Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My "Special" Family Traditions



Hello again
Yesterday morning I took a series of way too early flights from Columbus to Cleveland to New Orleans.  After getting in and fighting through the mental haze one acquires after attempting to function on two hours of sleep, I laid down thinking about the last ten days or so.  Being around multiple families for the holidays gave me a chance to look at the vast differences that family dynamics can take on.  The simple act of holiday gift giving takes on a variety of forms from group to group.  Some families don't do gifts, some know exactly what they're getting, some are all surprises.  Somewhere along the way, my sister, Jennifer, and I decided to forego giving each other real gifts, instead attempting to outdo each other with some sort of gag gift.  Sometimes simple, sometimes elaborately planned, there have been a few good ones over the years.

I've had something of a photo theme to a lot of my gifts.  They started one year when I scoured my mother's photo albums for all of the absolute worst pictures of my sister.   Those pictures that only a mother would put into a photo album.  Those pictures that would make you question her chromosome count. That year I gave her a framed collection of these terrible pictures, sort of an all-in-one reminder of her worst moments in front of the camera over the years.  While this gift succeeded in that it was hilariously terrible to look at, it did include a functional picture frame, and therefore lost points as a gag gift, which I think should be as useless as possible for the recipient.  

Since I'd already amassed a "worst-hits" photo collection, I stepped it up a bit the next year.  I took the four worst pictures I had, printed them onto sheets of iron on material, and made four t-shirts with her face front and center.  The next step was getting my parents involved.  I gave each of them one of the shirts to wear under a sweater Christmas morning, while I wore the third.  The fourth was lovingly wrapped and presented to Jennifer.  My co-conspirators and I all hid our shirts from view until she opened hers.  As she held the shirt up in the air to snicker in disgust, we revealed ours.  I don't know what she did with her shirt, but I still wear mine every Christmas morning.  

Another year I took probably the worst of the photos I had of her and printed off a couple hundred 2x3" copies.  A little time Christmas Eve and a lot of scotch tape later I had hung these little gems throughout the entire house, even venturing out to hide some in her car for later.  As hard as she may have tried to collect them, they were still getting discovered days later.  My extended family came over for Christmas day festivities and was immediately asking why there were little pictures all over the place.  What, other siblings don't do that?

Probably the greatest of my gifts was also one of the simplest for me to do.  The thought - what would be a gift that keeps on giving?  Something subscription based and terrible a la the jelly of the month club in Christmas Vacation.  Since I actually like jelly, I opted to scour an online magazine seller for the most obscene publication I could find.  So on Christmas morning she unwrapped a box, the only contents of which being a printout confirming her one year subscription to Plumpers magazine.  Plumpers, in case you're unaware, is basically a porno magazine featuring ladies in the 300+ pound range.

While the hope was that the magazines would arrive when she had polite company over and be delivered by a disgusted mail carrier, the best part of the story was when she moved out of her apartment.  For some really odd reason, she had saved the past issues of Plumpers (for the articles I assume).  Upon moving, she finally put them in a box destined for the garbage.  So what happens when you're dragging your shoddy box overloaded with refuse and niche porno mags to the dumpster? The box breaks open, the contents spilling onto the pavement.  Luckily you have a friendly but suddenly very confused neighbor come over to help you repack your box of collected Plumpers.  I can only hope that the next tenant continued to get the remainder of her subscription.

Her comeback was a gift that on the surface might look nice.  A serene picture of a nice beach.  Alas, the beach picture lifted up to reveal an exhaustive collage of very male and very explicit body parts.  My dad thought we needed to have a conversation after he saw the internet history on the computer Jennifer used to find and print the pictures.  My grandparents happened to be over that Christmas morning when I opened this gem, and they insisted on taking a gander at the gift.  They were far too interested and not nearly shocked enough when they took a nice long look at it.  I can't wait to get to the point when nothing you say or do matters because you've been around long enough to not give a fuck.  Anyway, this picture made annual reappearances, finding its way into my bed and into my shower of all places.

It's difficult to remember some of the things we've exchanged over the years.  Apart from the few elaborate ones, there was the roll of toilet paper, lump of coal, cat furballs, cat poop, dirt, banana peals, string of penis beads, boxes of whatever garbage happened to be in the trashcan at the time.  One year I wrapped up her car keys.  She had to find the car. This year she gave me a freshly soiled diaper, sort of a regift from my nephew.

This year I figured I'd reverse the terrible picture trend I had used so often.  My sister just had a baby (eight months ago) and I'm a thousand miles a way.  I didn't want my nephew to grow up not knowing what his uncle looked like, so I gave Jennifer a nice 20x30" print of myself to hang in his room or prominently above a mantle somewhere.
Blarg!
Believe it or not, it actually took a fair amount of work to get a combination of facial contortions that made me look most troll-like.  If my nephew did see it now, he'd probably cry think and wonder who the scary creature in the picture is.  As he gets older, maybe he'll come to see it for what it is; a shameless guy who rather enjoys acting like an idiot and taking pictures.

I'm coming to love these traditions that celebrate finding more and more sophisticated ways to act stupid.  People ask "You don't get each other real gifts?"  What is a "real" gift?  We might not have useful "stuff" after Christmas, but we have a good laugh, and we have stories to tell.  I can only be thankful that I have family and friends and a wife that haven't had me committed yet, and that they can act crazy right back.  Thanks guys.  That's a real gift.

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