Holiday party food and foibles: grown-up edition

Sometimes I forget that I’m a grownup. I still feel like I’m only 21. Every now and then, something will remind me that I’m no longer the target audience for Ke$ha’s music. This week I had drinks with someone born in 1990. I get cranky about the music that’s popular—why is it all club music? KIDS THESE DAYS. Most of the time, I’d rather just stay home and read a book with a cold beer, instead of taking all that time to make myself look good enough to compete with the young whippersnappers when I go out.

But it’s not all dentures and rocking chairs. On Saturday night, I went with Charlie to his work holiday party. As an undergraduate, work parties were awkward affairs in the break room, with the background music of a jamming printer and someone mowing the lawn outside of the basement-level windows. We sat as far away from each other as possible to avoid accidentally bumping elbows or knees with someone, staying only long enough to be polite, eat a piece of cake, and get the hell out of there.

Even after I went off to the corporate world, our work Christmas party was held in the back room of a bowling alley. When we came in, we were ushered past the bar, the pool tables, and the bowling lanes, into a tiny, dark room with an apathetic woman tending bar in a stained white shirt. The party budget covered an open bar, some standard fried food, and unlimited cold pizza, but did not cover bowling or pool. Apparently the bowling lanes were just for show. As a fun alternative, we were all forced to sit on Santa’s lap and take photographs. My friends and I went to the bar afterward to forget what had just happened. It was a slight improvement over my previous work parties, but only in the way that a filling is an improvement over a root canal.

But, dear readers, getting older just means learning how to party more effectively. Charlie’s work party was no joke. It was disco themed, but I’m as bad at themes as I am at costumes, so I chose to ignore that and wore an open-backed top with enough cleavage to say that I’m fun but not so much that Charlie’s friends would think I was a hussy.

When we got to the party, we had to wait in line for a bouncer to let us in. A bouncer. That was my first clue that, even though this was held in their office building, this would not be a party in the fluorescent-lit break room with mediocre cake. No it would not. After we checked in and checked our coats, we went straight for the bar, which was already overflowing with pre-mixed drinks, beer, and wine. The building was full of women in short, sequined dresses and men in platform shoes. Tents were set up outside with strings of lights, couches with neon pillows around fire pits, and women in pink costumes handing out rave jewelry and candy. Charlie’s company clearly values their employees more than mine did.

And the food. Let me tell you about the food. In one room was Japanese, in another was fancy vegetable dishes, some sort of strange fish paste that looked like mashed potatoes, gourmet mac and cheese, meatballs, and many other fresh-made things that I was too wide-eyed to really notice. Some party regulars thought it was nothing special, but I was like a fucking country bumpkin at a five-star restaurant. I was mostly too anxious to eat. Food at social events like this always gives me so much anxiety. Why serve gigantic slabs of chicken without knives? Am I supposed to eat it with my fingers? How can I eat this macaroni and cheese with a fork while I’m also trying to carry my drink? Do I have anything in my teeth? Why is everyone else so much more graceful at this sort of thing than I am? In the end, I decided to avoid the potential for screwups entirely and save my appetite for the dessert tent.

Guys, you have never seen a dessert tent like this. It was set up like a set from Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory. Everything was edible. There was another bar serving champagne floats with lemon sorbet. Big pink lollipops hung from the ceiling. Charlie and I drunkenly cut the line for the chocolate fountain. I chose a cheesecake lollipop (a tiny piece of chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick) for the fountain, and was too impatient to let the chocolate harden, so I promptly dripped it all over my cleavage, arms, and feet. I found bits of chocolate on me all night long.

Each room had its own bar. Our work parties were all grown up. We closed out the night dancing to a band recreating all the bad pop songs in a room hung with disco balls where hired girls in afro wigs danced on tables. We’re not quite grown up yet.

Jill Kolongowski is a freelance writer and editor living in San Francisco. When she’s not cooking, running, or reading, she blogs at Follow her on Twitter at @jillkolongowski.

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