December 1997
s m u g
by Joe Procopio



Don't get me wrong. I'm not here to tell you about right and wrong. All I'm saying is that I think the standard-issue office Christmas party is quite a study in irony. I mean, how does one justify using the birth of Christ as an excuse for a big, fat, lusty shindig for corporate America, complete with a divvying of ill-gotten booty? I never understood it and I never will.

However, will I let a simple concept like comprehension stand in my way? The answer, my friends, is a resounding "Hell No!" Fear not my children. And gather closer. Once again, I am here to help.

I must throw in a disclaimer right off the bat. Normally, I like to keep my audience as general as I can. As my words hit the page, I try to remember that they will eventually be read by my girlfriend, my grandma, my boss, my editor, and a number of curious and critical (editors note: and sexy!) strangers who make up the Smug readership. I'm also aware that the average Smug reader is a little hipper than the rest of the crowd (sure, I'm blowing some smoke here, but it's Christmas, so just enjoy it). Now, since I have zero use for the average Christmas party, I wasn't quite sure how my words would help you. I could tell you to dress nice and be patient and that you're better off just skipping the damn thing, but you already know that. It isn't helpful (and, more importantly, it isn't funny).

So I'm narrowing my audience. There's someone out there who needs me more than the rest of you. I'm referring to those "career-first" kids who are desperately clawing at the corporate structure to carve their own niche (or totem, whatever metaphor you prefer). Twelve hour-a-day cube-jockeys who would rather saw an arm off than let the boss see them come in late. The pathetic minions who know that the annual Holiday Meleé is the single greatest opportunity to make their mark in the workplace. To them, this is the big one. Schmooztopia.

Allow me to help them grab a holly-jolly foothold on the next rung of the ladder. Weaselboy? Weaselgirl? This is for you.

I know. I know. Relax. Your office party is right around the corner and this is coming in the nick of time. I bet you never expected find help here. Nevertheless, here it is. Your grail. Your guide. Use it wisely.

Okay, first off, you need a date. Don't be afraid here. I'm painfully aware of how many hours a day it takes to maintain the status quo. I understand everyone is gunning for you. I'm sure that those glossy report covers and charts and graphs don't create themselves (well, actually, they do if you have a decent computer, but that's not the point). So where are you going to find someone who cares as much about your career aspirations as you do and can still cook and clean and is impressive and sexy to boot?

You're not.

Find a mark. Offer cash if need be. Do what it takes to get a stand-in for the evening. And when you've got the appropriate "sig other", brief 'em and brief 'em good. Under no circumstances should they stray from the following four phrases.

"Jan loves her job so much. She talks about it all the time."

"Timmy is so smart, he's always coming up with these great ideas to slash the bottom line."

"So you're Mr. Bossguy, I've heard sooooooooo many good things about you" (Note: the longer the "soooooo", the more sincere it will seem)

"I'm a model."

That's it. End of story. If he/she gets a mind of their own, stuff an hors-d'oeuvre in there.

Aside: By all means, choose this person wisely. I remember a couple of years ago, one such escort of a coworker of mine managed to set her menu on fire while reading it over the table candle. That incident happens to be the only thing anyone remembers about that party. Or that coworker.

You've got the date. Score! Good show. But, now, what to wear? Why, something hideous and uncomfortable that vaguely represents a politically-correct, holiday-tinged sentiment.

Men, you gotta go with the goofy tie. It says "Hey, it's Christmas", without saying, "Hey, I care". And don't forget, there's a scale. Sure, anyone can pick out a nice color-coordinated Christmas tree pattern, but you find an entire rooftop scene with Santa stuck in a chimney and all eight reindeer, you got yourself a holiday tie.

Women, if you can't say it with jewelry, what can you say it with? Again, there are stipulations. Whatever it is, it should light up. And if it makes noise, all the better. There's nothing more festive than a monotone version of "Jingle Bells" emanating from your left breast. Oh, and one word about the novelty earrings. Huge. Go for it. Christmas comes but once a year.

