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Mullen column: The ghost of Christmas parties past

“Two years ago we had the office party at a fancy nightclub. Last year it was downsized to the executive conference room. This year it’s going to be separate checks at the Olive Garden. What’s next? The bus station?” Paul did not look happy. He missed the open bar of years gone by. He missed the uniformed staff circulating with trays of hors d’oeuvres and flutes of champagne. He missed the Christmas bonuses. But mostly, he missed letting other people do his job. Now, with the staff cuts, he had to do the work of all the people he used to manage.
Ellen was furious. “Our party this year is going to be in the eighth floor cafeteria. No liquor. They’re going with fruit punch. No sober person will make a pass at me, which means I won’t have anyone to blackmail next year. I don’t think I can make it on my crappy salary alone. A drunken pass by a married executive was always good for a few days off or being able to come in late every now and then. It was part of my bonus package. No drunks, no bonuses.”
We were all in the local, commiserating about the sad state of the economy and the ghost of Christmas parties past.
“My company used to hire a famous entertainer for the party every year,” Dale said. “A few years ago it was Britney Spears. This year all they can afford is some has-been who can’t get arrested on Saturday night.”
“Who?”
“Britney Spears.”
“We used to get 10 paid days off and a free turkey. This year we got two days off and a family-sized Stove Top canister,” Ellen said, guzzling down her third strawberry daiquiri.
“Well, maybe it’s time to get back to the true meaning of the office party,” Paul reasoned. “Isn’t it the one time of year you can get drunk and bond with your cubicle mates?”
“At my office, we do that every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Besides, half my cubicle mates are in India,” Ellen said. “One of them wanted to know why we wear scary costumes and say, ‘Trick or treat,’ at Christmas. I told them it was something we got from the Pilgrims.”
“Does your company make the Indians take English-sounding names?” I asked.
“Are you kidding?” she said. “Sanjay and Lakshmi are English-sounding names, now. And the customers don’t care what their names are anyway. They’re happy just to yell at a human. Next year I’m afraid the only people at our Christmas party will be me and the woman who says, ‘If you’d like to continue this phone call in English, press one.’ I hear they’re looking to get rid of her.”
“That’s the holiday spirit,” said Dale, “My cousin got a pink slip in his bonus envelope last year.”
“What did he do?”
“He sold fax machines. This recession killed his business.” The rest of us politely averted our eyes and made throat-clearing noises.
“Yeah, that must have taken him by surprise,” Paul said, “Maybe he can switch to selling portable typewriters. I hear they’re flying off the shelves,” Dale said.
“I miss the good old days,” said Ellen, putting on her coat.
“Well, have another drink and I’ll sexually harass you. It’ll be just like the old days,” said Paul.
“Sorry, I’ll have to take a rain check. I was supposed to be at my second job an hour ago.”
“What’s your second job?”
“Party planner.”- – –
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life.”

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