We had the office party. Each part of the paper has its own, but no one will complain if you crash someone else’s. I mean, if the editor shows up, you don’t say huh, aren’t you guys upstairs having prime rib with thick white napkins and those special buns that have, like, some sort of powder on them? You can tell you're eatin' good when the buns are powdered. Probably a tradition that has its origin in stuff falling off the servant's wigs.

Once upon a time we all had the same party. Everyone got in line and went to the executive boardroom and got a slab of bloody cow and a spoonful of horseradish. The year we were bought by McClatchy we got hats and bags for workout gear; embroidered on each was the phrase “StarTribune A McClatchy company since 1997.”

As some people noted, it was actually 1997 at the time, so this wasn’t much of an accomplishment, but we were told it was sorta kinda a joke. Ha ha! And indeed it was; it was the beginning of our strife and trials, but that’s not important now. Prime rib’s over, is what I’m saying, but I don't miss it. It's not as if a spoonful of horseradish made the layoffs go down.

So each department has its own thing, and I had to bring something. I brought Seven-Layer Bars, the only thing with coconut I like. It's not the flavor I don't like, but the texture. It's like wax hair. The table of meaty things was small; a few salads. Some sausage that looked artisanal and coarse. HUGE table of desserts. One of my co-workers has a reputation for just saying F it, I’m bringing a pizza, and sure enough, there it was: a white cardboard box with a huge fresh thin pizza.

From downstairs! Ah, downstairs pizza. I know it well, except the name. It's just downstairs pizza. Tthere are two food vendors in our building. One is Au Bon Pain - "Gently elevating your expectations and missing the mark only slightly for over 35 years" - and then Downstairs Pizza, which has about 35 varieties every day. Slices as thin as the features section of our competing newspaper.

Is that cruel? Probably. Sorry. I used to work there, but the goal was always to get to the big sheet in the big town. For a while I was totally, completely, a PPD guy, screw the man, hail the upstart, the scrappy underdog - and we had some sharp people and a sense of mission and we did interesting things. It was a marvelous time of my life, but that paper is gone.

So I’m standing around with people who include my old editor from the PPD; she also made it out alive. Discussing cruise ships and tolerance and bourbons and things with co-workers, because these subjects usually don’t come up. That’s the fun of holiday parties. That, plus desserts. There’s a box of cupcakes. Untouched.

“Those,” I say, “Are a commitment.”

The person who brought them says yes they are. Someone left them at her party the previous night. No one ate them. They look delicious, but they’re big with frosting and caramel ribbons and you think: I eat that, I cannot possibly justify any other desserts, even within the capacious parameters of Holiday Party confection consumption.

Everyone ate a little salad and a lot of dessert.

Here’s the thing: I went downstairs a while later - I should said downstairs downstairs, since Downstairs Pizza is on the skyway level, and downstairs downstairs is the ground floor with the fire pit, coffee shop, atrium, and so on. There was a holiday celebration for building tenants. As I’ve mentioned before, our building has a culture, and its enemy is the cattywhompus 333 Building. They have a lawn, and games, and sofas outside - but fat lot of good that does them in the winter, eh? They even admit it:

"Is here for a while" says the next sign. "So dress in layers / And enjoy it in Style."

Okay. Yeah. Sure. Well, they have LED lights in their lobby that turn red and green, and we have a chilly charmless atrium that was once called a Winter Garden before the plants died. Now there are events, including Farmers Markets and such, and on this day it was just one dessert table after the other around the massive Christmas Tree, with free coffee from the pretentious lobby coffee place. Long ines of people waiting to get small portions of sugar in exquisite containers. Incredible.

So the number of desserts I declined on this day was probably something like, oh, 27. But I did swing by the table in our dining area to take something home. Someone brought some pre-packaged bars in foil, which is one step below my offering of grocery-store bars. I took one.

Okay I took TWO. If there’d been a pile of pre-packaged bars at 3 PM I would've taken 3. If it had been 1:01 PM I would have confined myself to one. At 1:30 with no one around, and the pulled pork in the crockpot ignored and baking out all its moisture and no one involved in any sort of social intercourse, I think I was justified in taking two.

When I was taking the two pre-wrapped foil bars - OKAY I TOOK THREE - the boss editor of the paper wandered over to see what was available. To him I owe a great debt. He’s a capital fellow. He’s a newspaperman in the traditional and modern senses of the word, and I have boundless respect BUT for heaven’s sake, his choices:

“Yes, take the sugar cookie with the green frosting and sprinkles,” I bark, “because you’re not going to find that anywhere else.”

I was thinking, you know, I’m standing in a skyscraper with good coffee and whiskey cake. I write what I want. I can give my boss grief. I like who I’m with. When I leave here I will like where I’m going.

It's good to remind yourself of such things now and then, and chastise yourself for not thinking of them always. Well, not always. You have to think about other things to have a well-balanced perspective.

Downstairs pizza, for example, isn't that great.

This feature will have a surprising conclusion. Trust me. We begin with a masterpiece of convenience: the jigger is built right in to the bottle, AND it's a candleholder!

I fear I've shown this to you before - it was an entry in last Christmas' December Product feature. Well, here it is again. Deal. Note that it says the decanter was designed by Walter Landor. The average reader might not have known who that was. The New Yorker reader might have pretended that he did. Or they just were content to know the bottle was designed.

Was it ever:







Well, we need a holiday show, and I'm not in the mood for any Christmas movies yet. I like to watch them on Christmas. Before that? No. So let's try something very old.

It's that type of TV that makes you think of tiny screens on Crosley units bolted up above the bar in the corner, everyone craining their neck to see the picture, someone complaining that they could be watching wrestling. SHUT UP, AL.

Who's our host?

A name synonymous with holiday hilarity! Or so it would be eventually, I guess.

The Bob Hope Christmas specials of the later years would be much beloved, because the people who watched them had experienced catastrophic humor-standard degredation, thanks to the enfeebling effect of laugh-track machines.

The producer of this one:

A choreographer with a long record. Hope walks out and not only flubs his first lines, he bombs.


No one knew what he meant.

Do you?

His guest is Bob Cummings . . .

They do a skit in which they are Santas for different classes of people: Bob C. works for Bergdorf Goodman, and is full of style and money . . .

. . . and Bob H. works for Macy's, where the brats are tough and come at you with a busted beer bottle. But before that:

Lily Pons, doing Opera! Because of course Christmas requires opera. There's also a dancer and a guy who plays the harp, because this is Classy Stuff. Final guest:

The very definition of a comedy killer. But let me rewind a bit. There's a bit where the two Bobs and a female actress play kids trying to figure out what's in a box.

Another test of your Cultural Literacy: it's December 1950. The song came out just a few months before. What was it?

So who got both questions right?

That'll do; here we go with the last Christmas week. You do notice that the big ugly ads are gone, right? My gift to you.



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