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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Eat and Run

Nothing screams, “Find a reason to leave town” louder than receiving an e-mailed invitation to attend your employer’s service awards dinner/employee appreciation banquet/dinner-dance/holiday party.

I haven’t been diagnosed with any kind of social anxiety disorder, but probably would be if I went to a therapist, who would probably prescribe yet another pill to take for the rest of my life. That’s not going to happen.

I have a tough time wrapping my hands around why these functions exist, because I don’t think anyone really looks forward to them, especially the admin staffers who are delegated to put together these events, a thankless, time-consuming job that always stirs up complaints from people for myriad reasons. Why can’t I bring my children? Why isn’t there a vegan menu option? Can you move it to the week following my chemical peel? Shut the hell up, all of you. If something doesn’t make you happy, don’t go. Or say you’re going to go and then don’t show up so I can take home leftovers.

An employee function says this to me: Let’s gather up all the people with whom you work every day, some of whom you like, some of whom you tolerate, and some of whom you pray nightly for a grand piano to fall on from the 30th floor. Let’s make the party semi-formal so you can wear a choking necktie and hot jacket, and the women at work who already dress inappropriately can dress up even more inappropriately and unflatteringly, but with sequins, lamé and Elton-John-as-Pinball-Wizard platform heels. Then let’s add unlimited alcohol to: 

a) loosen up all those inhibitions so that people who drink too much can throw up; 

b) encourage people who carry grudges to pick fights; 

c) allow people who usually keep quiet announce their prejudices with pride, thus reinforcing the unwritten law that forbids gay men from dancing. 

 All my life, the majority of people with whom I have worked range from middle-of-the-road to moderate conservatives to rabid Tea Party followers of Limbaugh Christ. The liberal to radical left employees, where I fall, are few and far between. We know who we are and whisper to each other in dark corners about taboo topics like re-election, gay marriage, and the obscene cost of health insurance and medications brought on by corrupt insurance executives and politicians. We exchange lists of fellow employees with whom we should not discuss politics, religion, or bumper stickers.

People at work are young and old, liberal and conservative, black and white (insert more adjectives regarding human diversity here) who applied for these jobs and were dropped in this pot, and we have to figure out a way to get along and simmer down and make the soup palatable for everyone.

This does not mean, however, that we have to attend social events together. I wouldn’t dream of holding an office party in a gay bar, but that is just about the only venue where I feel comfortable dancing with Other Bill. Despite the shifting winds towards gay acceptance, I wouldn’t feel comfortable dancing in a place with 500 cops, firefighters, staunchly conservative politicians, egocentric department directors, and bitter, poorly-treated, low-paid unionized staff and their spouses with bellies full of spirits, wine, and beer. It is perfectly fine for two women to dance, because American mores allow for that. But here, to see two men, slow-dancing, chest-to-chest: never. Not in America, unless you’re in a gay bar. Or at home. I taught Other Bill how to waltz on our patio, and he’s pretty good at it.

Back in the 80’s and before, and probably even now in some arenas, gay men brought straight female friends to these events. That way, everything looked “right” to the executive staff, who was fooled into believing that all their employees were straight and having loads of fun at these parties funded by corporate greed. When my sister was single, she went to her corporate event with a gay man, and I am sure that also helped to make everything look “right” to the senior executives, as well. From the ivory tower, she appeared to be married to, or at least in a relationship with, a male. Everyone of one sex had another of the other sex. How superb. How appropriate.

I don’t go to these events very often, unless, of course, there are raffles. Because not that many people attend, the chances of winning something are pretty good. But it usually takes a really nice prize to force me to be present to win. At the last awards dinner, you had to pay $25 to go and collect your paper reward. It was mostly mandatorily attended by supervisors, who deposited the certificates into their employees’ mailboxes the following day. The upcoming one I assume will be less poorly attended because the event is free for employees, but $25 to bring a spouse, unless you’re being recognized, in which case a plus-one gets to attend for free. For some people where I work, $25 is 3 hours’ pay, before taxes.

The rare occasions I do attend these events (i.e., when it’s free for both of us and loaded with good raffle prizes), I take Other Bill, and we usually sit together and talk to ourselves. Neither he nor I drink, so we arrive after the cocktail hour, just in time to hit the buffet, gather up our raffle prizes, make our excuses, and go back home and waltz on the patio. (That really means “sit on the couch and play Words with Friends while listening to TV.”)

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and attend. These are times when you win something like an employee of the year award or are getting your X-years of service dog tags, or whatever it is they give you. In this economy, it’ll probably be a certificate on copier paper, run through a color laser printer. Next month I am celebrating eleven years of service by getting my ten -year service certificate. As government workers know it takes forever to get anything approved. Maybe it’s a pin; I don’t know. But if you don’t go, you look ungrateful. And I’m not ungrateful; quite the contrary. It’s nice to be recognized. Hell, it’s nice just to have a job. But look, can’t they just e-mail me my certificate in PDF format? I promise to print it on nice bond paper and push-pin it to a wall.

So even though the next event is free but without raffles, we will be attendees. I will probably have to go out and buy a jacket that fits me and maybe a new tie, and we’ll enjoy our meat, poultry, fish or vegetarian pre-selected entrée and drink our ice water. Then I’ll go up to the front and shake some hands of people who have seen me around but don’t really know what I do, or what I’ve done, other than survive a government decade, which we already established is at least eleven years (AKA a baker’s decade). It’ll be fine. It’ll be fun.

But when the music strikes up, we’ll already be on our way home, no doubt gossiping about the wrong people who wore spandex or Lucite shoes, the ones who started drinking way too early, and the flavor of the beef/chicken/vegetarian food compared to what we ate last week on our vacation in San Francisco, a place where no one bats an eye if we hold hands on the street, peck each other on the lips in public, or even waltz in the middle of Union Square.


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