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We find ourselves entering a perilous time: that of the office Christmas party.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good party. I’ve been known for raucous housewarming parties, uncomfortable truth-telling parties, and one predictably cursed Friday the 13th party. It’s just that none of these parties take place with coworkers, or other similarly formidable people who control the trajectory of my salary.
Since graduating college at the naïve age of 22, I’ve worked multiple jobs on both coasts and throughout Alaska. By now, I feel comfortable saying I’ve experienced a respectable sample size of office Christmas parties.
Some may look forward to these gatherings, overflowing with the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men.
I, on the other hand, greet them with all the enthusiasm of a disemboweling.
Let’s consult the game film.
There was the time I watched an executive get drunk, sing karaoke, and split his pants. Then there was the director who chased a fetching blonde around the ballroom. This continued until one of his fellow officials placed him in a headlock. And finally, there is always that one guy who must be carried out, unable to leave under the weight of his own drunken stupor.
My personal favorite was the time my branch office watched the main office have the Christmas party, broadcast on live stream. We gathered somberly in the conference room at 8:30 a.m. sharp, huddled around the television set, and watched our coworkers far away partaking in pancakes and mimosas. After the program wrapped, they went off to the after party, and we went back to work.
Then there are all of the open houses, marketed as Christmas parties. The stated purpose of these gatherings is to hobnob with fellow members of the business community. The true purpose is to collect a ton of strangers’ business cards so they can be spammed at some later date.
Organizations around town throw up some Christmas lights, open their doors, offer a choice of cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, and make everyone wear a name tag. We are then pushed to the center of the room and told to network.
It is at this point that I flunk out. By then, my name tag is caught in my hair and I spend the subsequent 15 minutes of designated networking time in the bathroom picking it out.
My stints working for smaller companies led to much more sedate Christmas parties. During my first year with one company, we celebrated the holidays by crafting together. We were given tools for metal work and told we could either make our own jewelry or our own bottle openers.
As none of the 15 ladies at my table were ever particularly skilled in shop class, our bottle openers did not function, and our jewelry fell off at some point during the walk out the door.
The following year, we traveled to the natural history museum, split into multiple teams, and built company cohesiveness by competing against each other in a scavenger hunt. I would have been much more motivated if the prize for winning had been the Hope Diamond.
Instead, there was no prize outside of abject humiliation; all the scavenger hunt items involved some level of public display. We took candy from babies, serenaded museum employees, and proposed marriage to less-than-desirable strangers.
Even our company C-suite members did not escape this mess, and one was assigned to my team. Through some perverse logical reasoning, I figured the more embarrassing activities I participated in, the higher I would grow in his estimation.
Hence, I happily volunteered to find and shake the hand of a bald man with a beard.
I spied a member of this elusive species standing by the touch tank; he was surrounded by people who were attempting to pet some sea urchins (which seemed like a pretty foolish pastime to me).
I marched purposefully over, my team trailing a few timid paces behind.
“Hey, guy, can I shake your hand?”
I flashed him my most flirtatious smile, which unfortunately always comes across like a facial deformity.
“Why do you need to shake my hand?” he said, looking puzzled as I grabbed his calloused appendage.
Too much truck with the sea urchins probably.
“Uh, because I saw you across the room, and I thought, well I need to shake that man’s hand,” I chirped, pumping his fist furiously.
“Is this because I have a beard?” he eyed my sheet of tasks, clutched in a sweaty death grip in my left hand.
“Er, yes. And I wanted to shake your hand. I saw you standing here, and, well, I just had to come over.”
He looked at the guy next to him.
“But he has a beard. Why me?”
Indeed, the man directly to his right had quite the bushy beard action. He unfortunately also had a lustrous head of shiny black hair.
Then a light switch flipped visibly on, somewhere in the recesses of my victim’s brain.
“It’s because I’m bald, isn’t it? I’m bald! With a beard!”
“Uh, no. No of course not, I just need a photo shaking your hand! Here we go now…”
Mr. C-suite sidled up to me at the correct moment and snapped a photo of me grinning maniacally, and my mark looking like he was going to burst into tears.
“There we go,” I sang out cheerfully, pulling my hand away from his tightening grip. “Thank you so much, no harm done now, time to go, yes, yes…”
My bald bearded adversary was now moaning.
“It’s because I’m bald. Don’t tell me it’s not. Don’t lie!”
“There, there,” I muttered lightly, backing away slowly.
I looked around sheepishly for my team.
They had all disappeared to hold hands while looking at something orange (per our next instructions obviously).
Bald bearded man was now turning a concerning shade of puce.
I was at a total loss as to how to gracefully walk away.
So I did the least graceful thing possible.
I turned tail and ran.
Christmas party season started for me Dec. 6. I’ve been practicing my wind sprints since July.
Sarah Brown is the consummate Grinch. When not reposing in her mountain lair, she can be reached at email@example.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.