Monday, February 1, 2010

Yankee Swap.

Yes, they did get the worst haircuts I have ever seen this weekend. But they still are as cute as pie.

In other news, perhaps you remember my old "yankee swap" post I am so obsessed with. for my assignment this week for my writng class, I turned it into a story:


It was a very nice party, as parties go. I knew the hostess, Laura, only tangentially, but had decided that if she had taken the trouble to invite me I should at least see if she had also invited any attractive, single guys. Laura and her husband were not really my type but were very rich, so I figured that could balance out and deliver a better evening than staring at the TV, eating mac-and-cheese straight from the pan.

It was Christmastime, and Laura and her equally loud and beefy husband were in their element. Their lavish existence was funded by his successful Christmas ornament business, and the house was decorated to remind everyone of just that. They didn’t own any old dime-store type of business, either; their ornaments were the huge, brightly colored monstrosities that rich women with no taste snatched up like penny candy at Neiman Marcus. Laura, or more likely someone in an apron and sensible shoes, had covered the 17-foot Noble fir in the vaulted entry hall from top to toe with the hosts’ own wares, and the result was a towering cone of tackiness that if it had fallen over would have slashed all of our skin to ribbons. Fat-cheeked, mischievous squirrels on a sleigh and a snooty lap dog in an ermine-lined Santa suit were detectable among the nauseating barrage of colors, if you could force yourself to look at it long enough.

After handing my coat to Laura (careful to tuck the fraying cuffs out of her view) and taking in that abortion of a tree, I thanked her for her invitation and waited for her to introduce me to someone – anyone - that I might know.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here you know,” she brayed, grabbing my arm and pulling me tightly to her side in what must have been a sign of chumminess amongst her crowd. Her white teeth glowed cheerily in the festively lit room.

“I love your tree,” I lied.

“Oh, Kate, thank you so much,” Laura gushed, “it is beautiful, isn’t it? If you look around, you’ll see we’ve arranged more ornaments in all kinds of unexpected places – I’ve been taking some lessons from my interior designer.”

“She must really be something!” I tried to inject some credibility into my voice.

“She really is!” Laura smiled, satisfied with my reaction. “Here, let me show you where the drinks and food are – get something quickly because we’re about to start the Yankee Swap! If you hand me your gift, I’ll put it under the tree.”

Laura’s invitation had mentioned something about this “Yankee Swap,” and indicated that each guest should bring some sort of gift for the exchange. Not being a Yankee myself, but having observed the quirks of a few in my time, I figured the natural way to have approached it would have been to rummage through the attic of my family pile for the most useless piece of unwanted junk I could find and try to foist it off on someone else. But since I had no steamer trunks full of old snowshoes and sculling oars from Gramps’ days at Groton to choose from, I bought a decent bottle of wine and called it a day. I doubted anyone would complain about having to take it home instead of a broken alarm clock or somebody’s dog-eared copy of the Catcher in the Rye complete with adolescent insights scribbled in the margins.

Pointed in the right direction by Laura, I made my way over to the dining room table. Next to the food tends to be where I spend the duration of most parties; particularly if I don’t know anyone. You can count on most guests filing by at some point, and if they look interesting, I might assume an open expression to show myself as receptive to a conversation. If they don’t, it’s easy enough to look intent on whatever gussied up pig-in-a-blanket I’m shoveling into my mouth, or on reloading my plate. If that doesn’t work, there’s always excusing myself for yet another drink.

Speaking of drinks, the sideboard was set up next to the table with every alcohol imaginable, so before diving into the food I decided to make myself something special. “Take tarts when they’re passed,” my grandma always used to say. Hmm. A Tom Collins? A Manhattan? Some of that punch? No, definitely not that – there appeared to be some sort of animal floating on its side in the pink spume on the punch’s surface. Closer inspection showed it to be one of my hosts’ Christmas ornaments, a plump, little mouse. His smiling face bobbed in and out of the punch.

