Thursday, December 18, 2008

The White Elephant Collection

Last weekend I got together with a few friends for a now semi-traditional group Christmas Date. After a quick buzz around Temple Square and a generous meal at Macaroni Grill, we retired to my buddy Visser's house to engage in that most hallowed of Christmas traditions, the White Elephant Party.

My score for the evening was a Jumbo TV Remote, large enough that you could basically punch the buttons with a clenched fist while your eyes were closed and still locate the right channel. I was very happy with my take. Other notable gifts included a Virgin Mary night light, a generic train set enclosed in packaging covered with Engrish, and a selection of my old mission photographs. It was a fine night for all.

In the aftermath, I've come to realize that over the years I've built up a respectable collection of worthless conversation pieces. I wouldn't call all of them White Elephant gifts necessarily-some of them would be tremendously difficult to part with-but thanks to the Internet, I can share the items and their stories with you, the reader. Enjoy.

Star Wars Movies...on Beta

Plenty of people have copies of the original "Star Wars" trilogy on VHS, but if you look closely, these are not VHS tapes. Yes, my friend, thanks to my buddy Jared, I am the proud owner of Sony Beta copies of Episodes II and III. For those of you who aren't old enough to remember Beta (I only barely do myself), it was a short-lived video format from the early 80's that quickly went the way of 8-Tracks, Videodiscs, and Lazerdiscs.

Boba Fett Bobblehead

Lest anyone forget my juvenile fascination with the fruits of George Lucas (that doesn't sound very good, does it?), about a year ago I stepped into my shower and discovered that my sister had given me an official Boba Fett Bobblehead Doll. She left it in my shower because she assumed that way I would find it quickly. But sadly, she left it there while I was still trying to adjust to my KJZZ graveyard schedule, and in the confusion I did not discover said gift for about three days.

The South Side Brick

OK, so one fine summer day I'm riding shotgun with my ZL Elder Seamons and my greenie Tubbs as we tool around Chicago's South Side, on our way to visit the James Earl Jones of the Windy City, Mr. Dan Giles (now dead). As we are about to round the corner of Ada and 83rd Street, we pause as a group of children crosses the street in front of us. The last kid in the bunch, a 16-year-old, takes his time as he swaggers in front of our brand new green 1997 Ford Escort.

Not being familiar with proper South Side relations, Seamons honks the horn to encourage the young man to get out of the way. At this point the young man stops, his eyes get wide, and he stands in front of our car, waving and cursing. So Seamons pumps the brake, lurching the car forward a touch, just enough to send a message.

Now our young friend is irate, and begins screaming something to the effect that we can't come down to his neighborhood and etc., etc., etc. So Elder Seamons rolls down his window as I begin to duck down in my seat and yells at the kid to get back in front of the car so he can "do it again".

Fed up with the negotiating process, the kid lowers his head and begins scanning the ground. I distinctly hear him mutter the words, "where's a brick?" Lo and behold, there is a good-sized brick approximately five feet from him, and as he bends down to pick it up, Seamons steps on the gas and we swing around the corner. Elder Tubbs, riding solo in the back seat, turns to look behind us just in time to see an airborne brick rapidly approaching his head, and he ducks just in time to avoid decapitation and getting a face full of rear windshield glass.

2.3 seconds after the rear windshield shatters, Seamons is out of the car and chasing the kid on foot. Tubbs and I pause in the car, surmising that the image of three young white men in shirts and ties chasing a 16-year-old African-American boy through the streets of South Chicago would probably not help the image of the LDS Church in the neighborhood. So eventually we get out of the car and trot behind Seamons at a safe distance, waiting for the formation of the inevitable mob.

Fortunately, 18 months of missionary service has taken a serious toll on Seamons' aerobic conditioning, and the young perpetrator escapes sans further confrontation. So we pick up our trophy and return to our Talman apartment just in time to see a SWAT Team storm a nearby house and throw one of our neighbors in a Paddy Wagon, cut the brick into three collectable chunks, and call it a day.

