Saturday, December 10, 2011

SUPERXmas! Days 12 and 13: The Year Without A Bad Santa Claus, and My Office Holiday Party.

SUPERXmas! rolls on, undeterred by the fact that on Day 12 of SUPERXmas!, a glorious holiday tradition was derailed by my kids.

Every year, I like to watch a few certain movies that for me capture the holiday spirit perfectly. Those movies are: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and Bad Santa.

Those are my two favorite holiday movies of all time, because (a) they are really very funny and (b) they're really very funny. That, and, "Bad Santa" avoids the holiday-movie trap of "making things worse and then restoring them to their previous state of affairs and calling that a happy ending," which is something I've talked about before: most holiday movies, if you get right down to it, have this set up:

A. A person exists.

B. Something bad happens that makes the person not have as good of a life as he once did.

C. The person fixes the bad thing, putting him back to his previous, existing state, but now he appreciates what he has and is happy, so Merry Christmas!
This is not a good thing. The message of these movies is "You should be happy with what you have," which would be a great message to send except that it's a horrible message to send. You should not be happy with what you have. You should be trying to improve yourself and make you and the world around you a better place.

But the Powers That Be (Zinc manufacturers and Christopher Walken) keep feeding us Christmas movies that tell us "Don't bother, just, you know, keep treading water" and we keep on buying it.

So I Fight The Power by watching Bad Santa, which does not play into that at all: In Bad Santa, the Bad Santa is at rock bottom. He's a drunk, a criminal, he's going to get evicted, he's played by Billy Bob Thornton... it doesn't get much worse than that, but through the Miracle of Christmas, Bad Santa learns to be slightly less bad Santa, along the way going through a heartwarming story of self-improvement that includes receiving a bloody wooden hand-carved pickle (proving my point about homemade gifts), getting shot, and also making out with Lauren Graham.

Why more Christmas movies don't feature someone making out with Lauren Graham is beyond me.

Anyway, Thursday night was Day 12 and I was going to watch Bad Santa but when I went looking for it, I found that it was missing! It had been taken, most likely by one of the older kids -- I'm betting on The Boy -- who took all our old DVDs and are now using them, in The Boy's case, as the undercoating in his apartment, protecting the carpeting from the pile of dirty clothes and pizza boxes that form the overcoating of The Boy's apartment.

I imagine, that is. I haven't been in The Boy's apartment. Having seen his bedroom, a room he was forced to occasionally take a stab at cleaning, I don't want to see a room in which all cleaning decision are made solely in The Boy's discretion.

So, Thursday night, I was unable to watch Bad Santa, and I rather sullenly fell asleep watching a recording of the animated classic The Year Without A Santa Claus, and, yes, I did that to be ironic.

Then, last night was my Office Christmas Party, which I am not ordinarily inclined to attend, but which I decided I absolutely had to attend this year because this year I got made a partner, and so I am technically throwing the party and it would be bad form not to attend my own party, but also I got word from one of my paralegals that people think I'm a germophobe, and that that is why I never attend office get-togethers.

Technically, I am something of a germophobe, as I've noted on here before, but that's not the reason I don't attend office get-togethers. I have a variety of reasons for not attending office get-togethers. For example, once, one of the lawyers had a pool party and I didn't attend for the very sound reason that nobody in my office needs to see me without a shirt on, and, frankly, I do not need/want to see them without their shirts on. It's an office, not a Swingers' Club, and in addition, very few people are improved by the absence of clothing.

Another reason I don't attend office get-togethers is that people are always bringing their homemade stuff to them, and other people's homemade stuff is gross. No matter what it is you think you've made, when you make your homemade stuff, to other people it looks a compost pile.


You could make your special potatoes. Or your taco dip. Or your candied fudge. Or a pinata. And you will think it looks marvelous, and you will put it in that one bowl you got when you were first married and carry it proudly to the office and put it on the conference room table, noting that your wonderful creation is far far better than the junk everyone else brought... but yours, too, looks gross, and a little gray, and is kind of melty, and should it be smelling like that? And what's that juice on top? I thought those were brownies?

That's what you see when you look at my stuff, and that's what I see when I look at your stuff, and we're all right: nobody's home-cooked stuff looks right, the way nobody's house smells quite right when you walk into it, probably because they're making all that gross junk that they bring to the office.