I settled on a scotch and soda, making a mental note to find out the name of Laura’s designer so I could be sure never to call her. I mixed my drink with my finger and turned back to the food with my finger in my mouth, not wanting to waste any of the very good scotch. I might have made a little too much of a sucking noise, I don’t know, but as I surveyed the table, I suddenly noticed a petite woman with straight, dark brown hair caught back in a ponytail looking at me with a faintly disgusted expression.

“Yes?” I said, maybe a little more belligerently than one should at a party.

The woman gave a dainty shudder and turned away.

Fine, maybe some people don’t lick their fingers at a party, but is it really that big a deal?

I loaded up my plate with some of almost everything on the table, noticing that Laura had set out yet more ornaments as rests for the various serving pieces. Cheese knives balanced on overturned Santas and snowmen, smears of Brie and camembert across their faces. A spoon from the spinach dip rested between a kitten’s paws, slopping green sludge down her side.

I was starting to wonder why I had come, especially since I had yet to spy any eligible bachelors. All I had seen so far was a bunch of married men I couldn’t even tell apart, so indistinctive were they with their glasses and receding hairlines, their plaid shirts and khakis.

As I looked around for a place I could make myself inconspicuous while judging people and stuffing my face, Laura’s voice blew like an air horn across the room: “Time for the Swap! Everyone pick a number out of the can, and get comfortable!” Some of the guests ran to Laura like they had been shot from a cannon, so excited were they to start the game. I noticed that the girl who had judged my social skills was among those in heat to get started. She pushed aside a man in front of her to get closer to where Laura stood with a Chock Full O’ Nuts can, and plunged her hand into its depths. The man looked at her askance, but as his face reflected recognition, he smiled weakly and said, “Oh, it’s you, Amanda. I should have known.”

Amanda fluttered her eyelashes at him and said, “Don’t you just love a Yankee Swap!?”

After everyone else had chosen his number, I reached into the can for my own: Number 38. Since there were about 40 guests at the party, Laura explained this meant I was in a prime position to take home one of the best gifts at the party:

“In case some of you don’t know how the Yankee Swap works, I’ll remind you.” Laura assumed her best head girl, jolly-hockey-sticks stance as she projected her voice to the crowd. “The person who drew the lowest number gets to choose the first gift from under the tree. The next person can choose either to take another gift from under the tree, or to take the gift that the first person got and let that person choose another gift. As more people open gifts, there will be more to choose from for each higher number. The person with the highest number can either open the last gift, or choose from all the other gifts that have already been opened. Everyone clear on how it works?”

I swear I saw spittle in the corners of Amanda’s mouth.

I poured myself a large glass of chardonnay and sat on the floor, since Amanda and her coterie had taken the sofa and all the chairs for themselves. A guy I hadn’t seen before sat down next to me, holding a wrapped gift. He had more hair than all the married guys I had seen, so I stole a quick glance at his left hand. No ring. I checked out his face and was encouraged, but reserved judgment until I could be sure there would be no girl soon joining him. No point getting one’s hopes up prematurely.

“I like my gift so much I’m not sure I can bring myself to give it away,” he whispered to me.

“That seems to defy the spirit of the Yankee Swap,” I whispered back. “What did you bring?”

“A bottle of sparkling red wine,” he said, smacking his lips appreciatively.

“Like pink champagne?” I asked hopefully.

“No, it’s really red wine,” he disappointed me, “just sparkling. It’s kind of fizzy.”

“Surely you could pick up some more at the 7-11?” I suggested.

“You think I’m kidding,” the good-looking guy with a full head of hair smiled, “but it’s really good. If nobody takes it from me, maybe you can try it.”

“I think the likelihood of anyone taking it from you is pretty small,” I said with what I hoped was a flirtatious smile, figuring enough time had gone by without some woman coming over to flash me a dirty look or piss a circle around him. “I’d be willing to give it a try.”

