by Austin Beattie
Cover Photo by Kristy Holt
Ever since I was a child I learned there are two types of gifts. Gifts given out of care and gifts given out of obligation. I don’t care how old you are or what your inner philosophy is, the latter is always the worst gift to get. White Elephant is a game entirely based around that mind set.
For those of you who are not yet initiated to the wonderful world of intentional and self-inflicted disappointment that is White Elephant, allow me to explain the rules of this “game”. You must purchase a gift first, but not just any gift. This gift has to be intentionally horrible. Some of you are thinking maybe socks or underwear, but I’m going to stop you right there, Jack. Getting socks or undies falls under the category of gifts given out of care. Don’t believe me? Go a day wearing worn socks and underpants that are tearing at the crotch. You’ll be salivating at the sight of the Fruit of the Loom logo.
But back to the game. You buy a bad gift and bring it to the White Elephant party. Someone then has to pick a random gift out of the stack of random gifts and unwrap it. If someone likes that God-forsaken thing for whatever reason, they can steal that shit when their turn comes. This goes on until all of the gifts are no longer on the table and everyone is in possession of useless crap. I know these rules perfectly well, because I attended one of these parties and never truly recovered from such treachery.
My wife and I were cordially invited to one of these parties about a year ago. A friend of mine, Billy, and his wife, Carren, were hosting a White Elephant party and wanted us to come over and take part. We were initially ecstatic. We had just officially become “grown ups” with the birth of our first child and were looking for adult friends that shared our lifestyle. So this seemed like the hot ticket.
We went out to do some shopping for the party. Taking a quick trip to the nearest Walmart, we began to hunt for the perfect gifts for the party. I’m not going to lie, this part was the most fun. Picking out someone’s material burden was some of the most fun I had had in years. We decided to make it a balanced set, one useful gift and one gawdy gift.
My wife, Denise, decided on a footrest that also doubled as storage. It was microfiber and gray and looked like an appropriate gift. Initially my eyes rested upon a pair of adult-sized Skylander feety pajamas. I was all but ready to purchase this bad boy when I spied another on the rack.
It was a fleece sweater vest. Fire engine red through and through with the large tapestry of a glittery gingerbread house on the chest. I knew at that moment it was meant to be. Someone would suffer through my gift and oh, would they suffer.
We bought two bottles of wine as a sign of good faith and made our way over to the Millers’ home. Another family had shown up before us, Robert, his wife Kelly, and their baby boy Asher. I was also friends with Robert so seeing him made this evening all the more special. After some food and wine, we started the game in their living room and got to work on the stack of presents before us.
Robert was picked to go first. He scanned the mound for maybe 10 seconds before grabbing a round parcel. He unwrapped it to unveil a Superman snuggie. My gut seized. A deep longing ate away at my foundation. You must understand: I am a huge Superman fan, and this was too perfect. I knew what I had to do.
Kelly was next and she picked one of ours, the footrest. Kelly then expressed her liking of the gift, noting that it was something she could actually use. We all agreed, and it was now my turn. I immediately turned my sights to Robert and announced my intent for the snuggie.
I think Robert knew he was never meant for it so he surrendered it over to me with ease. I reveled in its Kryptonian warmth as I slid the felt cloak over my body. Sweet victory!
Denise went after and picked a random gift out of the pile. It was large and square. Opening the package revealed a large dartboard. Pretty sweet actually. After my wife was Carren, and this is where the story becomes tragic. Carren looked at the remaining gifts, then looked around the room until her eyes rested on me. A venomous smile stretched across her face as her finger unfurled toward me.
“Austin. I’ll be taking that snuggie”, she hissed at me.
And just as soon as I was getting to know it, the comfort that the great Kal El provided me was robbed. I sat in malcontent, sipping a glass of wine until it was my turn to claim another gift. Bitch.
Billy was next, and here is where I should have known there would be trouble. He looked to Carren and smiled. Standing up, proud as a peacock, Billy strutted over to the table and picked up a box that was poorly wrapped. It was a ups cardboard box with sloppy lines of black electrical tape wrapping around it.
He snatched it up and with a giant grin that went from ear to ear announced “I knew when I wrapped it up like this no one would pick it.”
So what was in this mystery package? Well I’ll tell you what was in there. A gift card to iTunes for $20. I’ll repeat that for you. A fucking $20 iTunes gift card! Billy sat laughing with his own gift, as Robert and
I grabbed the last two gifts. Mine was a pretty cool lava lamp. Not bad. Robert unwrapped his and guess what it was? You guessed it. The sweater vest. We laughed and Robert put it on with a lackadaisical smile on his face. And just like that presents were exchanged.
So we all wondered, who bought what exactly? Well you guys already know the two Denise and I bought. Billy already told us that he bought the card essentially for himself (even if someone would have grabbed the gift I still think Billy would have taken it).
Robert and Kelly admitted to the lava lamp and dart board. This forced us to admit to buying the foot rest and the sweater vest. So guess who that leaves the snuggie? Yep, Carren bought the snuggie. The Millers bought themselves their own goddamn gifts and the Beatties and the Basses exchanged! What the hell?!
We said our goodbyes and told everyone we had such a good time (we honestly did). As we drove home, a sudden realization popped into my head. All of the gifts were useful or cool in some way…except for one: the sweater vest.
Robert had been given a gift so useless, so ugly, and so obligatory that it was unfair. And I realized, right then and there with dread in my stomach, that I had given the Worst Gift Ever.