So I don't like the office get togethers but it's one thing to think everything people do is gross, while it's another thing entirely to let them know you're thinking it, so I have to make an effort to go to the various get-togethers, and the Office Christmas Party is no different.

It does not help that the Office Party is at a restaurant, where the food is professionally cooked, because the people who choose the food to be cooked are not me, they are the people who like gross things, and so when I turn up at the Office Party expecting maybe that I will at least get something good to eat out of it, I'm always confronted, right off the bat, with a dead fish.

The Dead Fish has been an Office Christmas Party centerpiece for the 11 years I have worked at this office. Every single Christmas, I have had to look at a dead fish sitting in the middle of a table of what I'm told is food but I don't believe it, and it's not just any old dead fish, it's a dead fish that people are scooping the guts out of and putting on crackers.

How is that even a thing we thought up to do, as a society? "Let's kill this fish," someone once said, "But make it even more disgusting to eat by not scaling it or cutting off the obviously-fishy parts like the fins and tail and head, but instead, let's just lay it on a table and have people slowly disembowel it with a Triscuit."

And everyone else said "Okay!"

The Dead Fish is considered, I'm told, a very high-end gourmet treat, which is the way you sell everything to the Gullible Rich: "You should do this," you tell them, "because it's an acquired taste and those stupid poor people will never fall for it." That's why the Gullble Rich, and those who would be like them, eat the Dead Fish and eat fish eggs straight from the fish and eat foie gras, which is swollen goose liver created by deliberately force-feeding a restrained goose.

Mmmm! And horrifying!

Once, when we were having a housewarming party, one of the partners in my firm who was planning on attending, asked what we were serving.

"I don't know," I said, and he suggested The Dead Fish, to which I responded "It'll probably be Doritos."

There were no Doritos at my Office Party last night, and there was no Sweetie, either. Sweetie had come down with the flu, probably not on purpose, but she was unable to attend the Office Party this year, leaving me in a bind because I could not get Sweetie to tell me not to go.

Throughout the day yesterday, I would say things like "If you don't want me to go, just say so." Or "Maybe I shouldn't go, if you don't want me to." Or "I probably ought to leave for the party now, unless you don't want me to go." And each time, Sweetie would wave her hand weakly and tell me "No, you have to go," but then she also warned me not to have too much fun without her, as though there were a chance that was going to happen.

Here's the thing about an Office Party: It's a party with people you work with.

Here's what I know about the people I work with: I work with them.

The people I work with -- who now work for me, that is -- are very nice people, for the most part. They're good workers. They're intelligent. They have families. But they are not my friends.

They are people I work with, and I know relatively little about them, if anything. Yesterday, in a meeting, we had this exchange:

Partner 1: Here are the receivables, and look, "Kim" is the highest one.

Me: Who is Kim?

Partner 2: She's the new lady we hired.

Me: *blank look*

Partner 2: She sits up front.

Me: Marcia sits up front.

Partner 2: Kim sits next to her.

Me: *blank look*, then: I thought that was Jen.

Partner 1: Jen is downstairs.

Me: I thought we had two Jens.

From which you can see that I'm supereasy to work for, and also that I don't really know or want to know much about you. That may sound mean, or cruel, but it's not. I'm not judging you, personally. You might well be fascinating. But I just want to do my job, have you do your job, and live my life. I have my friend, and that's fine with me. I'm not a very social person.

So I tend to learn 1 or 2 things about people at work: this guy likes golf. That woman had troubles with her cable TV once. That guy likes Libertarian politics. And that is enough for me to survive with people in the office, because when I see them in the breakroom or have to make small talk while we wait for a meeting to start, I can use one of my guaranteed-useful three Conversational Topics:

1. How was your weekend?
2. What are you going to do this weekend?
3. [Tuesdays and Wednesdays only]: How is that Libertarian politics/cable Tv/golf thing going?

That's not to say that I don't have friends at the office. I had Some Guy At Work, once, as a friend, but then he went to work someplace else, probably because I'm a terrible friend at the office in that I either pay no attention to you because I'm working or I interrupt your work because I have nothing better to do, which, let's face it, describes every office friendship everywhere. I'm suprised there aren't more office shootings.

All of which means that when I get to the Office Christmas Party, I have nothing to talk about with all the people there, and, to make it worse, there are the spouses, and I know nothing about them and have nothing to say and I am not a particularly good conversationalist, so the conversations tend to drag a little because they go like this:

Me: So, you are, again?

