17 December 2012
The problem with office Christmas parties is that they're never like they are in the movies. Growing up, I saw movies with parties where everyone got drunk and into trouble, with tinsel and ironic holiday music. Humping on the boss's desk, drunken jokes, or at least, later, photocopying your ass on the Xerox machine. You know the drill.
It's a great tool for a screenwriter, if you think about it. All sorts of conflicts can arise; the story can spin in a whole new direction. Even the great Billy Wilder had a Christmas party in The Apartment.
When I started my first regular day job, I assumed the parties sucked because my coworkers were really boring people. For a few years in a row, they were odd affairs with full on grotesqueries, as if someone had convinced David Lynch to plan them.
One year, for example, it was in a bar that's on top of a winding, narrow road. The place itself usually hosts country bands, a no-frills place covered with avocado green paint and wood paneling. A flaming gay man was the DJ. The closeted Mormon and he got on pretty well, although the Mormon's wife looked progressively more and more worried. All the dj's jokes fell flatter than a stretch of Kansas interstate. Fat women with wide mouths and heavy makeup dished up prime rib. The rest was strained conversation.
Yeah, no story there. Just another dead boring night, when you tally up the price of conformity in slow painful minutes.
After the company re-arranged itself and we broke away, explorers of the digital future, the parties changed a bit. They became more elaborate. No dingy dusty mansions or roadhouses for us, no sir. About half the employees would sneak off to an alley or someplace and smoke dope. Despite this and the free booze that began to flow about the same time, everyone stayed pretty decorous. There was an infamous moment when a young woman started making out with her roommate on a dare.
So this year, my boss's boss's boss -- three levels up the org chart! -- hosted at his house. He lives in a tony neighborhood in a Tudor style brick place that looks relatively modest from the outside, but once you're inside, it just seems to keep going and going in a series of immaculately decorated rooms. The style is sort of American, relaxed Martha Stewart. It's the kind of house that can, however, accommodate an 18-foot Christmas tree. About which he and his wife joked, appropriately, but it makes an impression.
It's tempting to make fun of it all in a snarky, cynical way, and to take the well-established pose of the superior outsider. Which is more than just a pose, in my personal case, believe me.
But I reflected a bit, as I drank the Prosecco with the festive red pomegranate seeds at the bottom of the glass. First, he was hosting, so it's rude. Even if he will write the entire event off of his taxes, I'm still in the man's home, accepting his hospitality.
Second, he's playing the game well. No one will be writing books about him, or even very many articles in Forbes magazine. But I'm pretty sure he's not a sell out. He majored in business, got his MBA, jumped into the corporate world, lived abroad. It looks as if that's what he wants: the office, the business class flights. He adores his daughters, and he's not an asshole at work. On the contrary, he's respected, he treats people correctly, and he's doing a good job by most people's opinion. He's also making a shit load of money, and should be coming into a cool few millions when the Company goes public.
Ever since I read Nietzsche, and I had this notion reinforced by that Kierkegaard book I read, I've really been on the guard against ressentiment. Envy. This awful peasant impulse to bow and scrape on the one hand and vandalize on the other. It's just small to get worked up about the boss having a more opulent lifestyle. I don't want to become some screechy low-rent Underground Man. But I have to struggle, and I resent the struggle at the same time, knowing that it's much simpler for nearly everyone else in the room.
Because, if left to my own devices, I'd hate all that ranged perfection of Viking stoves, and Persian rugs and the bookshelves empty except for an old edition of the World Book encyclopedia. Hate it, but kind of be implicated, because I'd buy nice shit too if I earned as much money as he did, probably. It'd just be different shit, a matter of taste rather than ethics.
Plus, he more or less earned it. He works hard. I don't think he works as hard as a teacher, a nurse or a firefighter. It isn't fair that his set of skills is so much more richly rewarded. But he does work; he's not a precious little dauphin. And if he's at all human, which he seems to be, he has to have nights filled with dread. He has a lot riding on his show.
No, what doesn't fit in this picture is me. If you're in a game, you should play to win. I'm working the first post office job I've ever had -- that is, the kind of gig where you show up, you more or less work, and you go home. My family needs the health insurance. Hell, I need the health insurance.
So you take up the oldest pose there is -- you say to your self, I work there, but I'm not of there. I'm just doing time, collecting my check, working on what counts on the side. I guess this is true, but the longer I'm there I wonder if, instead of being a heroic artist and family man, I'm just a second-rate employee.
Time for a change.