for 18 December 1996. Updated every WEDNESDAY.



Trying to navigate that office Christmas party without getting into a bind? Just be sure to avoid these characters, and all will be divine.



He's quiet, stutters a lot, and he smells funny - which would be fine, except that once you talk to him, he never, ever goes away. You walk across the room, he's there with you - no matter that you just met him. Don't meet him.




He just loves to tell a joke, and can't stop telling them, even though he's about as funny as a bowl of clam dip and not nearly as tasty. Favorite jokes include meandering stories that hinge on one stupid wisecrack, embarrassingly sexual topics with no point, and painfully bad puns. Get stuck with this guy and you'll be faking laughter or repeating "that's funny" with as much conviction as you can muster, while feeling alternately violent, embarrassed, or so sorry for the guy you can hardly stand it - which only makes escape that much more difficult.




Some hotshot in the office invited her to the party last night five minutes after they met in a bar. He's off networking with the bigwigs; she's smiling nervously at your elbow, just because you made the mistake of politely introducing yourself. Not only can you forget conversation - she has less than nothing to say, and in fact, doesn't speak English - but you can also kiss those dreams of holiday romance goodbye, since those women in black think The Date is your date - and she is, essentially, but with none of the taste, all of the guilt.




You're having a perfectly normal conversation, and she brings up some morbid topic that not only interrupts your train of thought, but leaves you socially paralyzed for the rest of the night. Avoid this one like the plague or suffer the consequences.




Within a few seconds of your introduction, he explains that the only reason he's having problems in his marriage is because his mother never held him when he was a child. Say something light and move on, or you're in for a myriad of imagined hurdles, psychosocial challenges, and mind-bogglingly dull issues, including his fear of being ruthlessly abandoned at a party, all told in a chafingly dramatic tone of voice that would put Hamlet to shame.




All this person does is moan and gripe about how much the party sucks and how utterly full of shit everyone in attendance is. If it's not the runny salmon mousse, it's the band; if it's not the band, it's the woman with the gold jewelry who keeps flipping her hair and referring to men as "boys." Forget having a good time once one of these assholes is within earshot - everything you'd otherwise enjoy rots upon contact with these crabby naysayers. Avoid them like the plague. Luckily, they're easy to identify...




Hungry and broke? Secure a few party invitations and eat like a king for free. Here's how!



Wear something inconspicuous, maybe black, and bring a large handbag.

Stand by the food table, behind a large plant, if possible. Begin eating whatever looks tasty and particularly perishable.

Whenever anyone comes up to the table, start a conversation with them, preferably about the trials of their love relationship or the challenges of their "industry." This will get their minds off the tremendous volumes of food you're snarfing down as every second passes.

When no one's looking, wrap any easily portable food into napkins, and stuff them in the handbag on your shoulder.
Good choices: cookies, crackers, shrimps with shells, large wheels of cheese.
Bad choices: guacamole, stuffed mushroom caps, fondue.

Claim to be fetching drinks for others, then guzzle them all yourself - OR - empty them into a large thermos for later.

Wait until the bartender wanders off, then snatch a few of those expensive bottles of champagne. Don't worry about the ice - you can make it yourself, at home, for free.

If you're at a party where all the food is being passed out on little trays, figure out where the kitchen is, then stand outside the door and apprehend each waiter when he or she comes out. Tell the waiter with the caviar-covered crostini that a friend across the room simply must taste these things, then find a dark corner and eat them at your leisure.



Mention how you haven't eaten in two days because you knew there'd be food at the party.

Follow around the ladies with trays and pick food off every time they turn their heads.

Enjoy those Stoli and fresh-squeezed orange juice screwdrivers so much that you lose track of how many you've had. Before you know it, you'll be pulling crackers out of your purse when the food runs out.



Oh, the conflicting thoughts and emotions this season brings! Witness this charming cross section of holiday life in Suckland...














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