Monday, December 22, 2008


by Gina Sestak

As most of you faithful readers may have guessed by now, I have a taste for the strange, the bizarre, the unusual . . . So of course I love office Christmas parties.

I must admit to being spoiled during the 18 years I worked for our local electric utility. The vice-president in charge of my section of the company tried to out-do herself every year with theme parties. My personal favorite was the Harry Potter Christmas party a few years ago, but by then we were all wondering whether the sorting hat would be brought out to tell us who would be laid off. Alas, I was among the ones to eventually go, although my departure was officially termed an early retirement. I took one of those offers you can't refuse.

My final Christmas party at the company featured videos in which groups of employees from the three sections supervised by that vice-president acted out the scene from It's a Wonderful Life in which the townspeople all come forward to throw money at the failing banker. [Nowadays, we have Congress to do that for us.] The videos were made a few weeks before the party -- we were called to a mandatory "safety meeting," only to find out that the "safety film" was that scene from the movie and that we were expected to perform it ourselves. I didn't get a speaking role, just a wad of fake cash to contribute. Now, I've done a little acting, so while everybody else was chatting or memorizing lines, I tried to get into character. It wasn't easy. Why would I give this guy my hard earned money? I was a poor townswoman and, having been called out of the normal routine for this surprise performance, didn't even have a purse. Would a poor townswoman carry all that cash around in her hand? Of course not. When nobody was looking, I stuffed it in my bra, except for one $5 bill. That should be enough to give a banker, right? When it was my turn to come forward and throw my contribution into the basket, I tossed in the five, started to turn away, reconsidered, reached into my bra, and threw in the whole wad.

At the Christmas party, the three videos were shown and we employees were given the opportunity to vote for the best performance by those players who had been given speaking parts. My bra-money activity didn't make it into my section's final video. Or so I thought. After the awards had been presented, it was time to show the out-takes. There I was. Did you ever notice that things don't come out exactly as you plan on film? It looked as if I'd lost that money somewhere in my underwear; it took awhile to find. The upshot was that I was awarded a special imitation Oscar for "Best Performance by an Extra in a Low-Budget Electric Utility Video."

Six days after officially leaving the utility company in 2007, I started work for a small law firm and, when Christmas rolled around, I wasn't sure what to expect. I mean, law firms are supposed to be stuffy, right? Well, not really. Unbeknownst to me, some of my fellow employees were hockey-maniacs. We had our office Christmas party at a Penguins game!

This year, I waited anxiously to hear what had been planned. More sports?
No, even better -- dinner and a murder mystery theater group performing an interactive play in which we, the audience, had to figure out who killed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. [Believe me, after hearing what all those actors said about him, it was no surprise that someone off-ed that deer.] Imagine my surprise when one of the cast (and a prime suspect) turned out to be our own Katherine Miller Haines!
The food was almost as strange as the play. Maybe you sophisticated folks have eaten this kind of stuff before, but it struck me as weird when my salad was served in a martini glass. That was nothing, though, compared to when a neatly uniformed young woman dropped a dollop of mashed potatoes into a martini glass, topped the potatoes with peas and cheese, then blasted the concoction with a blow-torch. Does that seem normal to you?
Anyway, the parties were all fun. What's your favorite or weirdest office Christmas party? Come on. We really want to know.


Annette said...

Apparently, I just don't live right. The few office parties I've attended have been boringly normal. No movie remakes. No mystery theater. And no Kathy Haines. Sigh.

Tory said...

Most office parties I've been to have been decidedly boring.

The weirdest office party I ever attended was at the house of my soon-to-be ex-boss, who hadn't invited me. Her partner in crime, my other soon-to-be ex-boss, didn't know about the "oversight" and invited me.

Let me just say, that was indicative of the level of communication that happened on that project. That may have been the worst job I've ever had, but leaving it was probably the best thing I've ever done.

It's a really strange vibe, coming to someone's house and feeling that you shouldn't be there but not knowing that you hadn't been invited. UGH.

Anyway, one good thing came out of it. I met my friend Chris there, and she's a close friend to this day.

Merry Christmas!

Joyce said...

We didn't have Christmas parties at work. Someone was always mad at someone else, or they didn't want to use the social fund money to actually do anything social.

Just so you know, I'm getting one of those blow torches for our chapter party next year.

KathyMH said...

You just had to tell, didn't you? Oh, there will be revenge for this, Gina, when you least expect it.

Of course, the nice part of degrading myself for money is that I get to go to a lot office parties, each one more awkward than the next.

My own office party consists of me taking my subordinate out for a fancy lunch. Now my theatre company's party...that thing's legendary.


Gina said...

Degrading yourself, Kathy? At least you're performance didn't involve having your hands in your underwear. [Unless I missed that part.]

Jennie Bentley said...

I tend to avoid parties, office or otherwise, so I have nothing to contribute to the discussion. The murder mystery thing would have been fun, though, I imagine. Even if the food does sound weird. Did it taste good, at least?

So did Kathy kill Rudolph? Or did someone else? And what was the motive?

Gina said...

The food was excellent and the blow torch was exciting. Did I mention there was also pasta and chocolate? And beef for the carnivores.
I cannot reveal the identity of the killer, although all of the characters (Santa, Jessica Claus, Elfish Presley, the Tooth Fairy, and KMH's Easter Bunny) had good and valid motives to slay Rudolph. I have to admit some special fondness for the Tooth Fairy character, who looked like a hoodlum and carried a baseball bat to facilitate the collection of teeth. Of course, he might have been scarier without those gauzy wings.

Annette said...

Sounds like a blast, Gina!

lisa curry said...

I always rather enjoyed office Christmas parties. My husband's former employer had one every year at the Sheraton at Station Square with relatively good food, an open bar, a DJ, and a dance floor, which provided my one excuse to get all dressed up fancy and go someplace nice once a year. Alas, now that he changed jobs, his new employer doesn't have that kind of Christmas party. They just have an in-house party during work hours for employees with a gift exchange. But that's still more than we have where I work, which is nothing. Mr. Scrooge does let us put an extra log on the fire when we're all slaving away on Christmas Eve, though. I shouldn't say that -- he's not a Scrooge, because he uses the money he would have spent on a party to give us really generous Christmas bonuses, which are better than a party anyway. But, Gina, the movie and the murder-mystery dinner theater sound like fun!