Monday, December 15, 2014

Absence and antithesis

The subject at hand today: parties. Holiday parties. Work holiday parties, and perhaps now you can sort of glimpse the outlines of where this is going and how the subject of the post is ultimately going to relate to the content.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against holiday parties thrown by employers for employees per se. I have a lot of fond memories of various work parties, both gigs of my own and my wife’s (and a few sundry friends who dragged me along to theirs just for giggles, back when I was a twenty-something and could be reliably counted on to raise the overall fun quotient while taking an open bar as a direct, personal challenge). Heck, I learned how to play craps at one casino-themed work holiday party way back during the dot-com boom of the turn of the millennium, and that was a blast.

Of course what really stands out from that particular evening is a memory of one of the young programmers (the demographic breakdown for that company was something like 70% under-30 programmers and designers, 20% middle-aged support staff, and 10% C-suite graybeards) getting totally hammered and walking up to the Chief Technology Officer and confronting him, in the midst of the revelry, with the rumor that said executive had been selling off his stock options, which could certainly be construed as a lack of faith in the company’s long-term prospects. In the course of demanding that the executive answer for himself and explain why all the young programmers shouldn’t similarly lose faith, the inebriatee slurred, semi-rhetorically, “What’s my motivation?!?!” Which of course became the stuff of legend and an instant classic all at once, and for years afterwards, in a variety of non sequitor contexts, “What’s my motivation?!?!” became a frequently voiced callback amongst my friends and I.

Anyway, great party! One of many! But nowadays I work for the government as a contractor, not at a Clinton-era tech startup, and things are different. We had a party in the office today and it provided a philosophically fascinating opportunity to contemplate the nature of parties, in their Platonic ideal and variances from same, and the ultimate question of how much party you can take out of a party before it ceases to be a party altogether.

Our office space is simply not designed for big social gatherings. (Funny enough, it is designed for office work.) The conference rooms were given over entirely to the food buffets, which meant once people loaded up a paper plate with the various pot luck offerings they could either stand around in the aisles between cubicle pods, or sit in any unused cubicles. That applies mainly to the people who work for our directorate at various other office locations, and who descended upon our office for the party. For those of us who work here in the hosting office, we had the option of sitting at our own desks throughout. Which is basically what I did. There really was nothing else to the “party” except the food, and so I simply took it as a free lunch. (Except that it cose me $15 to partake.)

In the “party”’s defense, there was a Marine Corps brass ensemble invited to play Christmas songs, and that they did, but again there’s really no good space for something like that in our suite, especially with all the conference rooms stocked with sandwich trays and crock pots and whatnot. So the ensemble was way off in the boonies of the office, down the one corridor that leads only to currently unused offices, and thus would not impede foot traffic towards the food. There was also the festive element of alcoholic beverages (my $15 included two drink vouchers for beer or wine) but I personally was unable to partake in that aspect of the merriment.

And this is where we transition from the absence of a party, or a vaguely party-shaped hole in time and space, and into the outright antithesis of a party, which was my commute yesterday. Over the course of this year I have had a couple of fender benders, one involving a stationary object (shopping cart corral) and both entirely my fault, and the time had finally come for me to take my car to the shop and allow them to repair the damage. I showed up as soon as the shop opened this morning, did the requisite paperwork, and then waited for the rental car place to open a half hour later. Then I did more paperwork, and finally got on the road. By then there were no more eastbound VRE trains, so I had to brave rush hour on the highway in all its inhuman horror (firstworldproblems). Just as well that the holiday party was scheduled for the afternoon, because the whole day would have been a loss for me anyway, showing up two hours later than usual and then trying to calculate what time I would need to leave to avoid the HOV restrictions and nightmarish traffic. Thus, as noted above, since I was driving and not rail-riding, I abstained from libations. The trip home, as it turned out, was not as horrible as it could have been, but it was no party, I tell ya.

Two more free lunches to go this week, one a simple pizza-on-the-boss get together, the other the mid-sized gathering of officemates at a local sports pub. At least I’m saving a bit of money on groceries right before the final Christmas splurge.

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