Woman: Mary. I've met you, like, 37 times before.

Me: That's right. Nice to see you again, Mary! What are your plans for the weekend?

Mary: Well, mostly attending this party.

Me: Nice.

[Long, awkward pause while I try not to make eye contact.]

[Longer pause]

Me: I'm going to get some dead fish.
The only thing worse for me than that conversation is the conversation that implies I have had a previous conversation or am somehow otherwise privy to information that seems critical to this conversation, but which I am in the dark about. That happens to me all the time, but especially at the office party.

Coworker: So remember about the Chisholm thing? That sure blew up.

Me: *tries to remember if there was a news report about an explosion. Can't. Tries to think if I have ever heard the name Chisholm before. Pretty sure I haven't. Realizes that a response is expected.* Yeah, that was pretty bad.

Coworker: You're funny! But Jonathan didn't think so.

Me: *about to say who is Jonathan, and why is this funny, but not sure where that would lead*: What are your plans for the weekend?

And that's how I wander through the Christmas party, trying to find someone to talk to who won't inflict actual conversation on me, and then roaming up to the table of "food" where, last night, they had several items that were described to me by one person as "probably a pate," and I won't eat any food that can't be definitely named, and where the other options were (A) Breakfast sausage in sauerkraut and (B) Meatballs in pasty-looking sauce, and (C) fondue, which would be great because I'm in favor of any food that you cook right in front of you, but you couldn't take the fondue to the table, you had to fork your little bread pieces in and then put them on your plate, which is impossible without two forks, and then you've got to take your couple of bread pieces over to a table and sit down, and you only get two or three pieces because you don't want to take a massive pile of cheese-laden bread to your table, or spend all night standing there fondueing your bread before sitting down, so it was unsatisfactory, to say the least.

In the meantime, I didn't recognize about 75% of the party, because we've hired a lot of people since last year and I barely recognize them when they're not in their offices, and there were all these new spouses to meet, too, like Greg, who was waiting for the fondue after me.

"We haven't met," I said, trying to be social and hoping he wasn't actually someone I had met before.

"I'm Greg," he said. I introduced myself and said "So, what do you do, Greg?"

And he said something about repairing something or other on trucks, leaving me at a complete loss for what to say.

"That sounds... interesting," I said, even though it didn't, but what else do you say? That sounds "tedious, hard, and not like anything I'd even be capable of?" (It did sound like all those things.)

"Yeah, well, I don't think I can do it anymore," Greg said.

Because of me? I wondered. Shouldn't have told him it was interesting.

So I said "Why's that?" and Greg said it's hard to do (so I was right!) and that it's taking a toll on his body and he's going to study electronics, instead.

"That sounds interesting," I said, because, again, what else is there? I couldn't think of anything to say about electronics other than...

... and thanks for helping me out here, brain...

...other than the fact that the moment he said "electronics" all my brain could think of was those old handheld Mattel Football games that I played in 7th grade, so as Greg was telling me how he'd decided on an exciting new career in electronics, my brain, determined to make this as hard for me as possible, was trying desperately to remember whether the version of the game I had allowed you to pass or not.


I had planned on staying an hour, following my rule that you cannot go someplace and stay less than the total time of the round trip to get there. That's a legitimate social rule: Wherever you go, if you stay less than the to-and-from trip, you're being rude. And the minimum stay for any visit is one hour, so don't try to get around it that way.

Thus: If it takes you an hour to get to your in-laws, and an hour back, your visit must last two hours. And so on.

But, my plans were interrupted by an outbreak of trivia: 40 minutes into the party, I had settled in at a table and was discussing biographies of people, because one of the employees at the table likes to read biographies, and so we were watching her try to remember who had written the biography of Truman she'd read recently. (We were not discussing the biography. We were, the people at my table, sitting mutely as she tried to remember, through a series of mnemomic tricks, to remember who'd written the book). And I'd planned on sitting there twenty minutes, and then using my pre-thought excuse to leave.

At home, see, Sweetie was still sick and so Oldest Daughter and The Boy were babysitting Mr F and Mr Bunches, and I'd planned on, about 45 minutes into the party, getting a secret text from them saying that Mr Bunches and/or Mr F were upset or something and I had to go. That's the primary use for kids, after all: getting you out of things you'd rather not be doing.

