ARS CONVERSATIONIS

The Art of Conversation
Or
Courtesy & The WordBucket©

The following is yet another submission by my dear friend and colleague, Anne Thrope.  If I myself do not contribute anything soon, she may supersede me as the primary writer of this Blogue, whereupon shall I become little less than a guest contributor on the grounds of my own proprietorship.  Nevertheless, we humbly submit for your approval a discussion on The Art Of Conversation.

“…it was one of those conversations where you sort of wish you’d been paying attention from the beginning, but you never expected it to be interesting.”  This was my boss speaking.  We’re usually on the same page, which is why I didn’t feel too badly about missing the front end of this particular story.  It did raise an interesting question, however.  Namely, how does one deal with stories in which one is not particularly interested?  One way, it seems, is to zone out and hope it never goes anywhere of consequence.  A bit cynical, perhaps, but practical.  I do this sometimes as well.  Although, in so doing, I rely heavily on my WordBucket©.1

What it comes down to, friends, is Courtesy.  Allow me to anticipate your objection.  You might argue that Courtesy is not tricking your interlocutor into believing that you are paying attention when in fact you are doing quite the opposite, but that Courtesy is, contra-wise, actually paying attention.  I shall parry this thrust by counter-suggesting that perhaps Courtesy means not telling frightfully dull stories.  Or perhaps Courtesy is having the observational wherewithal to be able to deduce when your audience is being frightfully dullified on your account.  I suggest, ever so humbly, that if you are going to tell a story, you have a responsibility not to be paint-dryingly, grass-growingly, Jane-Austenly boring.  That, people, is what it means to be Courteous.  If you should fail in this, well, you live me little choice but to reciprocate by not paying attention, WordBucket at the ready.

If this all seems a bit rude, take heart, for there is another way.  At least, sometimes.  The Zone-Out method would seem to work in almost any situation.  However, I’ve found a peculiar way of dealing with boring conversations which I myself have accidentally initiated.  Yes, accidentally initiated.  You may fairly wonder at that.  But be honest.  We’ve all done it.  We’ve all asked a question of someone and immediately regretted the asking of it.  No sooner have the words escaped your ἕρκοϲ ὀδόντων2 than you exhale sharply, perhaps pinching the bridge of your nose, and realize you must now settle in for a long-winded answer about something you only care about, at best, peripherally.  All because you asked a question to seem polite, out of “Courtesy.”

Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I don’t know about you, but if I make a mistake, I’m big enough to own up to it.  Suppose, for example, I’m talking to a successful attorney at a party.  And suppose this attorney happens to be somewhat dull, but here I am stuck talking to her anyway.  Suppose further, in realizing that she works for one of the major firms in the city, I say something stupid.  Something like, “Oh, do you work on any interesting cases?  I saw in the paper that your firm is representing Such-&-Such construction company in that major fraud case.”  And she starts in with something like, “Well, actually, I don’t do litigation.  I’m in Corporate.  Mergers and Acquisitions.  We work out the details of the contracts.  It’s our job to make sure, blah, blah blah…”.  At which point, I can’t.  I mean, I just can’t.  The Catonically3 boring madness must be stopped.  And since It’s my fault she got started on it in the first place, it’s my responsibility to end it.  And that’s just what I do.  “Excuse me,” I interrupt on-delicate-wise.  “I’m terribly sorry.  Don’t get me wrong, this is my fault.  After all, I asked you.  However, I’m realizing now that I don’t care.  Like, at all.  So please stop.  I never should have asked in the first place.  I was trying to be polite when I should rather have left well enough alone.  Again, I’m sorry.”  At which point, I’ve found it’s best not to give the poor girl a chance to respond, but instead to beat a hasty retreat.4  And possibly to mutter something about going to get another drink.5

