Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Gift swap flop

I don’t know why, but I never seem to have very good luck when it comes to those Yankee gift swaps at Christmas time.

In a Yankee swap, everyone brings a wrapped gift and puts it on a table. Then each person picks a number out of a hat. The person who picks the number one, selects the first gift and opens it. The person who picks the number two, selects and opens the next gift and if he doesn’t like it, he can swap it for number one’s gift. So, if there are 20 people at the party, the person who picks the number 20 can swap his gift for any of the 19 gifts that were opened before his.

Number one, however, because he went first, when there were no other gifts for him to swap for, finally gets his chance to swap after number 20 is done. So what it basically all boils down to is that in order to really make out well at a Yankee swap, number one is the best number to pull. And number two is the worst.

I have pulled the number two at least 15 times at Yankee swaps. So every time I was fortunate enough to open a really nice gift, I knew I had a snowball’s chance in you-know-where of hanging onto it.

I remember the time I opened a pretty ceramic tea set, complete with an assortment of imported teas. I am a big tea-lover, so I clutched the tea set against my chest and then cast my fiercest “swap for this and die” look at everyone at the party. By the time number 15 stood up to unwrap her gift, I was feeling pretty confident that the tea set was going home with me. I even allowed myself to relax.

That’s when she revealed her gift…two crocheted covers that fit over toilet paper rolls. One was lavender and the other was pink, and both had big white crocheted flowers on them. Who’d ever brought the gift, generous soul that she was, even included the two rolls of toilet paper.

The woman’s eyes scanned the room as she searched for a gift that was better than the toilet paper...which was just about every other gift in the room. I leaned forward and crossed my arms over the tea set to conceal it.

“I think I’ll swap these for the tea set,” she said, smiling sweetly.

So thanks to her, I went home with some lovely decorated toilet paper.

At another Yankee swap, I opened $20 worth of lottery scratch tickets. I didn’t allow myself to get even remotely excited about them because I knew that they were going to be snatched away from me so fast, the breeze probably would mess my hair. I momentarily was tempted to whip out a coin from my purse and frantically scratch off the tickets before the next gift was opened, but I knew I’d probably be tossed out into the snow if I did.

Sure enough, those scratch tickets were swapped about 10 times before they at long last arrived in the paws of their final owner, the lucky person who’d drawn the number one. As soon as she knew the tickets were hers, she scratched them, and I’ll be darned if she didn’t win $100. The words I muttered under my breath when she did, could in no way have been associated with “Christmas cheer.”

My husband, on the other hand, often gets the coveted number-one ticket during the Yankee swaps. The problem is, he often trades for a gift that leaves me wondering what on earth he was thinking.

For example, he once traded a back pillow, complete with a built-in massager, for a joke book. Another time, he traded a restaurant gift-certificate for a tray that was supposed to rapidly thaw out meat (he didn’t know that our microwave can do that).

Another thing about Yankee swaps that is upsetting is when the gift you bring turns out to be the one that no one wants. There was one gift I brought that I thought was really cute and would be perfect for an office party, so I honestly was surprised when people couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.

It was a joke sculpture of an office worker seated at her desk, which had a computer on it. The computer was covered with cobwebs and the woman, wearing a skirt and blouse, had turned into a skeleton and was slumped over, face down on the desk. She also had cobwebs all over her. The caption on the sculpture said something like, “Spent too much time on the Internet.”

I sat there, anxiously waiting for the woman who’d selected my gift to open it. I just knew she was going to laugh and get a big kick out of it. I mean, she was an office worker who spent endless hours at the computer, so I figured she certainly would be able to relate. Well, the expression on her face when she finally did open my gift was comparable to that of someone who’d just found a cockroach in her sandwich.

“This is really ugly,” she said, holding the sculpture away from her, as if it were contaminated. She immediately traded it for something that cost about half of what I’d paid for the sculpture. All I can say is if I hadn’t drawn lousy number two again, I’d have traded for my own gift.

This year, however, I’m fully prepared for the Yankee gift swap. In fact, I already have my gift all wrapped and waiting.

It’s two crocheted toilet-paper covers in pink and lavender.

With my luck, my husband will trade his gift for them.