Employment and parties do not belong together. Work should stay in its little sphere and never collide, touch, overlap or lean toward anything recreational.
And yet, employers everywhere feel a desperate need to mix the two benign substances, which become dangerous when mixed.
Give me one example of a good outcome from a work party and I’ll give you three examples of awkward, uncomfortable and downright wrong situations to counter it.
Here’s my favorite.
North Carolina, USA. The month of December.
My husband’s employer invited the employees and their spouses to the requisite Christmas party. (Yes, they were still called Christmas parties back then, yes, it was a while ago, no, I am not old.)
Reluctantly we made arrangements for a sitter, which fell through, so we settled on alternate less-than-ideal arrangements for the children. As a result we planned to make a quick appearance at the party and leave early.
The work/party imps laughed and rubbed their hands together at our plans. At this point I envision the three bad guys from the Disney movie “Hercules”, Pain, Panic and Hades. Feel free to conjure your own bad guys to play the evil hellion roles here.
Arriving fashionably late, we expected to see the usual buffet table with wandering employees and their uncomfortable spouses grazing and chatting awkwardly. But no, no buffet table awaited. A sit down dinner, with servers, menus, and long waits ensued.
How many ways can you say awkward? I can think of about seventeen.
Finally, the drawn out meal wound down, although dessert failed to make an appearance. MSH and I exchanged looks, again, to telepathically ask one another, “can we leave now?” And the conclusion was “yes, run! NOW!”
I envisioned my children crying pathetically, wailing for the return of their long-lost mother and father. I pictured every possible disaster ever to befall a babysitter and her charges. I tried to catch MSH’s eye. I could not hold still and listen to the babbling man at the head table. Can’t they just save the money spent on a dumb party and cut a bonus check instead?
Then miraculously the babbling man stopped speaking, applause all around. Hooray, we can go home.
Music began to play. Christmas music. Specifically the Twelve Days of Christmas. Only the longest song in the history of the planet ever written and sung on a regular basis. Also, the song voted most likely to have the lyrics mangled, strangled and warped into something identifiable only by the endlessly repeating stanzas.
I tried not to let my head drop to the table in racking sobs.
But wait. There was more.
I heard jingling. I looked around. And what to my wondering eyes did appear but a belly dancer in full regalia. Bared belly, multi-colored scarves and billowing fabric, sparkles, jangles, bangles, jewels and long flowing dark tresses.
I looked for a fork to stab my eyes out.
The dancer moved gracefully as best she could to the rhythm of the strange song. A song which, yes, had been clumsily cobbled together with increasingly trashy lyrics with each added day of Christmas.
I wondered what my husband really did at work all day. But only briefly did I wonder. I remembered that this work/party by its very definition could only result in disaster, miscommunication and embarrassment for at least half the people there.
This particular form of entertainment seemed orchestrated to create the most uncomfortable, thorny and indelicate situation imaginable.
I looked at the other attendees. Most had been drinking, the party’s only saving grace, apparently. But I and MSH didn’t drink so we didn’t have the luxury of being sloshed and immune to the stupidity of the entertainment.
And poor, poor Fatima. Yes, that was the belly dancer’s name. I’ve since learned that’s usually the name of every belly dancer you’ll ever encounter. (Google Fatima or click here and you’ll see some strange irony for this particular Christmas situation.) Poor Fatima all but rolled her eyes at the stupidity of the song, and the leering and comments of the audience.
MSH looked at me and mouthed the words “we should leave.” More than happy to escape I still thought it might be rude to leave in the middle of a performance. I indicated “five minutes” to him, thinking surely by then the dance and the dumb song would blessedly crash-land.
And yet, five minutes later, somehow the song hadn’t progressed past day six of the twelve raunchy and getting raunchier days of X-mas. And yes, I use an X most deliberately for this particular situation.
Day seven in the song invoked the F word. At a work party. Inelegant, graceless, gauche are just a few adjectives I throw in here at this point. I might add bizarro, too.
Thankfully before day eight began its descent into depravity MSH stood, took my hand, mumbled something to our table mates about babysitters and we left. We’d been gone far longer than we thought possible for a work party.
Fortunately the children survived their babysitting stint with less damage than the two of us.
The following Monday at work MSH received more than a few apologies for the entertainment from other employees. The employer, as I recall, said nothing.
I vowed never, ever, to attend another work related recreational event, even if a paycheck depended on it.