No doubt certain people will find this approach charming.  No, wait.  Not charming.  What’s the word?  What did mother always say?  “Anne, dear, you mustn’t be so…so…r-r-radiant?”  No.  “Anne, dear, you mustn’t be so…r-r-rascally?”  No, that was Elmer-r-r…ude!  “Anne, dear, you mustn’t be so RUDE!”  Ah, yes.  Mother dearest.  Heart of gold, that woman, but not much of a sense of humor.  In any case, no doubt certain people will find the above approach rude.  But really, I’m just trying to do the right thing.  I mean, I’m sure the (entirely) fictional attorney in the above scenario no more wants to bore me than I myself wish to be bored.  After all, perhaps there is somebody at this party that would like to know just what it is she gets up to at work.  And the sooner she is able to determine that that person is not me, the sooner she can go about finding this…curiosity.  Likewise, the sooner I can go about finding more gin.  Whereupon do we all continue about our own peculiar merriments.  And if this be not Courtesy, I know not what is.6

Ms. Thrope is a frequent contributrix to dokeimoi.net.  Her critique of Subway etiquette, entitled Let The People Out First! did not appear in the Atlantic Monthly.  Additionally, she does not teach a class called How to Succeed in Polite Society at the 92nd St. Y.  Ms. Thrope has red hair and lives in New York City.  Alone.

  1.  The WordBucket is a mental contraption that I’ve knocked together which allows me to subconsciously track the most recent portion of any conversation.  Imagine a bucket with a hole in the bottom.  As a person speaks, their words fall into the bucket.  As the person continues to speak, the older words fall out through the hole and new words pile in on top, so that the most recent 20 or so words are always swirling around in there.  The thing is, I have no idea what’s in the bucket until I reach in and grab them.  It works like this.  Somebody suspects I’m not paying attention (guilty-as-charged) and says “Are you even listening to me?,” loudly enough to jar me from my own more interesting thoughts.  “Of course!,” I reply beïnjuredly.  Whereupon do I stare into the distance and focus my mental powers as I reach into the word bucket, mindlessly reciting back the last 20 or so words this other party has said. Whereupon do they continue besatisfied. []
  2.  Cf. the previous post “On Dumplings,” n.4 []
  3. Seriously, have you ever read Cato’s De Agri Cultura?  There is nothing more boring. []
  4. I think it was Douglas Adams who said, “if discretion is the better part of valour, than cowardice is the better part of discretion.”  And if he didn’t, he certainly should have done. []
  5. If it should happen that my glass is not empty, I’ll down whatever I’ve got to make the drink-getting portion of the excuse more plausible.  (Cf. Courtesy). []
  6. I don’t.  Or do I? []

On Dumplings

Owing to a Master’s Thesis which devoured most of my writing energies for the year, I’ve not been able to maintain this blogue1 with the sort of frequency one might desire.  However, I’ve been able to reel in my old friend Anne Thrope to do a little piece for me.  “Anne,” quoth I, “would you mind terribly knocking together a little something for my blogue?”  “Sure,” quoth she.  “What did you have in mind?  Another rant?”  “I should be delighted,” quoth I.  What follows is that rant…

Let me start by saying that I love dumplings.  I love dumplings.  Love ‘em.  Five for a dollar at Prosperity.  It’s got to be the best deal in town.  I mean, where can you get five of anything for a buck?  Let alone anything as good as a dumpling.  So what if the guy behind the counter hasn’t smiled since General Chennault was in China with the Flying Tigers?  So what if the place is nothing more than a 4×4 holding cell for hungry Chinese, idiot hipsters, tourists who obviously know somebody who sent them there because honestly you could never find this place on your own if you didn’t live here, screaming children, pushy Chinese, this one sketchy photographer dude in a leather jacket that I see from time to time and I’m pretty sure is kind of a dick (unless he reads this, in which case, hey what’s up), and pushy hungry screaming Chinese children.  Obviously this little 4×4 dumpling play pen doesn’t hold all these folks at once.  That’s what the line out the door is for.  Or, alternatively, why you try to go at not-quite-lunchtime.  So you get your five-for-a-dollar, hit it with some sriracha and soy sauce, and get the hell out of that claustrophobophoric fox-hole and enjoy your glorious dumplings in peace.  Or you get your sesame pancake.  I mean, they look great, but they clock in at what, $1.25? $1.50?  I’m not made of money.  The point is, I love the classic dumpling.