But just moments before I set myself free, we were handed a card that said "Trivia" on it and told we'd be doing a Trivia Contest and we were a team, at this table, and I couldn't just abandon my team, so I looked at the card and saw there were five blanks to fill in and I thought "well, that's fine, I'll do the five questions and then I'll go," and then forty minutes later I was still there, because there were five questions per round, and there were five rounds, so I spent a considerable amount of time debating when it was that Johnny Carson began hosting The Tonight Show, in an exchange that went like this:

Coworker: I think it was 1962.

Me: I don't know.

Other coworker: I think it was 1972.

Me: Let's go with that.

Other other coworker: Well, when did Jay Leno take over, because Johnny was on for thirty years, right?

Other coworker: Jay Leno's contract just got renewed.

Coworker: I remember watching the show when I was in 8th grade. That was in the 1960s.

Me: Let's go with that, then.

Coworker: Wait, Briane, when did you graduate. It was 1978, right?

Me: It was 1987. But thanks.

Coworker: Really?

We settled on 1962. Not for when I graduated; for when Johnny began. (It was 1964).

Our team finished second in trivia, which we all agreed was not such a bad result all things considered, and which seemed a better result when we learned the winning team had to do a shot of something or other. I don't drink, but I don't like to make a big deal of not drinking, either, so I dodged a bullet there.

With that, I was free to make my way to the front of the room, where a knot of people stood, talking to people along the way, and then, near the bar, I dramatically took out my cell phone and appeared to be checking a text -- the phantom text that would free me from the party.

I checked the text (read an XKCD comic) and then looked up for someone to say "What's going on," only nobody did. Nobody was paying any attention to me.

I thought about just leaving, but that seemed unwise not because people would care but because I'd spend all Monday with people saying "So where did you go Friday?" and I'd have to tell the fake story over and over. So instead, I sought out a few people and said "I have to go. Kids. There's a problem." I left it vague, because that way I wouldn't have to remember the details on Monday, and couldn't get tripped up.

"What's the problem?" said one husband of a coworker.

"It's the kids." I said.

"Everything okay?" he said.

"Sure," I said. "I mean, no, but it's not a big deal. I just have to go. They... won't go to sleep without me there," I finally finished up, and mentally punched myself in the throat for coming up with the lamest excuse ever.

"Really?" said husband.

"Really," I said. "They're... upset. Because I'm not there. They get that way. So I'd better go. Because they're upset."

With a few more excuses and a few more hellos to people I hadn't yet said hello to, followed immediately by goodbyes, I made my way to the door and headed home, where Sweetie was fine, the boys were asleep, Oldest and The Boy actually had the house clean, and the Dead Fish was safely miles away.

Prior Days:

One: Putting up the yard decorations

Two: Making a Christmas list

Three: Sleep, Actually

Four: How to make popsicle stick (SUPER)Xmas trees, in 437 easy steps.

5 & 6: It's a SUPERXmas! Miracle.

Day 7:
Santa, Babies.

Day 8: When Christmas was corykilverty

Day 9: Mr Bunches covers Katy Perry

Day 10: I'm sorry about that homemade gift I gave you.

Day 11: Here are some pictures of some things.


Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

There is so much truth in this...oh the irony ==>This is not a good thing. The message of these movies is "You should be happy with what you have," which would be a great message to send except that it's a horrible message to send. You should not be happy with what you have. You should be trying to improve yourself and make you and the world around you a better place.

As an aside, congratulations on making partner. I know nothing of the lawyer habitat, but I hear from television shows that have lawyers in them that this is a really prestigious thing. I'm sure you deserve it, germs and all.

If I am ever so lucky as to meet you in person, I will not suggest a restaurant that serves dead fish. I really don't like dead fish as you've so poignantly painted here anyway. Although I do like sashimi. I'm half Japanese, and freshly prepared sashimi with wasabi is excellent. However, it looks nothing like what you have described.

Grumpy Bulldog, Secret Agent said...

I'm talking about holiday movies on Tuesday. I must read your blog!

Andrew Leon said...

The thing I've always wondered is who licked that very first frog. I mean, if you wanted to get high, why would you lick a frog? My wife says the first person to do it was probably already high, but, if you were already high, how would you know that you got high from the frog?

I have one of those old Mattel football games. I actually found it during our move and have passed it down to the oldest son. However, it doesn't have any batteries at the moment.

Hmm... I think I had one other comment, but I've forgotten it.