Two Hundred Empty Boxes

My younger sister has always been a real size queen about presents. Last Christmas I bought her a gift certificate to H&M, but I put it in a really big box. I taped the little gift-card holder to the bottom and filled it with crumpled newspaper and a heavy log. She saw the 20” x 24” situation and got pretty excited, shaking it every now and then for a week or two before the big day, trying to guess at just what on her wish list might be crinkling and clunking around in there.

Given the mysterious and inconclusive lead-up, the reveal was priceless. She mostly thought it was funny, but I watched her excitement turn to confusion, then dismay, and then excitement again, diminished this time, tinged with the disappointment of not having received something larger. Still, I thought $25 was pretty generous for a guy with no job.

My family has a history of gifting what we call “faker boxes”—a beautiful new sweater in a Cuisinart Food Processor box, a set of bowls in the box from a hairdryer, or, perhaps most cruelly, nothing but a rubber chicken inside the box from something someone might really want. This last trick was so frequent in my mother’s house that the rubber chicken was nicknamed (R.C.), and his appearance was as anticipated as that of the Old Maid.

I’m not sure why the faker box is funny, but it is. It’s something to do with the recipient’s quick shift from whooping excitement or thinly veiled disappointment to the opposite emotion, especially when one is in the know about the box’s contents. A faker box usually contains something more desirable (excepting truly cruel and unusual cases, like a Mr. Coffee 12-cup Programmable Stainless Steel Coffee Maker box with tube socks inside), and so the false excitement gives way to true excitement, or in cases like the above, true excitement gives way to polite thank yous and extra-wide smiles, masking the anticlimax.

Trying to fake gratitude and excitement with what you believe is a CUTCO Knife Sharpener in your hands—“Oh wow, this is so great, I’ll use it all the time!” or, less successfully, “Ohhh! A knife sharpener! Thank youuu!”—is awkward, in that maybe you have no use for a knife sharpener and/or think it’s a lame gift, and/or also in that you know only the most spoiled-rotten of brats are anything close disappointed when someone gives them a gift, whatever it may be, and far be it from you to act like a spoiled rotten brat. I, for one, would love to receive a CUTCO Knife Sharpener. Merry Christmas to me.

Because I am a seasoned faker box-opener, I don’t play the shaking game—“What could this be? [shake shake shake] Sounds like a book.” There’s too much room for misconceptions and misguided expectations. Faker boxes tell no tales—or, at least not the right ones.

My job search of late has begun to feel like some horrible Nightmare Birthday—incidentally the title of a forthcoming Tim Burton film—where every gift-wrapped box is addressed to you but every one is empty. TO: John they read, FROM: Editorial Assistant, or Social Media Coordinator, or $40k/yr. “Aww, how sweet!” I coo. “For me!?” I tear into one after another: application, cover letter, references, and résumé, and then nothing. Not even the decency of a rubber chicken.

The mere presence of the boxes is the rub—look at all these jobs! Monster, Idealist, CareerBuilder, etc., etc., etc. on down the page, sequenced keyword Booleans and filtered search results leading to a puff of smoke, a cover letter and résumé e-catapulted into the e-ether.

Box after box I imagine an omniscient Uncle Sadist, chuckling with dramatic irony as I make my way through the unshrinking pile. “Only one year experience required! No way!”

“Ha ha ha,” from an ugly armchair.

In the past ten months I’ve applied to some two hundred open positions—two hundred jobs I thought I could do, I thought I might be right for, I thought might be a great first step. I’ve had three interviews. I’ve gotten about fifteen replies, not including automated “Subject: Your Application Has Been Received”s—thanks-but-no-thanks, the position has been filled.

But just as at Christmas, no number of faker boxes diminishes the worth or the heart of even one real gift; indeed, it’s only within the context of the real gifts that the faker boxes become funny. One of these boxes has to contain something. It just has to.

  1. Zen said:

    Oh wow. I’d be ever so disappointed if I got such a box! And I don’t hide disappointment well. At least it’s a common thing in your family!
    I hope you’re successful in your job search though!

    • Haha, it’s definitely a rite of passage. Thank you!

  2. Ann said:

    You probably don’t remember the Tender Vittles Box — especially since you weren’t born at the time — but it was my introduction to the traditional family “faker box.” There WAS something good inside, after I swallowed a large obstruction in my throat and assured everyone that, of course, my cats would LOVE the Tender Vittles. (And Susan’s dismay because I’d obviously not been WARNED about faker boxes!) I’m sure there will be something good inside one of those job interviews/replies soon. Life is not the destination, it’s the process.

    • I’ve heard that one!! Too, too funny. Thank you for the encouragement; must keep fingers crossed in any case 🙂 I think I can, I think I can..

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