Also the soup dumpling.  I’m assuming you know what a soup dumpling is.  This may be an error, as I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had to explain this to.  I try to tell them, “Ok, picture the greatest thing ever.  Now imagine it’s a dumpling.  Now imagine it just had an orgasm in your mouth.  Now imagine that your mouth had a return orgasm all over it.”  Gross, right?  No!  Because it’s a dumpling. (Dumpling!).  With soup inside it.  (Soup!).   I mean, I’m ready to put the soup dumpling forward as proof of the existence of god.  You want to teach creationism?  Go right ahead, provided you use the soup dumpling as your sole example of why there has to be a god.  Because things like this don’t happen by accident.  We can explain the creation of the earth and the moon and the sun with physics.  And evolution is totally fine.  But you don’t get the soup dumpling without divine intervention.  It just doesn’t happen.  Because if mankind were actually capable of this kind of genius, we’d have figured out how to stop having Republicans who keep thinking it’s a good idea to use the word “rape” in any context whatsoever.  Or wars.  Whatever.  Anyway, the soup dumpling.  A cheap treasure.  You can find them at Joe’s Shanghai among other places.  They cost something on the order of six for eight bucks, give or take.  People, this is a small price to pay to make out with god.

And then, This.  My friends, the dumpling has gone Artisan.  Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με έγκατέλιπεϲ;2 You see, this is why we can’t have nice things.  Hipsters will eventually ruin everything.  First they came for Cheese.  But I’m lactose intolerant, so I didn’t say anything.  Then they came for Beer.3  But I prefer whiskey, so I kept my head down.  And now they’ve come for the Dumpling.  And who is left to speak out?  Look, I don’t mean to be hysterical.  Artisan dumpling establishments are not going to put the five-for-a-buck Chinatown shops out of business.  It’s just that, well, can’t I enjoy my cheap dumplings in peace?  Does a “pretzel dumpling” really need to be a thing?  Not that it’s not nice.  I’m sure it’s nice.  But it’s this sort of cavalier attitude that will spawn hundreds, if not thousands, of hipsters who are now going to talk like they “know” all about dumplings.  Hipsters, you do not “know” all about dumplings.  Oh, but you know how to be pretentious about them, don’t you?  And now it’s only a matter of time until I’m standing on line at Prosperity and will be forced to endure overhearing the hipsterical pontification about how these dumplings are the greatest hidden treasure because they’re so cheap (and I’ll be godsdamned if the word “authentic” doesn’t pass your ἕρκοϲ ὀδόντων),4 but ohmigod have you had the pretzel dumplings!?”  Ohmigod, shut the fuck up.  Please.  Pretty please, with a slice of orange on top.

Miss Thrope is the author of many unpublished works, including the hardly known “I Don’t Care What You Did Last Summer,” and the will have been posthumous classic “Die, You Bastard: A Love Story.”  She does not have a small dog which is the size of a large rat that she carries in a purse.  And even if she did have such a dog, she would still not carry it in her purse.  I mean, seriously.  She lives in New York City.  Alone.

  1. I’ve frankified the spelling of the word “blog” in an effort to make it seem more erudite []
  2. My god my god, why have you forsaken me? – Matthew, 27:46.  And yes, I had to look that up.  Also, and I’m not a biblical scholar and I don’t deal in koine Greek, but notice the lack of elision on “με.”  “ἐγκατέλιπεϲ” is a natural adonic which gives the line a literally epic close.  Yet the rhythm, at least to my Homerically trained eye, is derailed by the lack of elision in the preceding word.  So as a Jew, I feel comfortable saying that the real shame here is not the crucifixion of Jesus, but the crucifixion of epic rhythmical figures.  But I guess it’s only a matter of time before King James gets his hands on it anyway.  So whatever.  But, whither dumplings? []
  3. Don’t get me started. []
  4. “The wall of your teeth,” a Homeric formulaic figure, often used to express the idea of, “What the fuck did you just say?” []

SPELLING (GET OVER IT)

There’s nothing quite like watching my friend Anne Thrope go off on a rant about something that really irritates her (which, fortunately for me, happens to be most things).  She was kind enough to write one of those rants down for me, and I here submit it for your reading pleasure.  I’m not sure I agree with her, but it’s an interesting ride, to say the least.

