The big holiday bash that I mentioned in a previous post involves a White Elephant/Dirty Santa gift exchange. Unfortunately, some of these attendees decide to save up all of their passive-aggressive lashing out and bring the seriously worst possible crap imaginable. The rule used to be to bring something that might be some use to someone, but has devolved to include boxes of pre-worn (but clean) tube socks, super fugly great auntie decor and a well-traveled talking Jar Jar Binks doll. We typically bring booze of some kind, which is always in high demand when it comes to swapping. I go in with a strategy: either get something that’s kind of awesome (this only happened one year, when I ended up scoring Scotty Boom Boom’s sauerkraut jar of Joe Bushie’s steak seasoning aka U.P. Heroin) or get something so small that I can surreptitiously dump it into a gas station garbage bin the next time I clean out my car. If I’m lucky, I end up with something that someone else wanted, and then at the end of the night, I just hand it to them. Two years ago, I did the kill strike on a radio-controlled truck, making it ineligible for future swaps, and then gave it to the parent who had so desperately wanted it for their child. This year, I did the same thing, taking it away from one parent on the kill swap and then giving it back to them at the end of the evening. Both times, the child in question has sent me a thank you note with a drawing of the loot, which quite honestly, is even better than getting a pound of steak seasoning, so everyone’s happy.
Last year, however, all of my luck at the party had dried up. I was well on my way to getting out the door with a six-pack of Spotted Cow (which Esteban would drink, or it would go into the Weetacon stash) when the last trade stole it from under me and somehow I found myself in possession of a giant homemade Christmas decoration. It was the kind of thing where someone had punched holes in the bottoms of a million plastic cups, pushed a twinkle light into the bottom and then fashioned a giant mod hanging lamp thingy out of the whole deal (an example of the weird homemade Christmas decoration). I was flummoxed, but eh, what the hell. It was kind of mid-century modern mashed up with Readymade upcycling, so I shrugged and threw it into the backseat of my car, though I really didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I even toyed with some ideas of modifying it somehow, via takeout chopsticks sprayed silver or something, but of course, I lack ambition and after we saw it in the daylight, we realized that, meh, not so much, so instead it rattled and rolled around the backseat of my car. We started calling it Christmas Sputnik.
A few days later, I was rolling through the Sbux drive-through. I always roll the back window down because I have the MOST SPOILED PUG ON THE PLANET DOOCECAPS who likes make sure the baristas don’t try anything untoward. One of the baristas spotted Christmas Sputnik.
Oh my gosh, is that one of those things that’s a Christmas decoration? With the holes punched through the bottom of the cups?
Yup, I said, feeling embarrassed that the baristas were very aware of and now commenting on the junk in my trunk back seat.
Where did you get it?
Oh, my mother-in-law made it.
Why did I lie? I don’t know. Maybe I just didn’t want to go into the whole White Elephant party story or have to admit that I’d had Christmas Sputnik rolling around in my car for five days at that point. Maybe I just wanted to stop having the conversation. Why did I bring June into the picture? I don’t know! Things just happen. It was such a pointless little white lie. A white elephant lie.
Once again, I would like to point out how much I could benefit by having a Greek Chorus following me around. They would have warned me.
Oh, I love it! I’ve wanted one of those for years.
My ears perked up. “Do you want it?
Oh my gosh, are you sure? Really? Don’t you want it? I couldn’t!
I was already reaching into the backseat. Christmas Sputnik was so large that I could barely get it past the steering wheel and then of course, it didn’t fit through the window, so I had to open the door as far as I could in the drive-thru, hoist it up through the opening while the barrista caught it once it made it over the top of the door.
I would like to point out right here that deep down, I am actually a shy person. Whenever I say that, people never believe me, because I seem like an extrovert, but really, despite the fact that I’m friendly with strangers, small talk with people makes me kind of uncomfortable in ways I really can’t explain. I don’t get it either: I can write deeply personal things to a million strangers on the internet but I have never spoken a word to the lady who lives kitty-corner to our house and probably would run away rather than be forced socially to introduce myself.
The barista was thrilled. She thanked me a million times. I drove off with my chai, happy that someone was excited about Christmas Sputnik and also that I didn’t have to find a place to ditch it. The end!
Not the end. No. Not at all the end. They put Christmas Sputnik up at Starbucks. Right by the drive thru window. Every time I drove through, a different barista would say “Are you the lady who gave us the Cup Light thingy?” and then they’d have to tell me some anecdote or other about Christmas or decorations or just how darned much they loved Christmas Sputnik. I am the fucking Grinch of Starbucks, fine, whatever, just I’m sorry, can I have my chai tea please? Here, keep the change, bye. No, I don’t need a receipt! Bye now! Oh, my mother-in-law made it. Yeah, it’s very eco-friendly. No, but I’m sure you COULD make one with the Sbux cold cups. Ok then, see you, bye, I’m driving away now! Every time I came through for coffee, I got to hear about how happy Christmas Sputnik made everyone who got coffee. The entire east side of Coldington had me to thank for their Christmas 2009 Joy. For reals.
Then, I got the note. You see, another customer loved Sputnik SO much that she wanted my mother-in-law to make her several. There was a phone number on it. I thought about the story that I was going to tell them (and also thought about how hard could it possibly be, to make a few Sputniks. Old ladies do them, right? So yes, I was going to do penance for my lie through crafting. I think this is the same principle behind car thieves being forced to make license plates) but then mercifully I lost the number when it went through the wash. Yes, it was probably Freudian and I secretly WANTED to obliterate all evidence of my lie, I’m fully cognizant of that. At that point, the White Elephant Lie had spiraled so far out of control that I was deeply considering getting my coffee from the west side Starbucks, but then I was afraid they’d have heard about me over there and would hand out a stack of Starbucks Frappuchino cups for a custom ordered Sputnik from corporate.
Mercifully, though, the Christmas season ended, and after epiphany, Sputnik came down at Starbucks. I thought I’d heard the end of it, until the barista I had originally given it to had to tell me about how she gave it to her daughter, who put it up in her dorm room and they call it the Disco Ball. Ok then. Hopefully they show Sputnik the same reverence shown all dorm furniture and decor and this is the end of this.
Two days ago, the same barista gave me a Christmas Sputnik update. It’s now hanging in her front yard, delighting and wooing all of her neighbors. Every night they gather around it and the children sing like in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, gentle “loo loo loos” with their sweet little faces upturned to the glowing orb and it also cured their neighbor’s gout.
Who made it? Oh, your mother-in-law. She should sell them, hint hint, because I would love a few more!
When my grandmother told me that even the smallest lie was still a bad thing, I kind of wish she would have smacked me behind the head so that the message would have stuck.