Last night was kind of a crazy one for me. It started with two collegiate football (the American kind, but is self-explanatory in US as the other kind is called soccer) games that had BCS (Bowl Championship Series) implications (a bowl is just like a tournament of champions pitting two invited teams selected based on their respective performance in their own conferences as well as a national ranking system played in December/January after the so-called regular season).
One game was between the Gators of University of Florida, my alma mater, and the Razorbacks of University of Arkansas in the South-east Conference championship game. If the Gators (ranked 4th) win and win strongly (as part of the ranking is decided on voting by a smorgasbord of sportswriter, coaches, and college administrators that necessarily involve an element of subjectivity dictated by their own views of the style of win), then they can vault over both the Wolverines of University of Michigan (ranked 3rd) and the Trojans of University of South California (ranked 2nd), who played the Bruins of UCLA about two hours earlier. All three teams have a one-loss record, and one of the three would meet the number 1 ranked team, the Buckeyes of Ohio State University. come January 8 next year in Arizona for the bragging rights of being the National Champion.
With such high stakes involved, I think you would understand if I rooted for the Bruins. So the crazy mood actually started earlier in the evening when the Bruins and Trojans squared off at 4.00 pm. Then promptly at 6.00pm, I was switching between two channels, Gators vs Razorbacks on Channel 10 (CBS) and Bruins vs Trojans on Channel 28 (ABC).
Then it was time to leave the comfort of home and solitary viewing (my wife and daughter were much less enthused in the game nor in the outcome, sigh) at 7.30 pm to our annual office party at a nice restaurant, the Side-Berns, not too far from our home.
After our car was valet-parked, we found that we were the first to arrive at the venue, a separate room meant for wine storage (you would soon see the stacks of wine bottles on rollers) the center of which has been cleared for the buffet and gift tables and chairs.
The first thing I asked was whether there was a TV somewhere, not realizing that there was a plasma TV hung just behind the counter (must be the football-induced headiness as usually I was level-headed enough to first do an environment scanning and notice things).
While my colleagues trickled in slowly, my eyes were kind of glued to the TV (which was muted so it was all action only), save for the occasional nod of acknowledgment and casual conversation. My wife, on the other hand, was busy criss-crossing from one end of the room to another to strike up conversation with everybody and anybody who was not engaged in any form of group discourse, Well, it’s understandable as she only gets to meet them on average once a year during the office party while I see them during work day-in and day-out, except for their spouses/partners of course.
The first good news came during the half-time break of the Gators vs Razorbacks game. The Trojans were upended by the Bruins, who have been the punching bags for the Trojans in the past eight years. YES, I let go of a somewhat muffled cry of exhilaration.
When the second half resumed, the room was now full of people (the total tally was 37, plus 3 waiters mingling with palm-supported trays of entrees for us to savor). So I had to constantly change my position to secure an obstructed view of the TV. At one point, the Gators fumbled twice, and were down by 3.
During the commercials in between the game stoppages (time-outs), I lined up at the buffet table to partake of the offering of the evening: sautéed shrimps, sushi served with white rice complemented by ginger slices and wasabi sauce, pasta with meatballs, and roasted beef. I drank Diet Coke while my wife sipped the Cabernet.
To cut a long story short amidst the enshrouding din and the constant shuffling of people moving about, the Gators eventually emerged the Champion, thereby staking a legitimate claim on the National Championship game.
At the heel of the perhaps my imagined furor in the room (despite the presence of several other Gator fans in the room as they remained seemingly nonchalant) over the win, the highlight of the party ensued. What a perfect timing!
I was referring to the gift exchange portion of the night. The rules of the engagement are simple:
a) Each participant brings along a gift, properly wrapped to conceal its content and emplaced in a hopefully nondescript gift bag so that the giver may not be identified without more thorough sleuthing.
b) Each participant than draws a number to decide the order of choosing gifts. Once chosen, the gift is unwrapped there and then so that everybody keeps a mental list of the opened gifts for later swaps.
c) A participant may choose an unopened gift, or an opened one from another participant. One opened gift can be claimed thus at most three times. In turn, the participant whose gift has been “taken”, may choose an unopened gift, or another opened one, but may not reclaim the one that has been taken.
d) The first participant then reserves the right to have the last say, being able to swap his/hers with any of the gifts.
