Every year my government boss gives out a small gift to everyone in the department, civilians and contractors alike. It's usually some Christmas candy and a small personalized item; one year, notepads, another year, travel coffee mugs. This year the formula was the same, and the vaguely work-related swag awaiting me this past Monday morning was a mousepad. I haven't had a mousepad at work for quite a while, so it's certainly appreciated, but in addition to my name screenprinted across the top the mousepad features a large color photo of a tropical beach, with a sapphire sky and a few fluffy clouds above turquoise water and a couple of lazy palm trees.
I know there's two ways to think about such a visual in the gray cube farm context. One is that it's a nice contrast that can provide a little mini mental vacation from the office monotony. The other is that it's a taunting, tortuous reminder that there are places I would rather be than stuck at a desk (earning my living, blah blah blah) with every sightline to a window blocked by half-walls. I know which of those two options was my boss's intent, but that doesn't really change which of those is my default perspective.
On Tuesday morning I entered the lobby of my office building and got on the elevator and stood in the back corner with a steadily mounting sense of rage as people kept getting on. Not that I had been at the front of a large group waiting for the doors to open, but after I got on with a others, one more person hurried, held the doors open, and got on. And then another straggler hurried on. And then another. The building has six elevators (technically eight, but one is a freight elevator and one only goes down to the parking garage, not up to the office suites) and if I see an elevator with its doors standing open and several people already aboard, I always opt to wait for the next one. And it has never not infuriated me that other people don't do this.
So by the time the last person boarded and the doors closed, they did so with a loud buzzer going off. I was holding my breath waiting for someone to say "Uh-oh, what does that noise mean?" because I was not entirely confident in my ability to restrain myself from answering in a snarl, "It means the elevator was in the lobby too long because some people can't wait ten extra freaking seconds for the next one." Nobody said anything, but I may have closed my eyes to steady my nerves nonetheless. And then, after a few stops on the middle floors had emptied out the car somewhat, a woman on the opposite side of the elevator said to me, "Are you awake yet?" Of course it was none other than the boss of all bosses, who is normally over at the Pentagon on Tuesdays but had apparently come to our side of town for the agency Christmas party that afternoon. Needless to say I was grateful that I had not thrown a fit at strangers on the elevator after all, given that it would have been in front of the deputy assistant secretary. Small favors and all that.
So the Christmas party itself was actually pretty pleasant. My big fear, which I did not want to tempt fate by even voicing ahead of the event, was that I would find myself stuck at a table with my co-worker Ms. Nonsense and that I would spend the whole time developing cracks in my molars from biting back variations on "shut up" for a couple hours. Really the key to any large gathering, be it a work function or a large wedding reception or whatever, is managing to sit at one of the cool tables. And in that I was successful, both in avoiding Ms. Nonsense and attaching myself to some of the more companionable people in the office, including my old friend and converted-storage-area-mate Mr. Gregarious (who, in small doses, is really pretty engaging). So the back-and-forth was neither boneheaded nor actively distressing, and at one point someone brought up Awkward Family Christmas Photos and passed around a smartphone to show some of the more hilarious entries. I even won a decent bottle of wine by acing one of the trivia challenges based on identifying lyrics to Christmas carols and standards. Note: lots of people confuse "Here Comes Santa Claus" with "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", and even more confuse "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" with "Jingle Bell Rock".
Not to pile on my most socially clueless colleague, but the morning of the party she was asking people whether or not they were planning on going, and someone must have indicated that they didn't really see the point, and she insisted, "But there's an open bar!" This caused a minor uproar, as most things that people know are not true but very much wish could be true tend to do. Finally everyone was able to figure out that Ms. Nonsense just doesn't really get what the term "open bar" means, i.e. she thinks it simply means that a cash bar is open for business, whereas EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD knows it means free booze. (For what it's worth, there was a cash bar last year but there was no bar of any kind this year, but as far as I know Ms. Nonsense's attempts to pressure people into coming based on her unfounded assumption that this year's party, despite being at a different venue, would be exactly like last year's, all came to naught.)
At one point during the yankee swap portion of the party Ms. Nonsense turned up her obnoxiousness to 11, and one of my co-workers sitting next to me leaned over and sighed, "Do you think she was an only child?" It was a nice moment of holiday cheer, realizing that I'm not the only one who finds her hard to take.
So apparently work and Christmas really don't mix because the whole scene just makes me uncharitably cranky. But, only two more work days left this whole year, and then I'm giving myself a week off between Christmas and New Years! I should be able to make it through a couple more shifts without strangling someone with tinsel. Here's hoping, anyway!