Having spent two decades in a suit--and what a suit it was--most of the office parties I can recall seem much of a muchness. The characters came and went, but the horror was constant. One Christmas, however, stands out from all the others.
I was employed by an insurance company that, like its customers, is now out of business. At 23, I was the chief accountant. At the Christmas party, I sat proudly at the head of the accounting table. These were the days when my drinking would have put W.C. Fields to shame. (I've been a teetotaler since 1986.)
It was not difficult, therefore, to adopt the Christmas spirit, which was vodka that year if memory serves. By the time dessert arrived, I was quite seriously drunk. So were at least three-quarters of my colleagues. It's how we used to do it, kids. Men were men in those days, and women pretty much weren't.
The plan had been to have all the department heads deliver short speeches, but our managing director stood up and spoke for 90 minutes instead. He, too, was drunk, but then he'd been drunk since the 1940s. By the time he concluded, most of us were slumped over like willow trees in a hurricane.
Then the ugliness commenced: dancing.
It was called dancing, but by now the party had degenerated into two groups: the drunk and the disapproving (coincidentally the name of my favorite soap opera). In turn, everyone made fools of themselves, a mighty roar going up every time someone managed three steps in a row without falling over, or didn't.
Even I was forced to commit a spot of dancing. Surrounded by colleagues and superiors (in the business sense), I did an Irish jig, if my random movements could possibly have fallen into any kind of category. I danced with the complete abandon that comes only to the accountant. The sozzled accountant, that is.
And then my thunder was stolen.
Of all the people the general manager had met in his 60 years, he really only liked two: Johnny Walker and Jim Beam. As the evening wore on, he had progressed from his traditional "slightly drunk" to a full-bore, lock up your daughters, run for the hills, nightmare drunk scenario, which was pretty much his standard Saturday night behavior.
At one stage, about to fall over, he grabbed me by the waist. The minuscule part of his mind that remained functional decided it must be time to dance. Before I could unravel myself from his embrace, he had me in a bear grip and was hurling me around the room in a frenzied tribute to the gods of insurance. A circle formed, whose members promptly fell apart in paroxysms of laughter as the whole ugly business unfolded.
It didn't last long. The GM suddenly loosened his grip on me, having passed out. He collapsed on the dance floor, occasioning the biggest laugh of the night because everyone thought he was dead. There's the Christmas spirit for you, my friends.
To make up for the embarrassment he thought he had caused me, on the following Monday morning, the GM sponsored my admission into a highly regarded professional institute, of which I remain to this day a member in good standing, which is more than he had managed on that Saturday night.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
December 1, 2007
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