That said, let the game begin. Of course there is also a ritual to be followed for each gift selection as you shall see next, which I will use myself as the perfect example.
After my number was called (I think mine was the 5th), I proceeded to the gift table, oblivious to the gifts that were already opened as I prefer selecting from the unknowns, the mystery mounting. Oh, yes, the ritual. I had to first put on a furry hat as shown to the right, firmly planted on my head with the hanging white knob on the side, much like the tassel on a mortarboard during a graduation ceremony. But the Bugs Bunny-like hand posture was entirely optional. The lady and the man next to me on both sides were put in charge to ensure that the ritual was followed to the letter, and the gift selected fair and square (no feeling, no peeking into the bag, and no testing the weight, just your pair of keen eyes and your power of association between the hidden content and the packaging (size, type of wrapping paper, size/type of gift bag) regime and their relative position on the table (inner corner, etc.). After a perfunctory survey, I think I trusted my gut feeling better and just reached for the first gift that my mind registered.
With the gift firmly within my grasp, I settled on the chair and commenced with the next ritual: opening the gift. Here you can witness the battle of wits between the giver and the recipient (though not by choice of the giver): the giver’s displayed through the layers of layers of seemingly endless wrapping, much like the arrangement of Russian nested dolls except here that only the last innermost item is of interest; on the other hand, the recipient tries to get to the prize in the most efficient manner through wide-arc or multi-layer tearing of the wrapping papers. Here I was doing my bit, but taking my own sweet time as it was not as if the prize was going to disappear into thin air any time soon.
Just look at my male colleague literally laughing his head off and the other watching with muted amusement. Because somebody has thought that a pair of love cuffs, the furry kind at that, would make a meaningful gift in this festive season of merriment. Such is the level of creativity displayed by my colleagues, defying most expectations and surely fitting Edward de Bono's paradigm of thinking out of the box.
But my “euphoria” was short-lived, as a colleague after my turn decided to claim mine, thereby sending me on another trip to the gift table. This time the prize turned out to be less dramatic (so no pictures): a DVD movie entitled The Superman Returns, which we have seen in the IMAX theatre (read about the revisit in an earlier blog here) with full 3D projection (not continuous though and seen through a special set of goggles) at first release. Fortunately, we have not bought the DVD yet, and no colleague of mine has deemed it worthy of swapping for the remaining of the night.
As for our gift for the evening, we bought a … Sorry, I just realized that I could not divulge the nature of the gift lest one of my colleagues somehow heard wind about my blogging habit. Let’s just say that it went to a deserving parent with beautiful kids and was appropriate for the occasion in this wonderful month of Christmas.
The climax of the gift exchange was our gift to our boss as our token of thanks for his encouragement, his understanding, his keeping us professionally challenged, and providing a congenial and convivial work environment where each of us contributed synergistically to the well-being of the firm and the satisfaction of our clients. Here, seated, beaming, and encircled by us, is our boss, after a round of heart-felt applause. And he participated in the gift exchange as well, but instead of opening a new gift, he claimed one from among the rank of opened gifts, the one aptly entitled the Bossman. And thereafter that gift stayed with him, each of us perhaps knowing where our place is in the grand scheme of things.
We left after 11 pm. By then the feeling of fatigue in our feet, which had supported us and which tiredness had stayed suppressed during the gift-exchanging excitement, had started to register. But it was a well-deserved end, a symbolic one no doubt, to a good year of comradeship, of mutual support, and gainful employment; and to cap it all, we all had a jolly good time!
Now I await the BCS announcement tonight that will signify the fate of the Gators football team whether they will get a shot at winning the national title a second time, the first time being in 1996, with one loss, and also having beaten the Razaorbacks in the SEC championship game.
So I would say history is on our side. Don’t you think so?
Update @ 8.13pm: It's official. Gators vs Buckeyes in the BCS Championship game.