I'm in the drowning pool. Actually, I've been watching The Drowning Pool with my more rugged half and engaging in the sort of barely-there conversation that flips open laptops on couches in search of some sort of qualifiable truth (insert gay joke about external hard drives here). Alan, who the world agrees looks like Paul Newman, insists that it is Hal Holbrook who leers in Newman's direction a suggestive "Well, you're a good-looking man." Some discussion of Designing Women follows, as it is wont to, and I head out the door.
"It's not Hal Holbrook," Matt stammers, when I arrive at his and Jessica's drinking hot-tub. "I don't know who it is … (hand to highbrow) I don't remember anything anymore."
It's almost enough to make us forget what we've signed up for this evening. After all, conceding to obligatory attendance of the annual company holiday party is like admitting that your life has become a horribly scripted sitcom: spouses parlaying vodka-splashed finger-foods into loosened-collared conversations that eventually morph into the salacious trysts regretted at tomorrow morning's water cooler. Worse still, it happens every year: another "very special" episode of the Orlando Weekly's dressed-up dysfunction, starring "my ass" and "somebody's face." Alan's again declined to make an appearance this year — something to do with the infamous goat-farming incident of 2003 (don't ask) — and I'm playing third wheel in the Matt/Jessica key party. They don't even know what goats are, unless you count the cheese.
Did someone just cut the cheese? Will someone?
"You're not wearing the pants!" editor Bob Whitby-in-a-tie greets me at the door, staring straight at my mistletoe, this year not draped in my plaid Christmas trousers.
"They have a hole in the crotch," I tuck and tape. "I'm wearing a suit."
And if that's a new nod to maturity — I am, after all, no longer just a columnar mascot with an allowance — then so is the location of our soiree. In previous years, we've paraded our sloppy yuletide decadence in highly visible, very loud downtown climes: Rhythm and Flow, AKA Lounge, the gutter. This year, in an act of thoughtful quarantining, we're on the fringe of Winter Park at the Socca Ultra Lounge. And it's nice; like, grown-up nice.
"It's like Morocco in here," Jessica Fodors. "With couches. Let's grab a seating pagoda and pretend we're incense."
And like a fleeting waft of patchouli, she disappears into the wall with Matt, leaving me in the obviously ill-fitting position of standing next to our publisher, Rick, and engaging with him in a lengthy, hooch-voiced conversation about "the state of the paper."
"I think it's better than ever!" I cut cheese. "There's just something so much more grown-up, so much healthier now."
"You've made a great contribution," he rolls his eyes as we move on to discuss the fact that I once painted his toenails at a filthy party many moons ago, way before he was, um, my boss's boss.
Whitby stomps by at one point and grabs my ass — because it's Christmas, and that's what we do — and I reflex an unfunny "Now I'll never get fired!" within earshot of just about everybody. "Never" if "never" is tomorrow morning at approximately 9:15.
In the following two hours I'll blather a conversation with Karla from production (about how she doesn't really like me, but does), orchestrate a pity dance with beautiful Barbara from accounting ("That's what I hate about Orlando Weekly parties," she'll bump then grind, "I wanna dance, and y'all all wanna conversate!"), and incite a totally BFF heart-to-heart with sexy advertising chanteuse Lara who insists — like I do — that beauty is just a front for genius.
"That's why I only like pretty girls," I'll stick a knife into my own vocal cords. "I mean, totally!"
I'll eat precisely two bites of food, drink exactly four well drinks, and orchestrate a lap-dance-with-reach-around on Whitby, on a couch, next to his wife. (Editor's note: That never happened.)
"I'd love you to come over for Christmas," she'll speak through her teeth. "Just don't let Bob grab your ass in front of the kids."
In short, I'll forget everything I've ever learned.
"I mean, I like you. But, well, I don't like you like that," buxom and lovable advertising coordinator Lindsay flirts on our exit. "I think of us as … friends."
"WELL I DON'T NEED ANY MORE FRIENDS!" I scream from somewhere in the seventh grade.
And while this should signal the end of the evening, it doesn't. Jessica, Matt and I are expected at a potluck on my old low-rent street — the one that isn't so much a street as a road to nowhere — Hibiscus Court; burly Pat Greene has just moved in right next to where I all but died, and he's housewarming with an artificial Christmas tree. Inside somebody is gluing fake nails onto the branches, and varying shades of indie veganism and horn-rimmed sarcasm are lining couches and walls with conversations I can't be a part of. It's not that I wouldn't want to — I can slum with the best of them — but for some reason, tonight I can't. A rush of unpleasant memories — poppers, penises, junkies and baggies, to name a few — have drained the color from my face and the lap dance from my waist. What a waste.
"I think Billy's having a full-on flashback," Jessica Hanoi Janes.
And suddenly, I can't not remember everything firstname.lastname@example.org