We settled down as the first few people selected gifts from under the tree. Apparently there were other guests who didn’t have the benefit of an attic to raid, as one girl looked doubtfully at a bag of “penis pasta” she held tentatively between thumb and forefinger, and one of the married guys sat with a coloring book and a box of crayons in his lap. His mousy wife noted to him in a stage whisper how nice it would be to take his present home to little Maggie, and he rolled his eyes with a sigh of resignation. No penis pasta for that guy. I took a slug of my wine and noticed the pleasant way the guy next to me’s thigh fit in his jeans.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Peter,” he said.

“Peter,” I repeated. “I’m Kate.”

“Hello, Kate,” said Peter. He gave me a look I chose to interpret as interested, but then I realized he was looking past me at the ongoing swap.

“Do you know her?” I asked. Peter was looking at Amanda as she wrapped her arms tightly around a two-foot-high plastic leprechaun, hugging it to her chest. It was the kind of kitschy decoration you can plug in and it lights up, and it was revolting.

“We know some of the same people,” Peter answered. “I’ve never met anyone more competitive in my life. Someone told me that in high school, she broke another girl’s leg with her lacrosse stick during a game, just because she had heard the girl liked her boyfriend. Since it was her own teammate, she was able to play it off as an accident.”

“She sounds delightful,” I observed, hoping to God she hadn’t set her sights on Peter, or worse, that they hadn’t already slept together.

Over the next hour, Peter and I chatted and watched Amanda go crazy over the filthy leprechaun that everyone kept referring to as a “gnome.” Occasionally someone would choose it on his turn and come to take it away from her, and she would cling to it for too long and generally be a bad sport about handing it over. Then she would pick it again whenever she had a chance. This happened several times, and as we were nearing the last of the numbers, I could see Amanda’s shoulders straightening as she sensed her victory was within reach.

Laura called out “Thirty-eight?” and it was my turn. Everyone turned to look at me, and I pretended to look around the room as if I had so much wondrous bounty to choose from.

“Tempting…” I smiled sexily at one interchangeable husband holding what looked like a rusty, old hand mixer. His wife glared at me and slid her hand onto his khaki-clad knee. I winked at her.

Spying my own unopened gift under the tree, I announced that I would open it.

“You’re going to open your own present?” Laura asked in a tone that made it clear that was simply not done.

“Not really,” I said, turning directly to face Amanda. I smiled at her as she clung to the gnome; just enough so my incisors pointed out daintily over my bottom lip like the sweetest little fangs.

Amanda looked at me balefully. “I’ll take that,” said I. She clung to it like a life raft.

“Pass it over, honey,” I said.

She held it tightly, perhaps thinking she looked cute as she clung to the rotten, peeling leprechaun. Or maybe she was past that; her face was flushed and damp, and really, she looked a little unhinged. Everyone watched us, fascinated by the social faux pas being played out before them. I reached out and pried the hideous plastic figure from Amanda’s grasp. She still held a piece of paper in her sweaty hand.

“It’s no good without the instructions,” she said with a defiant tilt to her chin, dragging it out until the bitter end.

“Then give me the fucking instructions,” I replied.

The party broke up soon after, and Peter and I retired to his place for some sparkling red wine. I liked it.


Broady said...

That was awesome, I loved it! The dialogue is especially strong, but I best liked the way you build the tension and wrap it up with the kickass imagery of the last two sentences.

The narrator(okay, you) seems like the protagonist of an HBO show. I bet you got fantastic feedback from your class on this.

ES said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ES said...

Hi~i am from the ASIA.
And i want to make some friends.
So~Nice to meet you.
Oh I am sorry,I can't speak English very well.

Swedish Girl Sara said...

hello. really liked the story! you are good at capturing the funny part of every living moment.

thank you for an amusing blog about just... life. i defenitly don't come across blogs like this everyday!