Presenting Miss Universe 2014 (?), or Miss Universe’s Presents

Every year

Sometimes, the Miss Universe Pageant occurs to crown the most beautiful woman in the world according to Mr. Donald Trump. Because Trump couldn’t get his shit together, this week, the third week of January 2015, is the 2014 edition of the pageant. It is happening in exotic Doral, Florida, USA because the venue in Kiruna, Sweden melted, and the second choice, a theatre in southern Cameroon is closed for ceiling repairs. Among the exciting things the 88 girls have been doing are playing golf, painting a wall, and swimming around in a small hotel pool. I wish I had made that last sentence up.

Although I am neither for nor against beauty pageants, some of the activities they do, when taken out of context, look utterly pointless. For example, they did a gift auction, where each contestant brought some piece of crap from her home country, put it on a table, and hope someone buys it so they can fit some more hotel washcloths and half-used mini-shampoo/conditioners in that hole in their luggage. Recently, the pageants have been around Christmas, so at least the auction seemed semi-genuine; now that it’s in mid-January, it’s like “here’s something that someone gave my mom that she wanted out of the house,” or “here’s something I bought at the terminal just before I got on the plane.”

Now, you can see what kinds of souvenirs you can get when you visit Spain or China or Guam. I’ve taken the liberty of ranking each of the 88 gifts from worst to best so you don’t have to.With that said, if you want to follow along, there is a website where you can see them posing next to the gifts they brought.


88. Miss Bahamas didn’t even show up, so she gets a 0 for effort.

87. Miss Argentina apparently just brought herself, because she’s fabulous.

86. Miss British Virgin Islands also brought herself, because she is just too cool for all this.

85. Miss Venezuela brought her game face and her head, on which to place the Miss Universe crown.

84. I have no idea what Miss Georgia brought. She looks like she doesn’t either.

83. Miss Albania brought a tissue from a recent nosebleed…or so she says.

82. Miss Aruba brought a fancy Swiss watch. Some assembly required.

81. Miss Singapore brought a box of stuff she found in her gardening shed.

80. Miss Ecuador brought a blob of something golden.

79. Miss Indonesia brought a seashell…maybe?

78. Miss Panama either brought a rusty nail or a mummified finger. 

77. Miss Netherlands cut something from a newspaper and put it in a frame. What, no windmills?

76. Miss Brazil brought a fire alarm.

75. Miss Sri Lanka brought one of those boxes to small to put anything in.

74. Miss Slovenia brought a paperweight.

73. Miss Czech Republic brought her car keys.

72. Miss Croatia brought a tie.

71. Miss Nicaragua brought tie pins.

70. Miss Chile brought a hat.

69. Miss Sweden brought a snow globe.

68. Miss Finland brought a coffee mug.

67. Miss Korea brought an extra pair of shoes.

66. Miss Spain brought a Lonely Planet she bought in the airport in Madrid.

65. Miss Italy brought the book she read on the plane.

64. Miss Lithuania brought the menu from her country’s fanciest restaurant.

63. Miss Ukraine brought her high school yearbook.

62. Miss Guam brought a basket of papier-mache flowers.

61. Miss Norway brought my garage door opener. Thanks for costing me $100 for a replacement, Miss Norway.

60. Miss Portugal brought a sculpture of a basket or something.

59. Miss Turks and Caicos brought a sculpture from her hotel room’s patio.

58. Miss Jamaica brought a Usain Bolt workout DVD and something sparkly – nope, wait that’s the girl standing behind her.

57. Miss Peru brought her childhood troll doll.

56. Miss Slovak Republic brought a play set with a strange black arm-shaped tree.

55. Miss Nigeria brought a wooden sculpture of some guy killing a chicken.

54. Miss Tanzania brought a taller sculpture just to spite Miss Nigeria.

53. Miss Israel brought a coffee table book she stole from her grandmother’s nursing home in Fort Lauderdale.

52. Miss Puerto Rico brought a lace shawl she stole from Miss Israel’s grandmother.

51. Miss Saint Lucia brought a framed photograph of that face everyone thought they saw on the moon that turned out to be some rocks.

