King of White Elephants

Our Christmas Eve tradition involves the typical fare: excessive food, do-it-yourself gingerbread construction, lots of family and friends, and a white elephant gift exchange. For several years, the gift exchange has developed into a war of attrition to see who can bring that one wonderfully terrible gift which is simultaneously appalling, clever, and hilarious. One year, it was a box of potatoes. The next, a 3 foot tall plastic doll accompanied with a bottle of root beer, which was supposed to be a "date." (I ended up with that one...everyone thought it was quite funny -- I humored them.)

Last year's winner was from my brother. He gave, in a very elegant brushed stainless steel frame and signed "Best Wishes", a black and white version of his senior picture. Audacias? Yes. Completely worthless? Yes. Best gift ever? Yes. The fact that it landed in the hands of a recently married 19 year old woman? Priceless.

But, by far, the best gifts are the ones that last from year to year: this is "re-gifting" elevated to the sublime. The plastic doll was one of those. And, in a great irony, my brother's narcissistic picture survived the year in someone's trunk to again be passed around the white elephant circle and land in the hands of my brother's wife -- who is, in all honestly, the only person that might enjoy it.

We all thought that was the coup de grace; the gift of the year, until we we saw this year's gift from my brother, the following weighty tome:

Bryan, you are king of the White Elephants.


90 seconds...

While I was enjoying the Christmas program at my parent's ward, my cohorts in the singles ward were anxiously engaged in giving 90 second talks. Apparently, they do this twice a year, the premise being that you are limited to no more than 90 seconds to share whatever message you think most important. So, if you had to forgo the lame jokes, humorous anecdotes, weak analogies, faith promoting experiences, and the recitation of moderately applicable song lyrics, what message would you share with everyone?

At the ward Christmas dinner on Friday night, I noticed a lot of fretting by the ladies who were asked to speak. (The guys would probably be worried, too, but we're just not that self aware in the first place...) Listening to their concerns, it made me wonder what I would say in my 90 seconds, and so I present my 90 second list:
  • Remember that time is money. Every dollar you earn and every item you buy costs a measure of your time that cannot be replaced. Hard work is necessary for happiness, but at some point the money is not worth the time. You will always arrive at this point earlier than you think, even if it seems that only a little bit more of your time would bring significantly more money.
  • Never take yourself too seriously and don't let others take you too seriously either. Nearly every situation can be improved by a good sense of humor.
  • It's the little things that make the largest difference. Never underestimate the power of a sunny day, a passage from a book, a great hug, or a classic song to change your day.
  • Never stop learning. Your body will age, and you will inevitably loose your looks, voice, jump shot, killer serve, and wicked carve, but you won't stop progressing if you continue learning.
  • In life, focus on the things that extend beyond mortality: the depth of your commitment, the service you've performed, and the relationships you've made. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. (Thanks John and Paul -- Beatles lyrics are pretty frequently applicable.)




I just finished wrapping Christmas presents. My tongue it really dry, like when you fall asleep with your mouth wide open. I think it's because I stick out my tongue when I wrap presents, kind of like Michael Jordan driving the lane. For some reason, the act of wrapping requires an inordinate amount of concentration and patience for me. To make it easier, I even put everything into boxes this year, but I still managed to mess a few up. When you see the box with the patch over the torn corner, that's my handiwork.

Maybe I should take a page from Dad's playbook: make my sisters do it. My dad has these big gorilla like hands, so the thought of him trying to crease and tape a roll of flimsy paper over some box really makes me laugh. That's why, every birthday, Mother's day, and Christmas, dad's gifts were summarily deposited into a basement room and the favor asked, "Hey, can you go wrap those for me?"

Now I'm beginning to understand why.


Subtle Signs

If you look around my house, you will see the subtle signs of bachelorhood. I say subtle, because the roommates and I keep a pretty clean and well ordered place. There is no pyramid of empty soft drink cans, pile of empty pizza boxes, or any hint of locker room smell. The carpets are vacuumed, pantry well stocked, kitchen well outfitted, and you won't find a TV in the living room. The furnishings are a little sparse, but still comfortable. Despite this, things are still slightly amiss, and I think that any off the following would clearly show that you are indeed visiting a bachelor pad:
  • The university sticker in the bedroom window.
  • The plant growing out of a nalgene bottle (I've been meaning to plant it, I really have!)
  • The plastic darts stuck on the kitchen window.
  • Reading material in all the bathrooms.
  • The Christmas tree with only one ornament.


The Curse of the PT Cruiser

While filling out my expense report for my most recent trip, I counted the number of times that I'd been to San Diego in the last few months. It was some ridiculous number like 6 or 7. Every time I've traveled to San Diego, I've been cursed with driving a PT Cruiser. Ungh. I'll take anything else. Give me your Malibus, your Impalas, your G6s, just NO MORE PT cruisers.

I'm so sick of driving that little car. The buttons are all in the wrong place, it doesn't get good gas mileage even though it's so small, it turns like an elephant, and sometimes the headlights stay on even after you turn them off. And to top it off, nothing screams "Look, I'm from out of town!" like driving a PT Cruiser in San Diego.

Two trips ago, I was standing behind this guys in the rental car line. He completed his paperwork, took the keys, and went out into the parking lot. He was back in about two seconds. He said, "There's no way I'm driving that." What was the car? A canary yellow PT cruiser. I totally agree with him, too. The car is effeminate enough without being pastel.

At the rental counter this last time, the lady said, "Well, I have a Corolla and a PT Cruiser." I got all excited and said, "I'll take the Corolla!" But when she punched it in, she frowned, motioned to the guy to my right, and said "Sorry, looks like he got it."

Agh! Like the Miami Dolphins, I remain winless.


Pink shirt

I had a great uncle who said, "Never trust a lawyer in a pink shirt." This was the 80s. I thought of it today because I wore a pink shirt to church. The beard makes me look manly, so I think I can pull it off. I also wore a red striped tie, so I kind of looked like a big candy cane. Festive, I suppose. My roommate (who is a lawyer, and who, I might add -- I have never seen wear pink shirt) said that in court this week, the judge came in wearing a pink shirt. The bailiff started to give him a hard time about it. The judge's reply? "It's not pink, it's manberry."

Manberry or not, I think I'd still be concerned if my legal counsel wore a pink shirt.


Sunday School PowerPoint?

So, I was in Sunday School today when the instructor gave his lesson through a PowerPoint presentation. There he was: laptop, projector, and fancy remote to flip through the slides crookedly spilled past the pull down screen onto the wall. Before he started, I wondered to myself: "Am I about to hear a timeshare sales pitch?"

At one point in the lesson, our row (the back row as it turns out) was asked to take turns reading out loud what was on the screen. When it came to his turn, the guy next to me squinted at the white text on blue background and said, "I feel like I'm at the eye doctor!" We all laughed.

Tonight the roommate and I were discussing how odd it was to have this technological intrusion into Sunday School. We thought of several more flippant comments we wish we had made:
  • PowerPoint? Wait, I don't even have the syllabus yet!
  • Is the text required?
  • How much does the text cost? Can you get it used?
  • Do we need ALL FOUR books?
  • Do I need to get a Scantron form?
Fortunately, we thought better of ourselves and didn't make a fuss. In all reality, the lesson was fine, just a slightly unorthodox presentation. Of course, the presenter has branded himself as a hard core nerd, so I hope he's okay with that.