughing hysterically, so most people try to bring a gift that will produce the same effect. All too often these attempts are made by people who don't have a sense of humor. Or not a good sense of humor, at least.

I went to a party this year where someone brought a "Shave with me Barbie," which was a barbie doll in a package with hair glued to her legs and armpits and a pink razor. It was junk, but it was funny. This was an acceptable white elephant gift--because it was funny. And it got stolen twice.

Someone else brought a six pack of Henry Weinhard's root beer. Not a funny gift, but it was acceptable because it was desriable. And it got stolen twice.

Then another person brought a half used package of Pepto-Bismol. When it was opened, he and his wife were obliviously laughing in the corner while everyone else let out a collective "hmmmphsooooollllaaaammmmmeeeeemmmmmmhhhhmjhjasfd." This was not an acceptable gift because it WAS NOT FUNNY and WAS NOT DESIRABLE.

Last year I went to the ever-anticipated "Yankee Swap" party with my married friends. This is one of the few times each year that we all get together (because what married person wants to hang out with single guys?), and we bring awesome gifts. Because some of the guests have terrible gift track records, we don't even call it a white elephant anymore (even though it still kind of is). To the "Yankee Swap" you are supposed to bring the type of stuff that you want but never buy (like stuff on QVC, etc.) Some of the best gifts of years past have been: a Sega Genesis, some strands of our friend Jackson's chest hair*, and the deed to a square inch of land somewhere in Texas.

Even with "Yankee Swap" replacing the old "white elephant" title for at least two years now, some of the guests still fail to grasp the concept. Last year I brought a sweatshirt that said "That's what she said" on it and, Fearing that it would be not well received, I offered the recipient an alternate--they could take the sweatshirt or "mystery," which was movie tickets. Retail value of both gifts was around $20--which is toward the high end for this particular party. The person that ended up with the sweatshirt picked "mystery"--took the movie tickets and left me with a sweatshirt I could never bring myself to wear**.

When it was my turn, I decided to open a new gift (instead of stealing), and I got a cat book. An old, used cat book with pictures and descriptions of all the different varieties of domestic cats. Even if I liked cats, I still wouldn't have wanted it. It was received with a collective "ohhhhhhhdudethatsuckshmmmmmffffffffwhobroughtthatstupidgift?" from the crowd. After it was all over one of the marrieds came up to me and offered to trade me a lava lamp for the sweatshirt, which I did. Then, later that night at a different party, I gave the lava lamp and the cat book to a girl who I'd never met as a thanks for letting us come to her house. It was a total wash.

If you are still planning on going to a white elephant party this year, remember that if you don't have a sense of humor*** just bring something cool. I'd rather get one bottle of root beer that is worth $1 than a cat book or some half-used OTC's. It's not funny, it's just dumb and cheap. And not fair because you may end up leaving with Sonic the Hedgehog or owning land in the Lone Star State.

* Jackson's chest hair was in a small, clear box that could be hung from a Christmas tree. It worked because everyone admires Jackson for being the most manly human being alive. And I think it came with a gift certificate to a real restaurant or something like that.

**Not that I didn't like the sweatshirt--it was really funny, but I couldn't bring myself to wear it in public.

***Are you wondering if you have a sense of humor or not? I'll give you some tips for how you can tell. If you bring a "funny" gift to your white elephant party this year, pay attention to the reaction of the crowd when your gift is opened. Is anybody laughing? Do you hear things like "that is a great gift" or "classic"? Or is it kind of quiet and mumbley? Now, look at the face of the person who received the gift. Are they disappointed? Do they try (unsuccessfully) to pawn it off to someone else? If you get the mumbley, quiet, disappointed kind of reaction then you have no sense of humor. Give up and just bring cool stuff from now on or you may not be invited back in the future.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Super taster?

In physiology a few weeks ago we learned about "super tasters". The professor handed out a bag with a few jelly beans, some Mike and Ikes, and a strange little white paper. He told us that it was special paper that only "super tasters" would be able to taste and that it would be so strong (repulsive) to them that they wouldn't be able to keep it in their mouths. Apparently some people have special taste buds or more taste buds or something and these people tend to be wine-tasters or food critics. While I don't enjoy eating nasty stuff, I couldn't wait to find out that I was a super taster--how else do you explain my love of all things food/ice cream/candy?* Today I ate some of those little Reece's peanut butter cups--after eating a couple of them I decided that it took too long to unwrap each one individually, so this is what I did:

Then I ate them all in about ten seconds. I know. But I bet you've thought about doing it too--if not, you're definitely not a super taster.

Anyway, the time came and we all tried the paper. Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed when all the people around me were freaking out about the bitter awful taste of the paper and I only thought it was mildly gross. I felt like Ping in "The Empty Pot". Maybe everyone was faking it and I would go up to my professor after class and say "but Dr. Michel**, I have loved food all my life, more than most of the people around me and I don't drink coffee or anything hot so I know I don't burn my tongue on a regular basis." Then he would smile and say "I have found the new emperor of the class. All the papers I gave you were just sticky notes cut up into pieces. Everyone was faking it. You were the only one who was honest." Then I would cancel finals week.

So, since that time I've had to come to grips with the fact that I'm just a regular taster who has some weird love of food, ice cream, and candy (and a complex with the word 'weird'--I always spell it 'wierd' first then have to correct myself).

* Those are my three main food groups. I know, one of my main food groups is 'food,' but ice cream and candy need to be separate from everything else.

** My professor goes by Mike Michel, even though his first name is not really Mike. It's actually William C. I don't get it either.