Dec 22, 2010

White Elephant, Real Elephant: It's Your Call

So, I started using a Mac laptop recently.  It was a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law from last year. Actually, it was a white elephant, and I was as surprised as anyone when I unwrapped it.  What with the refrigerator magnets, oven mitts and non-operative metal wind up toys that everyone else seemed to be receiving that night, I was sure that what was in this rather extremely bubble wrapped parcel, was probably a cast iron skillet. This due to the heft, size and shape of the thing.

And the bubble wrap, which was certainly a ruse, didn't deter my notions.  And, believe me, I was thrilled at the prospect of receiving a cast iron skillet. I even hoped that it was still seasoned. The idea seemed more practical than icky. Making it a sort of an on-going pan with function that, despite all it's travels via FedEx, was somehow still in progress. Why, I could use it as early as the very next morning.

Though, the idea that it might be a piece of slate for arranging my (certainly) diverse array of cheeses on - you know, like in the magazines - wasn't out of the question, and was sort of in-the-air that night as people speculated out loud what might be going on with each other's gifts. Being that this Christmas party was comprised of eight or ten adults and one teenager - the unwrapping of the gifts went quietly, save for some nearly whispered narration from the sidelines.   

Yes. It made sense that it might be a slate cheese tray.  

It's the way other people with other lives like to arrange their cheeses on nice pieces slate on those wine, cheese and money filled afternoons that sometimes happen. Usually without warning. On Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Around 3 pm. And though you are supposed to be at work, you find yourself being pulled away, jumping in to a cab and scooting off to some unlikely address.  

And it's something you "just can't get out of" and, for some reason, everybody understands. Even your boss.  And, when you get there, the music, people and cheese seem to  already be in progress, as though this little gathering has been going on forever.

And you realize just how many people out there don't need to be at work in the middle of the day.  That is, that there are many people who exist purely to enjoy themselves.  Because all of those people are this party, and they are all having cheese.

Oh, hello! Try this wine!  

Subtle over-notes of wild mushrooms, amirite?

Yup. No.. wait, wait. I'm getting.. rotting wood? Subtle.. compost heap?  

Oh my god, exactly! 

Everyone is standing casually around a table where, if you bother to look, there is, amongst other things, a big shard of slate with an array of cheese arranged upon it. And as cheeses go, it's a thoughtful selection.

There's a hard cheese.  A runny cheese.  An angry cheese.  A terrible cheese.   A moldy diamond encrusted cheese.  Why, there's even a cheese that requires it's own votive warming apparatus to keep it just-so.    

It's all there.  Cheeses arranged with love and an unflinching eye for composition.  And the afternoon light, somewhat diffuse on this overcast day, has never looked better around any tray of cheese.  

Any crumbles that have fallen away from the dryer varietals - now even lovelier for their very varied-ness.  Such crumbling speaking volumes about cheese.    

As well, the foil wrap from the just recently opened champagne (that lies with it's faithful wire-cage and wayward cork companions), that is just in the foreground of this crumbly cheese platter idle, only attests to the fact that this little wine and cheese celebration is actually happening - in case anyone wasn't totally convinced.

We're really great, aren't we? I mean as people.

Yeah, we are -- have you tried this?

No, what is it?

It's champagne jelly! 

That's freaking genius.

I'm telling you..  

Wires. Foils. Crumbles.  Lipstick marks on crystal glasses.  The aftermath of our consumption. Proof that we once consumed.  

Bring me opera.  Bring me a headache accompanied by deep dark stringed instrumentals.  Bring me the full ashtray with the crushed out Dunhills stained with Yves St. Laurent rouge feu.

Bring me my coat.  So that I can hop in a checkered cab and be transported back home where there are warm perfect baths, blankets and tins of chocolate cookies. 

Where I can sit high atop my bed as I dial up steaks and tossed salad from Ruths Chris and watch never ending movies on command.  

Home - to every super shiny thing.  Then bring me shopping tomorrow where I can get new, bigger cell phones to replace the old, smaller ones - and smaller computers, the size of cell phones, and special holders for everything else I already have. 

Oh, and maybe an irregular piece of slate.


Having switched to coffee, I opened my gift. It was a backpack.  
A really heavy backpack.  

I loved it!  

But, no.  There was more.  I was encouraged to look further.  So, I unzipped the backpack and felt the unmistakably cold smooth surface of a mac laptop.  My sister-in-law's old laptop.   

My laptop.

I turned it on. A graphic of a simply shaped white apple against a pale gray background appeared for a moment.  As short, understated animations go, it was strangely compelling. I felt relaxed. Reassured. And this alone was enough for me.    

Even days later, it felt right.  So clean and compact. This without opening it or so much as turning on the power. From there I progressed to playing chess on it. Sometimes I merely watched the computer play against itself.  And that's where things pretty much stayed for the following eleven months. I have no idea why.

I should mention that I realized even then - in that crazy moment of opening my gift and all the subsequent yelling and clinking of glasses and iphones suddenly being pointed at me - that I can never top this gift.  So, yesterday, after some deliberation, I packed up the several odd, out-scale components of the 1999 Dell computer I had been using all my life, and sent it all to my sister-in-law.  

The box containing the monitor alone, which was as big as a Volks Wagon, would certainly make her curious.  Maybe even a little worried.  But that's the point of Christmas.  Especially when a white elephant rule has been put into effect.  

I, too, wanted to wrap everything up in bubble wrap.  When it became clear that I hadn't enough, I switched to using old tarps, remnants of fabric, unfinished knitting projects and, finally, some bacon.  You know, just to throw her off.  

I should also mention that, for her convenience, I didn't remove any files or downloads I had accrued on that computer over the years.  I think that that is actually the real the gift, right there.  Not just the machine, but the ghost in the machine.  I get chills just typing it.   

And - and this is the part of the story when so many twists and turns and layers of mysteries all come to a conclusion even I never imagined: the arrival of these boxes will explain the cleverly cryptic text I sent her yesterday as I was leaving UPS.  That was my password.  Imagine her ah-ha moment when she realizes this. 

Yep.  It's going to be so great.