50. Miss Trinidad and Tobago brought a framed mouse pad.

49. Miss Mauritius brought a painting she made at one of those “paint-it-yourself” places.

48. Miss Dominican Republic brought a painting that will scare young children.

47. Miss India brought another painting that will scare young children, and looks like aliens from a distance.

46. Miss Angola brought a painting you’ll have to cover with a sheet when hosting your six-year-old’s birthday party.

45. Miss Gabon brought a painting from the Phoebe Buffay Collection.

44. Miss Serbia brought a painting that looks just the right size to hide an iPad in.

43. Miss Kosovo brought some monochromatic prints of Mother Teresa that would look fantastic at Black Hole Coffee House in Houston opposite the Lindsay Lohan ones they currently have.

42. Miss Colombia brought a necklace she made all by herself at summer camp.

41. Miss Egypt apparently went to summer camp with Colombia.

40. Miss El Salvador brought either a lovely little plate or a giant Christmas ornament that will break in your luggage.

39. Miss Mexico brought either a huge clutch or the menu from the hotel’s restaurant.

38. Miss France brought either an expensive scarf or the lint from her dryer.

37. Miss Bulgaria brought some traditional dolls that may or may not double as feather dusters.

36. Miss Kenya also brought dolls, but they look suspiciously like Barbies.

35. Miss Poland brought dolls that are also folk dance trophies.

34. Miss Ireland spent most of her money on that fancy plastic wrapping for her basket.

33. Miss Uruguay brought the magic rose from Beauty and the Beast.

32. Miss Hungary brought some pink ceramic bunnies that will look right at home on your dusty knick-knack shelf.

31. Miss Costa Rica brought a pink purse. I’m hoping that it has a Target gift card in it or something. Keep your eye on that one.

30. Miss Lebanon also brought a purse, but it’s shinier.

29. Miss Malaysia also brought a purse, but with a jeweled clasp.

28. Miss China’s overbearing grandmother couldn’t make it, so she brought her remains instead. Miss China is a heat-seeking revenge machine.

27. Miss Greece brought a sculpture of a wreath that doubles as an earring rack.

26. Miss Russia brought ceramic boots that double as vases.

25. Miss Haiti brought a drum that you know is going to leave glitter all over your house once your cat decides to play with it.

24. Miss New Zealand brought a pin depicting The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

23. Miss Philippines brought some pretty pearls that will suck if it turns out they’re plastic.

22. Miss Turkey brought the world’s biggest earrings, except she lost one.

21. Miss Australia actually brought a decent looking necklace that does not look like it came out of a gumball machine.

20. Miss Great Britain also brought a piece of silver jewelry. Boring.

19. Miss USA brought some pieces of gold jewelry. Also boring.

18. Miss Kazakhstan brought a fierce silver necklace that will kick the crap out of Australia and Great Britain’s silver necklaces.

17. Miss Belgium bought a necklace as well. Disappointingly, no diamonds.

16. Miss Switzerland brought a Swiss watch. Surprising!

15. Miss Bolivia actually brought a decent-looking piece of abstract art that is going to be a pain to jam in the backseat of your Camry.

14. Miss Guyana went shopping with Miss Bolivia but at least got an interesting frame for it.

13. Miss Guatemala brought a cigar box with a random picture on it.

12. Miss South Africa brought a nice photo of Nelson Mandela and what looks to be his nail file.

11. Miss Canada took things waaaay too seriously and brought a hockey jersey full of autographs, presumably of hockey players, or of whoever she passed it around to on the plane from Toronto.


10. Miss Ghana’s gift isn’t too bad – some wooden candlestick, a finger bowl, something that might be a piggy bank – but I’m more interested in her dress which is apparently made entirely from Chupa Chups wrappers.