 AN OPEN LETTER TO PEOPLE WHO ARE UPTIGHT ABOUT SPELLING

Dear Friend,

R u uptite about sp3lling?  Duz it bothr u wen p33ple mess about with ure well-manicured universe of 26 letters arranjed just-so?  My friend, I repsektfully submit to you that it iz time you got over ureself.

What is the source of this rant, you may ask?  Very well, I shall tell you.  As a single 27 year old girl living in the big city, I decided to join a dating site.  Mostly on a lark.  But also on the internet.  And every now and then, I’ll get an email from some no-doubt witty young fellow addressed to “hey pretty ladi,” or “sup grrl” or some other such nonsense.  At first, I paid this no mind.  But several of my lady friends, who are also on this dating site, would complain of this.  In most whinesome tones, I might add.  One day at a happy hour1 my girlfriend asked me if I ever received a correspondence addressing me as “Ladi” and isn’t that obnoxious.  Well of course I had.  And naturally I suggested that this was perhaps a very clever subliminal message on the sender’s part, as “ladi” is obviously an anagram of “laid.”

Friend: Hmm, maybe.  Wait.  What’s an anagram again?

Me: Waiter, another Bellini please.

Waiter: But miss, you haven’t finished –

He didn’t bother to complete his thought as I managed to drink my entire (2nd) Bellini while he was registering his protest.  But the point is this.  You’d better believe that my friend now knows what an anagram is.  No, hang on.  That wasn’t the point.  The point was that it got me thinking about spelling, and why people are so hung up on it.

Now in her case, I think the answer is obvious.  She was making a character judgment based upon this poor fellow’s spelling.  People do this all the time, don’t they?  Whether judging an intentional idiomatic usage such as “grrl” or “ladi” and extrapolating a Jersey Shore lineage therefrom or noticing a failure to correctly differentiate homophones like their/there/they’re and concluding that the writer, however well intentioned, is demonstrably your social inferior, people will make character judgments based on spelling.  And it’s time to stop.  Like, now.

Because what is spelling, really?  It’s just the visual representation of sound.  Shadows dancing on the wall of the cave, my friend.  It could look like anything.  Hell, it does look like anything.  There are pictographic alphabets.  Weird triangle-y shit like cuneiform.  Asian characters, Norse runes, Semitic right-to-lefties, Roman left-to-righties, and so on and on and on.  And look, people can only make so many sounds.  So the whole thing is arbitrary to begin with.  Trick question hotshot.  Does the letter x look anything like the sound x?  Of course it doesn’t.  Because sounds don’t look like anything.  If they did, people would write about music instead of dancing about architecture.  Or something.  And anyway, x is a bullshit letter.  It’s a digraph.  It’s just ks for lazy people.

But let’s stick with alphabets for a second.  Because I’m going to suggest to you, my uptight friend, that you have a rather narrow and parochial view of your very own alphabet.  Alphabet.  Is that alpha-beta?  Is it aleph-bet?  Whatever it is, it’s just some super-evolved version of whatever the Phoenicians (or Phoinikians if you want to be pedantic – and the whole point here is that you apparently want to be pedantic) were peddling around the Mediterranean three thousand years ago whilst trading their red dye for olive oil and feta cheese or whatever the hell they were doing.  So you’re2 26 letter sing-song alphabet didn’t spring fully formed from the brow of Zeus.  Or anywhere else for that matter.  The Romans didn’t bother with j or v or w.  Those all came later when people started pronouncing things differently or couldn’t be bothered to figure out when i or u were meant to be consonants, or when they started hanging out with Germans and Saxons named Wilhelm and William and Waldorf and Wall-E.  And if we were really on our game, we probably should have bothered to make up new letters to fit the sounds of our Russian friends or our Chinese friends.  I mean, the fact that the West couldn’t figure whether to spell the name of China’s capital Peking or Beijing should say something about the adequacy of our alphabet in the global economy.

