you'll just have to imagine the pictures

This is an entry that really needs visuals. Alas, visuals would require a degree of forethought that I'm really not capable of lately. Once upon a time, I was used to being on the lookout for journal material, but I'm all rusted out. (Er, metaphorically speaking. About journaling. That's all I mean, there.)

Since I'm pretty sure no one wants to wade through many thousands of words, I can't really attempt to recreate the images. I'll try to at least give you enough of a sketched-in skeleton that you can let your imagination do the rest. With any luck, you'll be able to get some idea of what I'm talking about. Or at least have fun trying. Parts of it may be beyond the imaginative capabilities of anyone sane.

First, think of the color blue. Specifically, a strong light blue, like the color of early 70s eyeshadow. Very very bright. Now imagine a square throw pillow in that color, about 12" per side. Got it? Now, imagine that a triangle of dense silver mesh fabric has been applied to each corner on one side of the pillow, creating a sort of disco/photo frame effect. Tiny silver tassles add an extra touch of whimsy.

Cut to an early 20th century-style vintage photo of a curvy, partially naked woman, whose non-naked parts are draped in laces and silks, gazing through lowered lashes at the photographer. That same photo, recreated by an amateur painter on a large oval of fabric, holds pride of place in the center of the blue and silver pillow.

Ah, but we're not done yet. Add some zigzag trim (white, fuchsia, and lemon yellow) around the painted photograph, to make sure people notice it. Finally, fill the remaining blue space on the decorated side of the pillow with narrow pastel rainbow-colored strips of a material partway between plastic and fabric. Lots of them, so that the pillow looks fuzzy from a distance. Fun!

This monster--just on the wrong side of the "so horrible it's awesome" barrier--was my prize in last year's White Elephant exchange at the department Christmas party. (Perhaps you should thank me for sparing you an actual photograph.) It was hilarious, but I confess I was a little disappointed. The pillow spent the past year in the trunk of my car, still in its cheerful Christmas gift bag, waiting to make a return appearance.

Now, shift gears completely. Imagine an elegant flagstone patio, with barely-necessary heat lamps, a full bar, a gas fireplace burning cheerfully . The patio is terraced to respect the slope of the hill onto which it is built. The top level, closest to the wall of windows into the vast (yet somehow cozy) living and dining areas of the house, is filled with round patio tables and a charmingly unmatched assortment of patio chairs. The next lower level, on the other side of the fireplace, has sofas and tables arranged for comfortable seating--also conveniently near the bar. Down one more step is the pool, glowing blue against the darkness of the evening and the backdrop of mountain silhouettes barely visible in the night sky. Only a few lights here and there indicate the presence of other homes up here in the desert foothills; the faint glitter in the distance is the city where we all work.

This is the dean's house, site of the annual fête. It's expensively catered (although the only parts I really enjoy are the coconut shrimp, and the handmade white chocolate truffles), and most importantly, has an open bar with top-shelf liquor. Which flows very, very freely. I'm driving this year, so have to watch my consumption, but most of my colleagues waste no time getting their drink on. By the time the White Elephant exchange comes along, everyone is in a very good mood, and ready to enjoy the game. Friendships and careers are made and lost at this event*, as people get very competitive. This year's most hotly contested items are a Snuggie, a silk scarf from Istanbul brought by an international visiting scholar, an airline neck pillow, and my own booty. (Er, as in the booty I scored in the game. Just to be clear. I haven't yet reached the point of offering myself as a White Elephant, although I wouldn't rule it out altogether for the future.)

As for me, I walked away with a much better gift than the pillow: a grab-bag of items that included a t-shirt, a Starbucks care package complete with travel mug, coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies, and a set of Christmas dish towels. You may be nodding along, thinking that all sounds fine, but also wondering why it was such a big draw. Here's why: each dish towel is wrapped around an airline-sized bottle of booze. So basically you can make spiked coffee or hot chocolate in your travel mug (and wipe up any spills), and snack on cookies. Perfect for the office!

I guess I'll have to buy a gift for next year, though. This one definitely won't be making a return visit. (The recipient of the pillow, on the other hand, has vowed revenge...)

*Not really. I just went for the dramatic effect. Surprise. But the competitive part is true.