What Really Killed the Office Party? Not the Economy, but Sober Prigs Like Me

doonan 9 What Really Killed the Office Party?  Not the Economy, but Sober Prigs Like MeWould you let Gary Busey or Jeff Conaway surgically remove your large intestine? No, of course you wouldn’t. But before we expand upon that particular theme, I have an important Yuletide observation to make:

Quelle surprise! Who’d a thunk it? Despite all kinds of grim Dickensian predictions, this is turning out to be a shockingly joyful holiday season. Why, given the gnarliness of the economy, is everyone smiling and giggling and skipping about with such holiday jollity? The answer is quite simple: The company holiday party got canceled. Yay!

When accountants across New York started to look for cost-cutting opportunities, that office party was the first thing to go. Yippee! And now everyone is exploding with good cheer because they can finally admit it: That office party always totally sucked.

Is there anything more gruesome than that turgid company fiesta? Is there anything more agonizing than watching your colleagues try desperately to act in an appropriate manner? These are the same foul-mouthed fun-lovers alongside whom you happily toil each day and then—bang!—the holiday party rolls around and they start filling conversational voids by saying stuff like, “I find you simply cannot get a bad meal in Italy. Don’t you agree?”

These occasions were not always so restrained. Before the tyranny of sex-harassment lawsuits and HR-issued behavioral guidelines, company holiday parties used to be fun, with a capital F. Drugs, venereal disease, fistfights, unwanted pregnancies—now those were holiday parties!

And then there was the mandatory striptease. I refer to that age-old British Yuletide tradition whereby the office loser—it’s usually the bloke with the pudgiest, whitest body—elects to drink enough alcohol to kill a bull elephant and then inflicts said body, naked, on his colleagues, no charge. The loser (now clearly a winner) enjoys a year of small-town celebrity before passing the baton to a new pudgster.

At my first company holiday party, back in the louche early 1970s, I distinctly remember walking into the men’s room and coming upon an alcohol-crazed coupling: a shirt buyer (male) was rogering the office goody-two-shoes (female) as if his life depended upon it. Three vats of sherry, a sock buyer and one bottle of Drambuie later, the lady in question was carried out of the store on a stretcher—she was phalanx’d by a large crowd headed up by her disapproving spinster boss, who was holding aloft her vomit-stained Courrèges knockoff boots—and subsequently hospitalized for a week with alcohol poisoning. Now that was a holiday party!

So who sucked the life out of this formerly festive occasion? Was it really the human resources department? No. Blame must be laid at the door of the people who renounced alcohol and its attendant dis-inhibited behaviors. People like me. We, with our smug sobriety, are responsible for the death of fun. Sorry!

Regarding sobriety: My commitment to tea drinking was recently reaffirmed by finishing Spilling the Beans (Hodder & Stoughton, $15.95), the riotous autobiography of Clarissa Dickson Wright, the remaining and larger half of the gorgeous cooking duo known as Two Fat Ladies. This book is my 2008 holiday-reading recommendation, even though nobody has actually asked me for one.

If you have always wanted to know what would happen to you if you drank two or three pints of gin per day, then this is the book for you. Ms. Dickson Wright hits the bottle like an 18th-century street bawd, with hilarious and ghastly results. She spends quite a bit of time dozing upside down in cars that have slithered into ditches. Miraculously, the ebullient Clarissa pulls herself back from the brink and renounces the demon drink. The same cannot be said for Sir Arthur Dickson Wright, her booze-addicted and violent father. Interestingly, his staggering alcohol intake did not stop him from becoming a world-renowned surgeon. Sir Arthur was, according to his daughter, famously appointed to perform colostomy surgery on H.R.H. the Queen Mother. I gasped when I read this: It seemed a bit like allowing Gary Busey or Jeff Conaway to operate on the old gal.

Why are Mr. Busey and Mr. Conaway so top of mind? Could it be that I have spent a little too much time this fall glued to Celebrity Rehab? O.K., I admit it, I am totally addicted, and counting the days to Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Addiction Special on VH1, Sunday, Dec. 21, at 10 a.m. In fact, even though nobody has asked my opinion, I nominate this program for my must-watch holiday TV selection.

Happy New Year to all y’all, especially to Tara Reid, who, according to published reports, will be spending the holidays drying out at Promises. Join me in sending out a message of hope to Tara, won’t you?

Bottoms up!

sdoonan@observer.com