White Elephants

Moving to this town has sure been a magic carpet ride; the places that I've been, just by saying 'yes.'

It never ceases to amaze me that old Buddha was right when he said that life in of itself has no inherent meaning.

But here's the kicker: he then said that we bring meaning to life. Human beings could just as plausibly be ends in themselves with the autonomy to define their own meaning for their lives. So, it's not so much about the meaning of life, but about living it; and answering the question "How should I live?" then finding something beyond yourself to help discover the answer.

Saturday night was proof the Buddha was right. Here's my story.

Saturday afternoon Kaitzer reminded me that The La Cañada Junior Women's Club was having its "White Elephant Sale." The Juniors were raising money for operational expenses, which would then defer more money for charitable contributions. I've been through bunco and an equal number of white elephant sales; I knew what to expect.

The white elephant really got a bad rap. In metaphysics, any animal represented by the color white is linked to mystical legend. The white elephant's prowess evolved from the mythology of ancient Siam and is linked to royalty and power. However, its stature symbolizing grandeur took a turn for the worse when, in 1901, New York Giants manager John McGraw told the press that Philadelphia businessman Benjamin Shibe had bought himself a "white elephant" when purchasing the Philadelphia Athletics. His premise, that a white elephant has no utility, forever changed our perspective of this mystical giant.

Nina and Bill Browning graciously opened their home to a myriad of sale items and a bunch of fun loving people who were willing to buy things of apparently little value all in the name of something outside themselves.

As we entered the patio garden I noticed the red chili peppers hanging on the garden gate and it occurred to me that Vickie Devaud hadn't made her mostaccioli with sauce for this event. It's really to die for. I know, it ain't always about me; but it's so damn good.

We were greeted by three lovely ladies wearing ooh-la-la gowns and exotic fruits on their head. Kaitzer thought of Carmen Miranda, but not I. I felt as though I was in West Texas, Rosa's Cantina. You know where my head's at? Remember the song "El Paso" by Marty Robbins? Trina Moore, Karen Nicholls, and Vickie Devaud were playing their versions of the wicked Felina, poised and ready to extricate the last dollars of any unsuspecting cowboy/cowgirl.

The bidding was competitive and often exorbitant. Ellen Portantino, the auctioneer, was drawing every dollar she could. She was better than the IRS. With the wine flowing, the white elephants were selling like hot cakes.

I thought the evening was definitely worth writing about but I needed a hook, something to hang the story on.

Taking a breather from the bidding, I headed to the kitchen to catch the end of the Clipper game. There I noticed a little star hanging from the chandelier over the counter. Inscribed in simple calligraphy it read, "The best things in life aren't things." Hmm, I thought, I found my hook!

Yeah, the best things in life aren't things and that's the beauty of buying a superfluous white elephant. There's absolutely no intrinsic value in its purchase. The meaning existed in the motivation behind the purchases. What was incidental to purchasing the white elephants was the essence of what we would own on the way home.

The best part of the evening wasn't going home with the refrigerator magnets, or Mr. Wonderful or even the Voodoo Menopause doll. It wasn't the things, it was helping a club help others, hanging out with friends, laughing at one's self, throwing caution to the wind and talking smack.

That little star hanging over Nina's kitchen reminded me that life should be less material and more spiritual and that prosperity should never be as important as purpose.

Georgia Dillon got the electric snippers made famous on late night infomercials. The box was signed by Anthony Portantino. Bert Eaton got a welcome sign that Linda Eaton refused to hang on her door. Todd and Nancy Hempstead got the blue ceramic Santa. Kaitzer got a three-inch high heel shoe that she thinks is a hammer. It was a sell out.

White elephants, they're things. They come and go; that's their nature. But at the end of the evening those who didn't leave with anything left with something because the best things in life aren't things.


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