Sunday, December 18, 2011


The lavish spreads of some Christmas parties can be overwhelming, with food and drink and sufficient holiday cheer to win over the most misanthropic Scrooge, yet in spite of such abundance and apparent bonhomie there are troubles to be avoided the way mariners might navigate treacherous waters, those dark patches on the map that once warned sailors "there will be monsters."

The most treacherous passage runs between Scylla and Charybdis, otherwise known as "booze and food," a particularly narrow squeeze between two points that sinks many a sailor. There are dire straits of mulled port--a wine-dark sea in which clove-studded oranges float like mines--and here one might become awash in drink or dashed upon the rocks. Even experienced mariners have capsized here and the shore is strewn with shipwrecks. One might become misty-eyed after a few good glasses, feel a warm glow and love for all mankind, but it will pass. To the untrained eye, after this port the sea seems calm, but things will take a turn. More cups, this time bourbon, beer, red wine, or some nog of egg, and storms brew on the horizon. Sirens sing carols on the rocks, and colored lights--blinking, blinking, always blinking--lure the unwary deeper into the drink. The wheel spins freely, the rudder has broken free, ballast sloshes dangerously in the belly, and masts snap like pipestems.

Some make it through this passage only to be driven mad by the experience, and one finds them dancing a jig or succumbing to nonsense and glossolalia, speaking in tongues, gibbering like mad hatters as gulls wheel overhead like whirlybirds. Emboldened by drink, they flirt or flatter, sing loudly and off-key, or cleverly extoll their own virtues--cleverly, they think--and the poor, trapped party-goer is assailed with tales of their abundant fortune, their exceedingly good taste, their commendable charity work, their morally superior exercise routine, their finely-tuned knowledge of wine, say, or coffee, or the political sphere, or the state of the union. With a dull head and the excuse of drink, they never show the least bit of curiosity about anyone else, unless, of course, they have pegged that person as somehow important, well-set in the hierarchy, and then they will flatter to beat the band, batting eyelashes like silent movie actresses. Don't blame them; they're lost. They have become simple. They will extend their hand as they squeeze past you to buttonhole their intended social conquest. You may feel sad to block their route, but it's nothing personal, for they carry a detailed system of stratification as elaborate as their mum's Social Register.

Recently I watched a minor celebrity at a party peppered with pointed questions, softball questions, much in the same way, at the same party, some clueless millennials competed for the attention of a young lady in a velour tracksuit with the subtlety of ranch dogs. Despite a lot of enlightenment talk, the pecking order is alive and well. Snob are snobs, and we will always have them, but drunk they are more insufferable, so expect to encounter this breed during the holidays when drinks are flowing.

Karaoke. If singing is involved, watch out. The most inhibited people in the world--who have every reason in the world to be inhibited--lose all decency after a couple hot toddies and start thinking they're Michael Buble. God forbid. Suddenly freed by John Barleycorn, they start warbling. It never fails. As we all know, the only thing worse than an extrovert is an introvert playing an extrovert after a couple drinks. We may sympathize with these unfortunates living quiet lives of desperation, folks who quake in their boots on a daily basis, but can't they just shut up?

Some simply drink up all the liquor and move on to more booze somewhere else, leaving your house in shambles as they bar-hop across town like egrets hopping from island to island in an alcoholic archipelago. They imagine themselves soaring like eagles but they are flightless birds at heart and they barely get off the ground, and what glitters at the next stop is mostly likely guano.

There are common sense rules to partying, but--to paraphrase Voltaire--common sense ain't too common. Here are a couple: Bring something to the party. I don't mean just food and drink--though the millennials who seem to know everything, don't seem to know this. Bring something of yourself. Bring a willingness to talk and listen, or a general curiosity about others. Shut up about yourself. Nobody wants to hear you prattle on endlessly about anything and everything, so be generous with airspace. Don't drink up all the liquor and leave without thanking the host. Don't just talk to those you think are important, the celebrity you made a beeline for, the chick you want to seduce, the bartender. This looks skeezy. Be filled with holiday cheer but not so filled you blow chips on the front lawn on the way to your car. Leave with who "brung" you. If someone should give you a gift, reciprocate at some point. Don't scoop up the cookies you brought. If that's all you brought--and the host provided plentiful food and booze--it looks cheap. No, it is cheap. Leave your meager contribution, for Godsakes. Don't be an asshole. This may be your default position, the stance you fall into easily like a snowman statue weighted on the bottom. Try to be a better person than you are. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is actually good tactical advice, since you wouldn't want to stuck at a party next to a carbon copy of your worst self. Shut up and listen. Watch your weight, but don't talk about it incessantly--especially not while making excuses for all the Christmas cookies you're wolfing down. Be kind. And have a Merry Goddamn Christmas.

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