Hey!  Wake up!  Sorry to bore you, but it’s sort of to the point here.  Our alphabet has evolved.  So has the way we spell words.  Now look, if you want to be pedantic or a wise-guy, go ahead.  You can have lots of fun with spellings.  The editor of this site does it all the time.  And he’s both a pedant and a wise-guy.  I noticed a post or two ago that he dropped the phrase “inlegal inmigration” on us.  Now, for my money, that’s pretty slick.  Buy3 using the archaic Latin trick of unassimilating the prefixes, the natural but otherwise hidden alliteration is revealed.4 Or you could go all 18th century and spell economic as œconomic.  And of course if you want to be a real bastard about it, you’d spell it oikonomik.   But once you start doing that, the only person reading your bloggue5 is the crazy cat lady down the street who thinx6 that 9/11 was an inside job pulled off by a secret cabal within the state department whom she used to be convinced were Martians, but now realizes that due to a typographical error in her conspiracy-theory newsletter was actually just a bunch of guys all called Martin.

Ok, so maybe now you begin to get the idea that there are hundreds and even thousands of years of history behind the spellings of certain words.  And you can show off how much of that history you know by Hellenizing or Francifying or Latinizing or Anglicizing or whatever the hell you want to do.  But really nobody cares.  I promise you that much.  In fact, if they themselves are ignorant of this history, then they’re likely to look at your unorthodox spelling and think you’re either an idiot or…well, they’ll probably just think you’re an idiot.

But this is all backward looking navel gazing.  It’s academic.  It’s pedantic.  And it’s really only cut for dinner parties.  The kind of dinner parties nobody likes going to because they just know they’re going into run into you and have to hear all about how the English word work is obviously derived from the German werk, itself obviously an Indo-European cognate with the Greek ergon, which originally started with a w sound, but of course Greek lost the digamma rather early on and…NOBODY LIKES YOU!

So instead of looking backwards, let’s look forward.  Because let’s face it, that’s really where your problem is, isn’t it?  You just hate when you get a text message asking “what time u get off wrk,” don’t you?  What’s wrong with this?  No, tell me.  Please, I’m dying to know.  It’s efficient.  It’s utilitarian.  It is, or at least was at its inception, vaguely clever.  And it’s tweet-friendly.  So what then?  Does it just reek of a certain lack of effort?  Do you read it and just think to yourself, “this punk couldn’t be bothered to spell out the word you, why on Earth would I ever want to bear his children?”  Or maybe you tolerate that sort of shorthand in text messages where each extra thumb action might mean another day of arthritis later on, but when it comes to email and your real life QWERTY keyboard you demand a higher level.  Because email now is apparently the last bastion of class and culture in our mile-a-minute-and-anyway-it’s-only-a-matter-of-time-before-they-stop-delivering-mail-on-Saturdays society.  So the least you could do is spell out Y-O-U!

Just a minute ago I said u for you might have been clever.  And that’s where the beauty of this stuff is, if you want to take the time to notice it.  Like I said before, spelling – particularly in English – is arbitrary insofar as there are multiple ways to represent the same sounds.  To the extent that spellings are fixed and codified, you’re really just running up against historical weight and inertia.7  I’ve got this friend who works with computers.  Bright guy.  Deals with Indians a lot.  And these Indians speak a rather heavily accented English.  For example, the pronounce the word we as vee.  So what do they do?  You guessed it.  They spell the word we simply as v.  I think that’s brilliant.  I mean, it only makes sense in a very narrow context, but within that context it’s perfect.   A single letter carries all the phonetic information you need.  So what if that phonetic information is technically wrong?  So what if an outsider couldn’t piece it together?  It perfectly represents the usage.  What more can you really ask for from writing?  Spelling should be unambiguous and representative of the way people speak.  Unless your French.  Then apparently you could give fuck all about the relationship between the way you spell you words and the way you speak them.  But they make nice bread, so we’ll give them a pass.