9. Miss Paraguay brought a tiny chocolate cake. Yum!

8. Miss Thailand brought a bowl of soup. At least I hope there’s some soup in there.

7. Miss Japan brought a silk handkerchief, presumably unused.

6. Miss Myanmar brought a table runner that’s going to be a bitch to clean.

5. Miss Austria brought an adorable traditional dress for your baby daughter and a DVD of The Sound of Music to watch until she starts singing “Do-Re-Mi” every time you get in the car, in which case you can burn it.

4. Miss Germany brought a cute cuckoo clock that your grandfather will comment on every time he comes over for dinner, and then launch into a long story everyone’s already heard.

3. Miss Ethiopia brought some kind of beautiful musical instrument. There’s nothing funny about that; that’s kind of a nice little conversation piece. A+, Miss Ethiopia.

2. Miss Honduras obviously took a page from the winner’s book and brought a lovely crystal decanter and two glasses.


1. Miss Curacao, who brought some rum from her island. She should get an automatic Top 10 spot just for that.


You’ve Got Mail

This week has been quite an exciting ones, in terms of mail. Columbus Day meant no mail on Monday, but on Tuesday, my bound thesis showed up, and on Friday, the recent issue of Ecumenica with my article in it, and today, a packet of chocolate from my friend Claire in England.

One of the few pleasures of pre-Internet life is in danger, and that is mail. For those of you unfamiliar with it, mail is a service that brings surprises to your door, sometimes unpleasant, but mostly pleasant. When I was little, I used to get so upset whenever the mail came and I didn’t get anything. I subscribed to a kid’s magazine, and had a pen pal with whom I wrote infrequently (oddly enough, we’re now Facebook friends and I have no clue what is currently going on in her life), but other than that, I guess I didn’t have anyone to write to me.

When I was in college, I joined Bookcrossing.com, which really changed my life – I made so many new friends from around the world (including Claire) and even met a few on occasion, and in 2011 when they had their annual convention in Washington, I went and met many more people! Unfortunately, their conventions are usually in Australia or Europe, so I haven’t had the opportunity to go to another, but I still keep in touch with people here and there. Usually when holiday season rolls around we exchange gifts, and of course, swap and give each other books all year long. BC really fueled my reading habit and wherever I’ve lived, they’ve always taken good care of me. And since I love buying/sending gifts and postcards and stuff, it would be a joy to get a thank you email or – even better – a public forum post. I haven’t been hanging around so much for a little while due to the thesis and the move, but I’m hoping to stage a return soon.

Some of my most exciting and fun mail stories have been because of BC. A few highlights:

1. Last year in Houston, I got a lovely birthday package from Claire, and when I opened it, a paper butterfly FLEW out of the envelope! She had rigged it with a rubber band so that opening the card would set it off. She also makes beautiful handmade cards every year. Thanks for all the love Claire 🙂

2. Back in Amherst, I had just come back from a weekend away when I found the oddest package in my mailbox – it came from Hawaii and it was a book, but on the outside, it had a stamp reading: “DAMAGED – CONTACT WITH RAW CHICKEN.” The contents and the envelope smelled and looked fine, but I always wondered what that was about.

3. Finally, my favorite story, from Israel. When I was in Israel, in order to keep contact with the outside world and feel less lonely, I became way more active. I didn’t have an address, but the program had a PO Box, and every Wednesday we’d all meet up for lunch in the main building and, among other things, receive packages. My birthday happened to have been a Wednesday in 2009, and when I walked in the room that day I saw a huge pile of six or seven packages. I went, “ooh, packages!” The top package had my name on it, so I picked it up and went to sit down with it. But before my butt hit the uncomfortable metal chair, Yonit (the program director) turned to me and said “they’re ALL for you, Jacob.”

And indeed they were, every single one. Almost all from Bookcrossing friends. I had at least one from each continent (except South America, but I counted Mexico as “Latin America”), which was extremely exciting, and I just sat there during the announcements chomping at the bit to open them and facing quizzical looks from people wondering why I had so many friends. I just smiled and hugged my packages.

Sometimes I tremble when I open my email, but I’m always excited if you send me a gift, a postcard, or a letter in the mail.