You've got it together and it's time for the grand entrance. This could make or break you. Don't even think of getting there less than an hour late. And heaven forbid if you're not walking into that party without some account-stuffed folder under your arm. Apologize for being late, stressing that even YOU should take a little time to have some fun at the holidays. Chuckle. Ignore the sneers and smirks from your peers. They're just jealous. Introduce the date to a Highly Important Person in your career chain, let the date say one of his/her four statements, and then head to the bar and look busy.

You've done it. You've set the stage for the most appropriate social coup in business history. There's a buzz about you now, baby. You look good, you feel good, and everyone knows who you are. Strike while the iron is hot but don't overplay your hand. Give yourself about thirty minutes at the bar. Make small talk, but keep it work-related. Find someone to insult and point him/her out to a co-worker. Chuckle again, good-naturedly. There, that should do it. Now go in for the kill.

From what I can tell, you get one shot. One. So make it count. Strut up to the Most Important Person in the room and get in line. Okay, there's no real line to speak of, but there's a definite, tense queue circling the Most Important Person. Come on, you didn't expect to be the only minnow with a plan, did you? If ambition were easy, slacker twenty-somethings would be getting rich owning hi-tech companies. So get in there and hold your ground.

When the time comes, be efficient and polite. Introduce date to the MIP again. By this time, the date should be on the fourth and final statement of the evening, so make sure he/she knows that this is the money shot and not to screw it up. Smile and meet the MIP's spouse. Tell him/her they look handsome/beautiful. Mention what an extravagant, tasteful affair the party is and then...

Then what?

The spotlight is on you. You realize that your entire existence is based upon being a drone who does nothing but hunt and gather for this person who's really just a drone who gets to push you around. What could you possibly say that's poignant, witty, flattering, and hasn't been said a hundred times already that night?

Nah. I'm just yanking your chain here. Luckily enough, none of that crap matters. There's really only one rule. This is the only time you do NOT talk about work. For some reason, management weasels seem to hate that. There's an approved list of appropriate holiday schmooze topics published by one of the big five consulting firms. And it's simple enough. For management men, local sports, fishing, golfing, Seinfeld, and completion of Christmas shopping. For management women, what they're wearing, new restaurants, current events, and completion of Christmas shopping. It's ugly that the lines are so classically sexist, but who's to argue with management consulting reports?

End the conversation quickly and cordially, making sure to compliment them for such a lovely party. They'll appreciate it, even though their secretary planned the whole thing and someone much higher up paid for it all.

Now it's time to relax and take part of the accoutrements of the season. The free food and drinks. Right? Absolutely not. Let your guard down, and the sharks get an easy meal. This has to be played as carefully as the rest of the evening. Sure, Johnny and Jane Worksalot drink occasionally, but not to the extent that they would actually let their inhibitions down and let slip the dogs of ambition. You don't want to actually tell anyone what you think of them, or, for that matter, what you think of yourself. So keep it light. White wine, one glass.

Conversation can, for all intents and purposes, stop at this point. The less said in front of the non-management worker bees that will undoubtedly make up your mingling circle, the better. If you've done a good job picking out the date, you can just stand next to him/her and bask in their silent, yet personable glow.

This pose will keep for about thirty minutes. Then it's time to jet. Apologize to anyone who asks why you're cutting out so early (although, if you've done a good job tonight, they'll keep a respectful and intimidated distance). Thank the MIP again for the splendid evening, throw out a quick, self-serving compliment for your company in general, and bid goodnight. Note: the date, having exhausted the entire compliment of phrases, should remain silent and smiling. If spoken to, a nod of the head will do just fine.

That ought to get you through. Now, I know what you're thinking. How do you determine the success/failure of your output? Simple. Find a reason to walk directly into the MIP's path on the first day back to work after the party. If he/she brushes by you without so much as a word, you've done your job. After all, they never cared who you were and now you've made sure that they still don't. And, in the corporate monolithia, that can't hurt.



in the junk drawer:

November 1997
October 1997
September 1997
August 1997
July 1997
June 1997
May 1997
April 1997
March 1997
February 1997

and such
and such

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