Let me put it another way.  Do you work for your alphabet or does our alphabet work for you?  I can tell you that my alphabet works for me.  It does my bidding.  Sometimes I look backwards with my spellings.  I like to find connexions between words and times and cultures.  Sometimes I look forward.  I tweet.  Characters in a tweet are like Manhattan real-estate.  There’s never enough, but if you think outside-the-boxily you can do some really clever things in very small spaces.8

And context matters.  Let’s go back to homophones for a second.  Have a look at there and their.  More than one of my friends has written into their her dating profile something to the effect of “if you don’t know the difference between their/there/they’re, don’t bother contacting me.”  Now maybe I’m just thick.  But what’s the problem?  Is a failure to differentiate between these a character flaw?  I’m going to put aside they’re for a moment, because it’s a contraction and so is really two words.  Their is a possessive adjective (or pronoun) and there is a preposition.  Ten times out of ten, context will make clear which is intended.  So why not spell them both there.  Or their.  Probably somewhere along the line they were pronounced differently.  And they probably have their own unique orthographic histories.  Now personally, I don’t know anything about Germanic historical linguistics.  And I bet you don’t either.  So I doubt you’re getting upset about somebody trouncing on 1500 years of history by using the wrong spelling.  So then what is it?  I’m dying to know.  One is “right” and one is “wrong” and woe betide the idiot that missed that day in school?  I think – I hope – there are more important things out there.  Certainly more important traits in a human being you would consider dating.  For instance, does the bastard chew gum with his mouth open?  I don’t care if he’s godsdamn Nobel fucking laureate.  Close your mouth or move along, pal.

Has this little rant changed anybody’s mind?  Probably not.  Do you walk away thinking Anne’s a real bitch?  Not my problem.  All I’m saying is, open your mind a little.  Ask yourself who gets to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.  How long has something been right?  Where might it come from?  Where might it be going?  Go listen to recording from the 1940’s.  The way people talk sounds a little funny to our ears, doesn’t it?  And that’s only 70 years ago.  That’s living memory, and people are pronouncing things differently.  Now go look at a page of Chaucer.  That tells you something about how things were pronounced in his time.  Can you imagine how people will sound in two hundred years?  I can’t, but I’ll bet you ten thousand dollars of Mitt Romney’s money that they’ll sound different.  And they’ll probably spell differently to.  So go ahead and try to lock down whatever “rules” you learned in school.  But bring a towel.  Because you, my friend, are spitting in the wind.

Luv,
Anne

Miss Thrope is the author of several books including Please Lower Your Voice, which was not reviewed by the New York Times Review of Books, although an excerpt did not appear in the New Yorker.  She lives in New York City and is, surprisingly, still single.

  1. Happy hour is whatever hour I am drinking; though it may coincide with after work drinks at a discounted rate, one really has nothing to do with the other.  So it’s entirely possible that this conversation took place at 11am on a Sunday over Bellinis.  If that’s not a happy hour(s), I don’t know what is. []
  2. Ha! []
  3. Ha! []
  4. Also for my money, he needs to get out more. []
  5. The word blog is actually an anglicized spelling of the French bloggue.  Not a lot of people know that.  Ok, of course it’s not.  But by noodling with the spelling a bit, you can totally make up faux histories for words! []
  6. Well, why not? []
  7. And classism, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. []
  8. Also, they probably have air rights.  Once we get 3-D smart phones, hopefully we’ll be able to tweet up off the screen.  Imagine whole skyscrapers of mindless thoughts piling up out of the phone.  It’s all about light and air, people.  Light and air. []

IN SANCTVM SECRETVM NICOLAUM (Against Secret Santa)

**Owing to a particularly busy schedule, this week I have asked a friend of mine to provide a guest post.  Below, Anne Thrope offers some thoughts on holiday cheer at the office. If she should seem a touch excitable at times, we beg you indulge her. We hope you find her ruminations not unworthwhile.

