Pictured above: the centerpiece from our table at my employer’s 2013 holiday party. This year’s shindig was held at a different venue than last year’s and consequently had different decor. Longtime MCC readers may recall last year my wife and I passed the time while waiting for door prize drawings by taking still life photos using any and all objects within reach.
I spent a lot of time this year staring into that centerpiece while life and partying went on around me.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover (see above link):
Every year my wife and I pin my company’s holiday party on our calendar for exactly three reasons:
1. It’s a rare excuse to spend quality time together in an adult setting in nice clothes.
2. It’s a free dinner.
3. They’re generous about giving out door prizes to the majority of the attendees.
This year we had two more perks than we did last year:
4. The venue was five minutes from our house.
5. People I knew invited us to sit with them.
Somehow we graduated from the Island of Misfit Diners to a table with coworkers I knew by name. To their credit, the new venue had ten seats per table instead of eight, so cliques could stick together in larger clumps. Theoretically this should mean less awkwardness for me. Theoretically.
One couple was gracious above and beyond the call of obligatory pleasantries. One couple was new to us. The other two couples were on the opposite end of the large table and had their own things going on. Unfortunately I had a wide assortment of distractions and barriers occluding my mindset and disrupting my attempts at normal socialization:
* My hearing isn’t great under normal conditions and worsens in crowds.
* While I’ve known my coworkers for years, they’ve known each other for literal decades and consequently have tighter bonds and plenty more to talk about with each other besides work.
* My phone had been frustrating me all day, refusing to pick up any and all signals — no texting, no ‘Net, no simple sharing of online photos with the people sitting next to us. (Two of our companions are also my recurring Words With Friends nemeses. The chance for live tournament play was sadly ruined.)
* Some of the buffet food was less than warm.
* Our server brought enough desserts for four of the ten of us, then never returned to serve the other six.
* In the first 2½ hours, I was offered a coffee refill exactly once, a service rate that even Denny’s would consider shameful. At the 2½-hour mark, they took my mug without asking and never brought it back.
* I keep forgetting I’m a lifelong, card-carrying wallflower even under the best party conditions.
* My wife’s attempts at nobly conversing with others at the table were garnering mixed results. And nobody gives my wife mixed results!
If you scrape enough excuses together into one big pile, you can convince yourself they add up to at least one good reason, surely hidden somewhere inside.
A live band was scheduled to take the stage at 9:00. I didn’t understand their name when it was announced. What I heard mentally processed as “My Yellow Rich Hall”, which conjured an interesting mental image of a kid’s book called Curious George Makes Up Some Sniglets. I’m pretty sure I misheard.
We left at 8:30, half an hour before they took the stage. By then I’d worked myself up to a pretty heady level of discomfort and silence. We might’ve been willing to brave another hour or two after the door prizes were handed out (early and all at once, instead of staggered across the evening), but by that time I could already feel enthusiasm waning and the old loner’s misery waxing. That same feeling has haunted me regularly in school cafeterias, at family gatherings, in Sunday school classes, and at alcoholic parties. It’s not my favorite feeling.
Sometimes I can sublimate it more confidently than others. Saturday night became the other kind of times.
About that entry title: the first photo isn’t the parable. This is the parable:
A free soft drink from the cash bar and three votive candles. Their shapes are similar. Their setting is shared. Their presence is normal. They perform different functions but serve the same clientele.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they have much in common, or that they ought to go together in all things.