Party greed

I went to the Eugene Mineral Club Christmas party today. Someone on the board must like Chinese food because the party is held at the same Chinese restaurant each year. I’ve been to several seasonal celebrations lately, so I would have sat this one out except that my term as membership officer is up, and I was eager to turn my files over to the new guy.

This was my first time at a gift exchange where people whose names were drawn could either open a gift or take away someone else’s gift. If you did the latter, the person whose gift you took could either open a gift or take away yet another person’s gift (but not the one you took from them). Many of the gifts were handmade jewelry and lapidary that took hours to create. Some people really didn’t want to surrender such gifts to the person who wanted to take them, and the resultant tension was painful to watch. Everyone wanted to pass themselves off as good sports, yet several people palpably wanted to say, “Go to hell. I’m keeping my goddamn gift.”

A few gifts truly were white elephant gifts (which is what we had been told to bring). There were ugly coffee mugs, a hideous candleholder, an enormous—and used—cast iron Christmas tree stand that someone must have brought to the party to save themselves a trip to Good Will. People who got these gifts looked as if they were praying that someone would take them away, but they were, of course, stuck. I didn’t bring anything, so I refused to take anything.

What I did do was to become very depressed. Here were people, many of whom were up in years, desperate to hang onto trinkets that would soon be ripped from their hands by death even if someone else didn’t take them. The ugliness of greed and the imminence of destruction overwhelmed me. I felt as if we had come together to whistle in the face of doom. All of life seemed hollow, and mass suicide struck me as a more appropriate response to the human condition than Chinese food and a gift exchange. Life is either too serious to take lightly, or too insignificant to take seriously; and I can’t decide which. I just know that neither is any good.

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