Writer’s Workshop: White Elephants

It’s said that cats bring dead things home to their humans because they don’t see us hunting and are afraid we’re going to starve. Whatever the reason for it, you have to be careful not to hurt the cat’s feelings by berating her and throwing the dead thing away in front of her. We had a cat, Mouthwash, who was a part-time inside cat (I think she actually belonged to someone else in the neighborhood, and just spent a lot of time at our house, and probably a couple of other houses) who would hunt on our behalf and bring dead birds, mice, moles etc. home, and the way we dealt with it was to thank her profusely, then take the thing inside and discard it. It kept her happy.

The same principle works with some people, although they don’t (usually) bring dead stuff.

One year, a guy I worked with (we’ll call him Dave, because that’s not his name) gave me the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar for Christmas. I really wasn’t sure what to do. On the one hand, it wasn’t appropriate for the office, which is something he probably should have known, and I wasn’t about to take it home and tell Mary “Look what Dave gave me for Christmas!” On the other hand, I’m not going to berate the guy and lecture him on why it was inappropriate, because I had to work with the guy, and I didn’t want him telling other people he knew (which included some of the top executives of the company) that he tried to give me a nice gift and I was being a total jerk about it. I knew he meant no harm by it, and I appreciated the thought, which I was raised to believe was what was important. So, I thanked him and hung the calendar on the coat hook on the back of my door, and forgot about it.

A couple of weeks later, I got a new job, working for a senior vice president, a young woman (she was my age) who was a superstar with the company. One afternoon, she came down to visit me in my office. Noticing my suit jacket was draped over the back of my chair, she said “Let me hang that up for you.” Of course, when she swung my door to get to the coat hook on the back, she came face-to-face with whoever the model was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar.

She looked at me for an explanation, and I, changing various shades of red, said, “It was a gift…”

She said, “From Dave?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

Evidently, Dave had given copies of the calendar to a number of executives, too…