ah, the holidays. The air is nippy, Christmas trees twinkle merrily behind frost-covered windows. Beautifully wrapped presents are exchanged, drinks are raised in salute of Baby New Year. Eggnog flows freely, arteries are clogged so tightly that Extra Strength Liquid Plumr couldn't shift 'em. And then, there's that event of all seasonal events: the Office Christmas Party.
What other time of year were you so profoundly aware of your dating or non-dating status? Those in relationships breathe a heavy sigh of relief, and us singles, well, I have one word: Beware. Beware of what a single person might do in the holiday season. Pour a few toddies down our throats and soon you'll see us in some dark corner deep in conversation, the beer goggles firmly in place, with the Office Toad, convinced that the wart on the side of their face really is a rather charming mole. This is the time of year when all us singles feel a little more desperate than usual, a bit more ferocious toward our partnered pals, a little louder in our protestations that we love our freedom.
True, office Christmas parties ain't what they used to be. Gone are the cheesy excesses of the '50s OCP, the type depicted in Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," where secretaries dance on table tops with their lampshade-sporting bosses, martinis in one hand and cigarettes in the other. Gone, too, is the plain old expectation of ribald behavior that virtually defined the Office Christmas Party. The silver lining is that since the corporate world has stifled all such overt acts of impropriety, it's a real thrill when someone makes a complete ass of themselves.
But, I am happy (I guess) to report, all excess has not vanished from the OCP. I recently attended a holiday bash thrown by a restaurant for which I used to work. My former colleagues were all beautiful people, totally free of ambition, untethered by the constraints of corporate mentality, who all drank and smoke and took Ecstasy all year round, not just during the trying holiday season. And it was clear from the moment I walked in that this party had not been smothered by '90s conformity. The hordes of drunk men and women downing champagne and Manhattans had me turning to the mineral water. I was trying to engage in chitchat with a more lucid bunch when I felt someone come up behind me, nuzzle my neck, grasp my breasts and purr in my ear "I am so glad to see you!"
"Hey," I said. I wondered if it was one of the cleaning guys that I used to feel sorry for. I looked down at the two hands covering my chest. It was Renee, whom I'd heard had just broken up with her boyfriend of four years, and was having a hard time adjusting. She kissed me again on the neck and flitted off to the bar in search of more champagne.
Everywhere in corners, behind tables, on the dance floor, outside behind bushes couples were locked head-to-head in deep drunken embraces or conversations. Mini-pizzas and crostini offered about on trays went ignored. The music pulsed and the lights were turned down even further as the mob of party animals swayed and groped.
What is it about entering a crowd delirious with excess that makes you feel stone-cold sober, and eager to stay that way? It's like a train you either have to get on quickly and slide down into oblivion or stand back. I was trying to explain my mineral water to Louisa as we sat with the smokers outside when Renee glided back and climbed on Louisa's lap. "Can I kiss you?" she asked me. I leaned over aiming for her cheek when she turned her lips to me and gave me a full-blown smack with attempted tongue action.
"Jesus, Renee." I glanced over at my former boss, who looked startled, then shrugged. "Employee bonding," I called. Turning to Renee, I said, "I'm cutting you off."
"Come on. Kiss me."
"You know you want to." Well, she was right there. I did want to kiss somebody, just not her, and preferably not a female. I recognized that old OCP feeling, that yearning for bodily contact; it came up every year at every holiday party if I wasn't dating someone exclusively. And now it appeared that I didn't even have to be tipsy to feel that way.
"I don't have to be Ms. Right," Renee continued. "How 'bout just Ms. Right Now?" She climbed off Louisa's lap and drifted toward the bar, blowing us a kiss.
"It's so p.c. for girls to do that nowadays," Louisa remarked. "Imagine if some guy had done that to you, Courtney. Nobody even batted an eye. Christmas parties sure have changed."
"You think?" I asked. I didn't agree. Yes, the OCP had undergone various mutations, but every year it was basically the same thing: a time to let your hair down in front of your coworkers sans the Monday morning regret. This is the kind of stuff we singles wait for all year.
And don't forget: December 31 is just around the corner.