December 16th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

That Special Christmas Weirdness (#3)

There are stories about the Christmas season that are heart-warming. They remind us of the best in ourselves and each other, remind us perhaps of happier times. There are stories about the Christmas season that are heart-breaking. We shy away from remembering Christmases gone horribly, sickeningly wrong, of events so sad or so nasty that they spoil the whole season, perhaps forever.

This isn't one of those stories. There are also Christmas stories that are, well, just plain Wrong. Surreal. Stories of times that the Christmas season got so bizarre and unbelievable that you laugh about that special bit of weirdness, that moment of, "Oh, my God, that did not just happen!" that sticks with you for a lifetime, that you tell for the rest of your life. As an old guy whose life has frequently wandered off into the surreal, I have at least three of those stories. This is one of them.

In the early 1990s, I was working for a medium-sized but internationally famous financial services company that, for various humorous reasons, I usually just refer to in these journal entries as The Conspiracy. Not long after I got transferred to the last and worst of my direct supervisors, he made it clear to me that my annual habit of skipping the company Christmas party was reflecting very poorly on me. He warned me that management perceived this as a message from me that I would rather be elsewhere. Not just elsewhere that night, but elsewhere as in not working with these people. He said that they were just about ready to accommodate that perceived desire. So if I wanted to continue working for The Conspiracy, I needed to be at the company Christmas party no later than 8:00 pm, I needed to eat at least some of the free food, I needed to drink at least two of the free drinks whether alcoholic or not, and I needed to not leave any earlier than when the first of the Big Bosses left the party, usually around 10:00 or 10:30 pm. He wasn't ordering me to go. But he said that if I didn't go, then I'd better spend the Monday after the party updating my resumé. Since at that point I still liked working for The Conspiracy (before the change in CEOs), was still delighted with the responsibilities they'd given me and the gobs of money they were throwing at me, and at the time more than half seriously intending to stay there until retirement, I rolled my eyes and decided to make an appearance.

Why was this such a big concession from me, why wouldn't I go eat their excellent free finger food and drink their free liquor? It's hard to explain, except to say that as a rule of thumb, I hate socializing with co-workers after hours. I won't avoid them if we would ordinarily otherwise have interests in common, but the idea of spending my evenings and weekends hanging around people with whom I presumably have nothing in common other than where we work holds absolutely no appeal to me. Also, avoiding socializing with co-workers means that I can talk about my job without the default expectation that everything I say will be on the office grapevine within four working hours. Now, combine those reasons with the presence of an open bar. I've said before that other than its racist origins, my real reason for avoiding Fair St. Louis is that there isn't anything that a million drunken mundanes are doing together that I want to join them in doing. Making it a mere couple of hundred drunken mundanes doesn't improve the situation substantially.

But yeah, anyway, I went. I sure as heck wasn't going to rent a tux for this brief appearance, so I just dug out my default "interview suit," an inexpensive two-button single-breasted charcoal gray 100% wool suit. With the suit, I wore black dress loafers, a white button-down oxford shirt and a silk tie with a screen print of some art from the caves at Lascaux. In other words, by financial industry standards, I was hardly dressed up at all; if anything, perhaps dressed too casually to even show up to work, had I been more than two ranks above myself in the chain of command. For outerwear, my tan trenchcoat and yes, because (as I mentioned the other day) I wear one all winter without thinking about it, a cheap $3 plush Santa hat. My departmental co-workers, most of whom were already there by the time I got there, insisted that I keep the hat on. I grabbed a drink and some finger food and joined them. The music and accumulated voices in there were loud enough to render me effectively deaf (I have a hard time discriminating between sounds in a noisy environment), so I couldn't really join what little conversation there was. So I just sat there and sort of zoned out, waiting for the big bosses to go so I could go, too. And that's what I was doing when the hooker in cheap lingerie walked up.

Well, no. But that sure as heck was what it looked like out of the corner of my eye, and when she approached me from behind and grabbed my shoulder, that was my first thought. The financial industry and hookers go together as famously as, well, as pro athletes and hookers, but still, this wasn't that kind of a party, so at first I was pretty surprised. Then, when I turned around enough to get a clearer look at her, I noticed that the jewelry she was wearing cost more than my brand new Dodge minivan. The skinny, big breasted woman in mall hair and a cling-wrapped spaghetti-strap mini-length silk slip-dress and fetish heels was, in fact, not a prostitute. (Per se.) She was the trophy wife of one of the top executives, and stinking drunk. She leaned in close enough to make herself heard over the general din, and made it clear to me that I was under orders to follow her over to the other side of the room. There, she and 10 or so other trophy wives had set up a very public throne for me, maybe all of 40 or so feet from their husbands' tables.

What then followed freaked me out, and I'm famously not easy to freak out. I tried pretty hard not to show it, but even as famously inexpressive as my face is, I'm pretty sure anybody there who was sober noticed. A line formed, of all the trophy wives, and despite the fact that the only part of a Santa suit I was wearing was the hat (OK, I did have my own long blond hair and beard, and I am a fat man), they all insisted on taking turns sitting on my lap and telling Santa how naughty they'd been, and what they wanted for Christmas. And I would have been OK with that and played along if they had stopped there, but most of them didn't. Right there under the bright lights, in front of their husbands, these women in expensive lingerie (because at the time, that's what upper class women wore for formal wear), any three of whom's jewelry cost more than I made in a year, made a series of incredibly explicit sexual passes at me, one after another. Feigning my usual cluelessness, a cluelessness that come-ons this explicit battered their way through, wasn't enough to fend them off; I spent the next at least half an hour trying to keep them from licking my ear, trying to keep them from making out with me, and pulling my hand back when they kept grabbing it and sticking it onto their backsides or breasts or between their thighs. Did I mention that this is happening to me not only in front of their husbands, all of whom outrank me by four or more ranks, and in front of at least 200 of my co-workers? I was beyond uncomfortable, I was mortified. The memory sticks with me to this day, and I'm getting weirded out all over again just thinking about it.

But I'm telling you, man. Trophy wives dig Santa Claus.