I really, really miss the South Side.

Chrome Skull Gearshift Knob

For about two years I kept this knob on the gearshift of my 1996 Maxima until the set screw began eroding the shift's threads. In that time it was quite the conversation piece, and managed to quickly sift the parade of girls who rode shotgun with me during that relatively date-heavy period. The attraction to the piece originally came from the skull Harrison Ford hangs from the rearview mirror of his 55' Chevy in "American Graffiti", but the majority of girls didn't quite get the reference, unfortunately. No big surprise.

Gator Head

If you see one of these for sale anywhere outside of the Deep South, you'll probably get charged about $25, but on the streets of New Orleans, these farm-raised babies fill the barrels of French Quarter souvenir shops at a mere $9.99 a piece. This one is enjoying a taste of Indiana Jones.

Marc Singer Autographed Photo

Two summers back my sister and I drove down to San Diego to see Ray Bradbury speak at Comic-Con 2007. After seeing the legendary sci-fi author in the flesh and even getting a chance to meet the man and get his autograph, we trolled the convention to see who else we could see. We ran into George "Mr. Sulu" Takei, David "Darth Vader's Body" Prowse, and LaVar "I'll let you take a picture with me for ten dollars" Burton. But the best moment came when I spotted actor Marc "The Beastmaster" Singer, who also played Donovan in the early 80's Sci-Fi miniseries "V". Totally cool guy.

1980 Cleveland Browns Autographed Football

I inherited this football from my grandpa on my mom's side, and thus would never even consider parting with it at some White Elephant Party, but it's still quite the conversation piece. Die-Hard NFL fans will recognize the 1980 Cleveland Browns as the "Kardiac Kids", notorious for winning or losing their games on last-minute plays throughout the 1980 season. (Non-NFL Die-Hards might still recognize the name Lyle Alzado on the ball.) True to form, the Browns' season ended when Raider cornerback Lester Hayes intercepted a Brian Sipe pass in the end zone during one of the coldest first round playoff games ever recorded. My dad attended the game (we were in town visiting family for Christmas), and his jacket actually cracked from the cold.

Hawaiian Hula Doll

Years ago I convinced a girl to bring me back a hula doll from her trip to Hawaii. We'd been dating off and on for several months, and the relationship was on life support with little-to-no chance of survival. I think my demand was in the hope of keeping enough fleeting contact to preserve a chance of romantic success. Years later, she's married with at least one kid that I know of, and I've got this weird hula doll. So I don't know whether to keep it, give it away, or auction it off on e-Bay.

The Keychain Collection

Here the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you look closely, you should be able to identify a set of Blues Brothers keychains, a Rolling Stones tongue keychain, an R2-D2 keychain, an old watch, a souvenir keychain from when Ringo Starr played at Weber with his All-Starr Band in 1999, a skull keychain (there's that skull theme again), an Alcatraz keychain, some kind of Aztec mask keychain, what looks like a plastic Swiss Army thing, a small flashlight, and the keys and key fob from the '64 Mustang that I drove into a cement wall at 70mph.

Mono Plush Toy

This little plush toy is the cuddly incarnation of the Epstein Barr Virus, commonly known as "Mono", also commonly known as the "Kissing Disease". I bought it as a Christmas gift for a girl I was dating a while back, but the relationship didn't make it to December 25th, and thus I was unable to "give her Mono". Now I'm going to have to wait and give Mono to some other girl.

The Moses Statue

What better way to boost the spirituality of your home than to add a ceramic statue of Moses hurling teeny versions of the Ten Commandments? That's what I was thinking when I laid down twenty bucks for this thing at the Centerville Albertson's three years ago.