Let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t care about your “War on Christmas.”  Let’s get another thing straight.  I also don’t care about your Christmas either.  I am, however, a fierce partisan in the war of “Can’t You Just Leave me the Fuck Alone?”  Look, I don’t mind caroling.  I don’t mind it because at 27 years old I’m perfectly capable of putting my headphones on.  Or earbuds in.  Whatever.  It doesn’t bother me if you want to dress like a hipster Santa Claus or a slutty Mrs. Claus.  I grew up in the East Village back when you could still get crack with your bagel in the morning.  I’m used to people who dress like idiots.

At least she’s wearing a hat. So I’m sure her mother approves.

Reindeer aren’t locally raised, so Hipsters can’t drive them.

My problem is when your holiday spirit invades my workplace.  For starters, I work in an office.  Sterile isn’t the word for it.  Soulless, maybe.  And probably degrading.  Look, you remember what Sarah Palin said?  No, not that one.  The one about lipstick on a pig.  That’s what your little dinky lights around your desk are.  And your holiday cards on your cubicle wall.  My god, man, you’re just gilding the cage.  If you really want to help somebody, bake some tree shaped cookies and sprinkle them with green sugar.  Or arsenic.  Whichever.

I’ll tell you what, though.  I can even take the lights and the cards and the obnoxiously shaped cookies.  I mean, I don’t have to sit at your desk.  And by the grace of whatever god you’re praying to this holiday, they let me wear headphones at mine.  So I can tune you out, you and your confabulated holiday cheer.

You must understand, the great war of Can’t You Just Leave me the Fuck Alone is not a war of aggression.  We have no lust for new lands, no desire for power.  It is strictly a defensive engagement.  We wish only to keep you behind your own borders while we sit ensconced in our grey little bunker.  Ah, but what is this?  In the spirit of the holidays you send an embassy?  Waving a white flag?  Well, it has been a long war, and we are tired.  If you believe we have something to talk about, do come in.  Yes, we ask that you leave your arms at the gate.  Check your goddamn Santa hat with the corporal.  It’s not that we don’t trust you.  It’s more that we don’t much like you.  Nothing personal, you understand.

What is that in your hand?  Ah, you bring us terms.  Sit, sit.  Please.  Would you join us in a glass of rum?  No, I’m afraid we don’t have any milk in the bunker.  Oh, yes, we do have eggnog.  Here, let me just pour your rum into that.  Now then, what is it you wish to discuss?

Embassy: Oh, I’m so glad you allowed us in to speak with you!  You know, we’ve worked together for over a year, but we hardly ever chat.

Anne Thrope: Yes…

Em: Well, oh and first of all, happy holid – are you quite alright?

AT: Yes, child.  Just cracking my neck.  Do go on.

Let the good times roll, baby!

Em: Umm, yes.  Well.  So I was thinking.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we started a Secret Santa around the office.  You know, nothing much.  Maybe five or ten dollars.  I was just thinking that would really lighten things up around here.  I mean, as I’m sure you know, nobody’s gotten a raise in this company since the Carter administration, and I think it would really make a difference to a lot of people if they got a little something from a coworker.  And of course, as I said, it needn’t cost much.  After all, it’s the thought that counts, right?

AT: *pinching the bridge of my nose while you smile like a madwoman.

Em: So can I count you in?

AT: Look, I…<sigh>…is everybody doing this?

Em: Well, I was going to send out a mass mail this afternoon.  But I thought if I could get a couple of people down for certain, that would make it easier.

AT: And you came to me first becau – <sigh> – this means rather a lot to you, does it?

Em: Oh, I wouldn’t say that.  I just think it’d be super fun!

