It’s that time of year when our social calendar begins to fill up with holiday gatherings, coffee with friends and Christmas shopping. One of those engagements sometimes include the “office party” when coworkers let down their hair, loosen their ties, take off their bras and start dancing on table tops after three glasses of White Zinfandel. They say there are three rules at work parties:
- Don’t ask for a raise.
- Don’t sleep with anyone.
- Don’t drink too much.
My “work party” happened on Sunday night. Okay, rule number one is a joke when you work in a restaurant, because we’re already making $2.13 or $5.00 an hour, so what more could we ask? Rule number two is no big deal since I’m married and there is no one at my job I’d want to have sex with even if I was single. And rule number three can go fuck itself.
The party is happening, thankfully, at a restaurant we do not work in and most everyone is there. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? It’s an open bar with free food and most importantly, it’s when we exchange our Secret Santa gifts. Seconds after arriving, I toss my gift onto the table and head to the bar to get my first glass of champagne before the lines gets too deep and the bartender realizes that he is serving the world’s biggest lushes and starts to judge us all. I want to at least catch a buzz before the condescension begins. The tables are set with the typical sad apps that one regularly sees at these types of parties; cubes of cheese, crackers and bread sticks. They’re free and delicious. I hear that after thirty minutes, we will begin seeing passed hors d’oeuvres. Bring it.
At precisely 7:00, the first server appears, looking like she is about to step into a minefield. Her face is wooden and her eyes are glazed over as if she has set herself on auto-pilot and is trying to forget where she is. With her gaze directed just over my head, she mumbles “chicken satay…chicken satay…chicken satay.” In her right hand, she has a stack of bev naps fanned out in such a way to give the illusion of fancy. The food disappears within seconds and we hungrily look towards the kitchen for the next plate of food.
“There it is!” screams Nicole. “What is it? I want a pig in a blanket!”
Disappointingly, it’s spinakopita.
Another zombie server lurches past us, arms ahead of her carrying a plate of crab cakes which are inhaled before she gets to the center of the room. Following her is a man with little pizzas and then another woman with steak-on-a-stick and then more chicken satay. When I see the second round of chicken satay, that is my cue to say hello to the bartender again.
I feel for these workers, I really do. I have been them, working a Christmas party and hating every minute of it. It’s not easy serving people who are there to cut loose and have a good time when all you want to do is go home or at least have your shift drink. Hopefully, they made some bank and they didn’t hate us too much by the end of the night.
Finally, it became time to exchange our Secret Santa gifts. We had a $30 limit and I went a little over because I really liked the name I drew and I also like to outdo everyone and rub it in their faces that I give good gift. For two weeks, I observed Kevin. I listened to his conversations and picked up on clues of things he might like. I noticed that he ate a very specific breakfast every morning at work; 365 brand crunchy almond butter from Whole Foods and Fiber Select Garden Vegetable Wheat Thins. A quick discussion of the film Lincoln one morning informed me that he likes movies. Done. I made a quick trip to Whole Foods and then got him five movie passes through my union that allowed me to get them for six bucks apiece. All told, I spent about $36. He loved his gifts and was very happy.
Now it is my turn. I look around the room waiting for someone to approach me with a present. At long last, Juan, who works in the back, comes up to me with a bag that tells me there is a bottle of something in it. “Good man,” I think. “Although we don’t talk a lot, he obviously knows me well.”
“Merry Christmas. I hope you like this'” he tells me as I eagerly unwrap the packaging expecting to see some Grey Goose or Kettel One or maybe even some Effin. But what do I see before me? A bottle of Chardonnay. But not just any bottle of Chardonnay, a big one. A Yellow Tail. The kind that I use to cook with and that costs $10.99.
“Oh, Yellow Tail. Thank you.”
“Of course I do. I love wine, thank you so much. You shouldn’t have. You really shouldn’t have.”
I look beside me at a friend who is cradling her bottle of Absolut Citron and another friend who is making goo goo eyes at her bottle of Veuve Clicquot. I look down at my massive bottle of cooking wine and sigh.
“I’m so glad you like it. I didn’t know what else to get you.” says Juan.
I give him a hug and he makes his way back to his table.
I quickly ask for another glass of champagne from the bartender and toss down ten dollars for him, roughly the cost of my Secret Santa gift. Am I disappointed? A little, but then Kevin comes back over to tell me how excited he is to go see Life of Pi this week and that he’ll still have four more free movies to go to. He gives me a hug and tells me thank you one more time. I am happy that he likes his presents. I feel good inside and although it may be from the six glasses of bubbly on an empty stomach, I realize that it could also be because the spirit of giving has come over me.
At the end of the night, I gather my things and my bottle of wine and make my way home. I set the Yellow Tail on my counter and know that it will not go to waste. It’s better than a picture frame or candle holders, right? And I know that Juan probably feels as good about giving me the wine as I do about giving Kevin movie tickets, almond butter and Wheat Thins. I’m happy.
I did not ask for a raise, I did not have sex with anyone and I had just the right amount to drink. I would call this work party a success.