Nasty Nick

When I was about ten years old, I strolled into Baseball Cards, Etc. in Five Points Mall in Bountiful and slapped down five bucks to invest in the very first Garbage Pail Kid, Nasty Nick, #1A. It might be worth something now, but looking back I still think I should have spent eight dollars on Adam Bomb, who was card #8 but was much more iconic of the Garbage Pail Kids series. Live and learn.

The Elvis Meets Nixon Snow Globe

My fascination with Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon is well-documented. My basement walls boast two Velvet Elvi and I've got a poster of Richard Nixon bowling in my bedroom. Their Oval Office meeting in the early 70's has to be one of the all time convergences of American political and popular culture, so when I discovered a mini-shrine to the event in the National Archives Gift Shop in DC two years ago, I had to pick up a T-shirt...and the snow globe.

The Black Power Afro Pick

Possibly the greatest thing I brought home with me from my two years in Chicago. While serving on the South Side, one night an investigator named Ronald took me aside and gave me a genuine Black Power Afro Pick. It's got a peace sign carved in the middle, and the top knob is shaped like a Black Power fist, and I can't look at it without remembering all those summer nights riding my trusty Trek 820 mountain bike (dubbed "Thunderlips") along 79th Street past Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam headquarters, past the riot troops getting ready to take on looters after the Bulls won the NBA title, dodging bottles, bricks, and a whole lotta curse words.

Man, I miss the South Side.

Pimpin' Presidents Fridge Magnets

My downstairs fridge has become decorated with a tasteful variety of colorful magnets in recent years, but perhaps none are so noteworthy as my set of "Pimpin' Presidents" my family got me a couple of Christmases ago. And who better to represent the collection than a man who embodied the pop and political cultural convergence that Elvis and Nixon worked so hard to start: President Ronald Reagan. I only wish he'd been drawn with a big Superman logo to go with his bling-bling.

The Lifesize Richard Simmons Cardboard Cutout

My buddy Breto passed this on to me years ago as a kind of Viewmont High heirloom for guys with quirky senses of humor. I was going to pass it on to this kid named Christian, but then he stopped returning my phone calls (which also left me with his bootleg copy of the Beatles' "Let it Be" documentary, incidentally). So now whenever folks swing by the old bachelor pad, they always get a little quality time with Richard Simmons. If they want to spend some quality time with his lower half, they have to go to my parents' basement and go through some of my storage.

The Tabasco Bottle

One cold winter night in 1994, I dropped into the local Dee's Family Restaurant on 5th South in Bountiful with my good friends Brian and Ben. As we slid across the vinyl seats and took up our positions in a remote booth, Brian picked up this bottle of Tabasco Sauce and said something about how a friend of his had chugged one once. Upon hearing this, our waiter told Brian he'd give him five dollars if he'd do it. Five minutes later, Brian was screaming and dumping glassfuls of water down his enflamed esophagus with one hand and desperately clutching five dollar bills with the other. Ben and I rock-paper-scissored it to see who got to keep the bottle, and the rest is history.

The Nutters Trophy

This one is an actual White Elephant gift, my score from semi-traditional Christmas Date #1 in December 2007. The most coveted prize of the evening was an eighteen inch white ceramic Cockatoo-won ultimately by Mr. Dan Moench-but I was most pleased to accept my consolation prize, a small statue of a basketball player in very humiliating shorts.

The Rubber Viking Helmet

The Rubber Viking Helmet has seen plenty of action over the years, first as a key prop in the Salt Lake Institute News Network Skit, "Thedon the Friendly Nephite", then as a inspiring "Zombie-Fest" accessory for my friend Mr. John Visser, and finally as my new roommate Dustin's favorite hat. But technically the helmet still belongs to a kid named JR, who actually bought it from a Crossroads Mall Halloween shop back in October of 1998 around the time the two of us were starting a band with Breto. The band lasted through two practices, JR got engaged to a blond, and ten years later, he has still failed to reclaim his rubber helmet.

If he happens to show up for next year's Christmas Date, I'll have a happy surprise for him.