AT: I see.  (Turning to an aide).  Leftenant, bring me another bottle of rum, will you?

L: But sir, you’ve had half a bottle just in the 15 minutes since the embassy arriv –

AT: Bring the damn bottle, soldier!  On the double!  That’s on order.

There’s a reason we promoted young Morgan to captain.

 

L: Yes, sir.  Right away, sir.

So I finished my rum and agreed to her terms.  What else could I do?  I may be a bitch, but it’s not in my nature to completely disregard people who mean well.  And if there’s one thing you could say about this cheerful bobbing mass of inane smiles it’s that she’s damned annoying.  But I suppose she means well.  And anyway, what’s five dollars?  (I assume she was kidding about the ten-spot).

Now just because I’m going to participate doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.  In fact, I’m going to hate it.  Every step of the way.  Because that will teach her a lesson.  Surely.  But I have two major problems with all of this.  The sort of problems that I’d confess to you over a pint at happy hour if we worked together.  (Alternatively, if we worked together, we would not be going for happy hour).

First, I resent feeling coerced.  And make no mistake, “friend,” this was an act of coercion.  You corner me and ask me to participate in some action which you assure me will have as its issue the improved morale of my colleagues.  Wherefore the only thing more inconvenient to me than engaging in this ritual is meeting with your looks of disapproval for the next several weeks and the passive aggressive barbs which shall surely be slung in my general direction when you arrive at your next bright idea of chipping in for so-&-so’s birthday.  Ah, I can see the email now.  “Julia over in accounting [ed. Not even our department!] is turning 31.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all chipped in for this [ed. meaningless] anniversary of her birth and got her a gift card to the Disney Store?  Of course, don’t feel obligated.  While it’s only five or ten dollars, I know some people can feel put out by this, and that’s the last thing I want…ANNE!”  Hey, honey, go play in traffic.

Ok, he’s kinda cute.

So yeah, I’ll throw down a fiver to get out of that email.  But I’m also annoyed by the whole Secret Santa thing as a practical matter.  Let’s be honest.  Five bucks barely buys you a round trip on the subway these days.  And what’s worse, you’re not even going to give me a five dollar metro card, i.e. something I could actually use.  Instead I have to look forward to some trinket, some gewgaw, some knick-nack (paddy-whack, can’t I just go home?), that a) I have no use for and b) I’ll feel guilty about throwing away because some poor sap put the intellectual equivalent of five bucks worth of thought into it.  This leaves me with two choices.  Establish said bauble on my desk whence it shall be as a font of astonishingly dull small-talk.  Or else take it home to my shoe-box sized New York City apartment whereupon shall it add to the overall clutter of the place, and make it that much harder to realize my dream of just once getting the whole joint cleaned up, if even for a day.

Oh, and here’s a question.  Who the hell appointed you ambassador from the North Pole anyway?  No, really.  How does one arrive at the conclusion that they ought to self-anoint themselves as Grand Marshall of Secret Santa Ceremonies?  Does one look around and see in the faces of their coworkers a latent desire to join in such a ritual, if only some brave soul would be the first to ask?  I think I know what you see in their faces, friend.  These are beaten men and women.  Worn down by corporate directives and politically correct goodthinkfulness, they just want to earn their paychecks and get home to their families.  (Or bottles.  I’m just saying).  Can’t you let them slave away in silent dignity, dead to the world around them?

In the end, you’ve succeeded in breached my bunker.  You’ve snookered me into your little rite, shanghaied me with your deceptively friendly holiday wiles.  The least you could do is bake some cookies.  And I mean real, nice, gooey chocolate chip cookies.  Not those blasted flavorless sugar cookies whose only redeeming quality are their “fun holiday shapes.”  And so I say, Merry Christmas to all, and to all…can’t you just leave me the fuck alone?  Cheers.

**Miss Thrope is a regular contributor to The Cynic, where she frequently disapproves of most things.  Her most recent book, Seriously?  Could you walk any slower?, did not appear on the New York Times best seller list.  She lives in New York City.  Alone.