Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Saturday post! Well, it was "Black Friday" yesterday, a sobriquet that inspires all sorts of wildly disparate images in the head, none of which actually reflects the true Black Friday, unless you count, of course, that this blog remained dark.

I'm not sure why I didn't get around to posting yesterday. I'll blame it on a bad case of Thanksgiving hangover, but to be entirely honest, I had the headache long before the holiday was even put in the oven. The Little Ditchman was sick this week, and I sterilized my hands obsessively after every diaper change and handholding, but somewhere in there the bug made it into my head and manifested itself as a week-long headache. The headache has just pounded away repeatedly for a week! It's the most disciplined part of me. If I could be as dedicated to something as this virus in my head is, the cancer pills I invented by week's end would also serve to quash world hunger. It does seem to come and go, however, with increasing and lessening fervor, so my mood can change from moment to moment which, now that I think about it, isn't really any different from any other time of the year. So it goes.

The holiday was a hoot, as it always is at my sister's. Most of the family showed, as well as some friends, and there was a roasted turkey and a fried turkey and it was swell. When it was pulled ceremoniously from the fryer, the turkey looked like a piece of char scraped from deep within the chimney of a third world blast furnace, but upon carving tasted surprisingly moist and yet nicely seasoned. There were about twenty of us, which meant multiple pies as well. Mrs. Ditchman prepared a cheesecake which looked as if it had been delivered to the house after finishing its magazine cover photo shoot. It tasted equally pretentious with its sugary orange glass-like glaze. (I love cheesecake. It's one of the few cakes I love, and is the reason she made it. Lately, I have been criticized for my lack of desire to eat cake, and I cannot explain it. I've no interest in cake. I think I'm just disappointed in the taste of it, after seeing all that beautiful rosy frosting. Anyway, I'm not sure what it is, but in my family there are two birthdays in every month of the year -and that doesn't count my friends- so there's a lot of damn cake... But I do like carrot cake, with its simple off-white, unassuming frosting, and a vegetable among the ingredients. Silly me.)

The family holiday the past few years has culminated in a tradition of The Great Ornament Exchange. Everyone in the family is required to bring a wrapped christmas tree ornament to ensure their participation in the event, and all can be counted on to show up and engage as the frenzy that ensues is just about the most entertaining thing that happens between now and Christmas morning.

It works like this: All ornaments are wrapped. Who brought what is not revealed until after the gift is opened, and even then it will depend on how much derision is garnered at the unveiling. Numbers are drawn from a hat. Whoever has "1" (which is the worst number to get) picks the first gift, opens it, and displays it for all to see. "2" goes next, of course, but is allowed to steal any previously opened gift in lieu of selecting an unopened one. If a gift is stolen, that person gets to either steal or choose a new one, and this continues until the stealing ceases and the game resumes. A gift can only be stolen three times, at which point it is "off the market" and out of the game. Whoever has the last number, say "20", really is the luckiest, as they get large pickings from which to kype. Incidentally, I've always argued that "1" should get to go again at the very end, with the option to steal and call the game, but this idea is always met with a certain amount of gameplay quarrel for some reason, so I usually let it go. (It's Christmas, after all.)

The whole event really starts moving about halfway through, after the first ten or so gifts are opened. Participants are often not satisfied with the ornament they have, for whatever reason, (for example: one of this year's ornaments had my name on it!) and so they line up in some fantastical bazaar, draping their ornaments down their arms, trying to get the trinkets to twinkle enticingly as the buyer walks the line, deciding whether to choose or to steal. The holiday spirit really swings into action when people began chanting STEAL STEAL STEAL and the gift picker gets that arrogant swagger in a moment of power when they realize they can control the look of your tree at home by either choosing to steal (or not) the ornament you have. Ho ho ho!

What always seems to happen is that the individual families get into power junkets, working together to pinch the goods they want. "You steal that and then I'll steal it from you and then it will have been stolen three times and it'll be off the market but still in the family!" is often heard. The kids usually gang up on (or with) the adults, and the adults usually submit. Shiny, battery powered blinking electronic ornaments are always a big hit, as has (in the past) any Star Wars-themed tree hanger. Since the Little Ditchman was new to the tradition, there were a certain amount of Elmo and Pooh ornaments, but there was no lack of bauble-negotiating all the same. A real buzzkill for the game is when someone brings a handmade ornament, as then there is the awkwardness of not being able to diplomatically pawn it off so you can steal something better. The last handmade ornament was entered into play years ago, and since then the "$5 maximum ornament price" rule was dropped from play, and interest in the event has grown to pre-handmade heights. Recently, some of the ornaments have been pretty shwanky, Pottery Barn European trinkets and the like, and for a brief moment I was in possession of a stunning silver reindeer with diamonds in the antlers -it was magnificent- but I walked away from the game Citizen Kane-like with a little wooden sled that had my name on it. I was forced to steal it so that the Little Ditchman could go home happily with a dangling Elmo on a snowboard. My wife stole Pooh. I guess our days of winning the biggies are over, now that we have a needy child. Such is the sacrifice parents make for their chillun on Christmas.

So there you have it. The celebration of Black Friday Eve. An event in which all the elements of tradition, decoration, and family, coalesce with the brutality of cutthroat holiday commerce. I tried to video some of it, but it was like tossing a camera into a tornado.