Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Then All at Once...

There's something to be said for dancing badly. If a party has music, dance music, and no one is dancing to it, either from shyness or because it is the kind of party at which dancing has not featured before, then a man dancing badly, so long as he doesn't dance alone, suggests that whatever embarrassment might yet be suffered, it will hardly compare to what is already on display. If the man dancing badly can induce not just the one, but a few kind souls to lessen his isolation, then the moment is won, other better dancers can be brought to the floor, couples even, and then... well then, it's just plain fun.

Our annual employee banquet this year was held not at some off-site location, but at the store. The economy being what it is, there was some doubt that this celebration would happen at all. We were wrong to doubt. I think that the Boss of Bosses frankly loves this party. I do not think he would willingly go without it, however hard the times. This is his Fezziwig moment. So much of what he does involves numbers, few of them pleasant, and the kind of difficult day to day operational planning that must sap the cheer of even the heartiest soul. I do not envy executives their responsibilities, anywhere. To be an executive in a bookstore must be specially impossible. On the one hand is accounting and on the other something very like chaos. Ours is not a rational business model. Yet the person in charge must give every appearance of being a rational man of business. It must be very difficult. So once a year, our CEO is granted the chance to hand out door-prizes, awards, flowers, to be the host rather than the boss, and he clearly relishes the opportunity. Retirees and board members, past and present are recognized. Time with the company is likewise, and we boast an amazing number of lifetime employees. Achievements are applauded, service rewarded, conviviality encouraged by an ample buffet and an open bar. And this year, the store itself was transformed into something very like a prom, with sparkling lights, tin foil stars, banquet tables and the like. The whole business seemed to me rather wonderfully heartfelt.

The complaint most common among those who choose not to attend is that the company can not afford to feed any but those actually employed and so spouses and families are not invited. This is regrettable, but considering the size of the company and the number of employees, it is understandable. And then there are those who simply do not choose to meet socially with coworkers in any but their own time, preferring to keep to the company of just their own friends, from the job and elsewhere. These I think make a mistake. Free food and drink is free food and drink. There's nothing to say one necessarily need be anything other than polite to the rest in line for the free food and drink. (Had I mentioned that already?) And finally there are those convinced that the atmosphere at such a gathering must be, by it's very nature and setting, stuffy. These last have some grounds for concern. It is not the easiest thing to cut loose in the company of those that sign one's paychecks, etc. And there can be an element of the distant family wedding to such things; folks from the branches known only by phone, elderly parties perched around the perimeter not always adding the most festive feeling to the proceedings, even the equivalent, here and there, to the embarrassingly tipsy uncle or two.

I do not drink much. At these company parties I do not drink at all. I simply don't feel the need and I drive to and from so it seems wisest to not. But this does not preclude the possibility, made entirely real this year, that I will rise to the occasion and play something of the fool. Remember the bad dancer I mentioned at the top? Well, that would be me. This year we had a DJ for the party, a jolly, stocky fellow, ironically named Jay, and we had an area cleared before him big enough to constitute a dance floor. Now I noted any number of otherwise dignified booksellers tapping their toes at their tables as the music was booming even as people came in. I saw quite a few shaking a hip in line for the beef tips and tiny baked red potatoes. And yet nobody went to the dance floor. Some of the younger women made a point of asking the DJ for particular songs, but even to these they did not dance. I am no dancer myself. I come from the kind of awkwardly stiff hipped Scots/Irish peasants that tend to dance only when called. We rather define the idea of the square. When I was, as the saying went, young and gay, I tended to travel in the company of excellent dancers, some of whom actually went on to perform professionally, and there is nothing so inhibiting as being hauled to the dance floor by such god-like youth and then shuffling painfully from left to right as one is danced around like a maypole. My solution then was to accept such drinks as were poured down me, put my glasses in my pocket and thus render myself all but blind, and then let loose, as best I could, with the kind of jerky jigging native to my people, if completely and hilariously ill suited to disco. My friends were too kind to laugh, or if and when they did, I couldn't see them anyway so no real hurt resulted. But now middle age is creeping in, and none too subtly, as more of me moves now unbidden than ever did when I tried. I still don't so much dance as... hop around, the full force of gravity more responsible than I am for whatever the resulting shimmy and shake.

No matter. With age comes a kind of foolish wisdom. I don't frankly give so much as a small damn anymore how I look or how I dance. To dance is to be fully, physically alive, without the necessity of either long-term emotional commitment or even the cost of a date. In short, it is fun! But not alone. One can be fickle as to one's partner, but dancing alone, unless one is Nijinsky, is just sad. So much as I was moved to cut a rug, it wasn't until dear little N., a lady from the New and Used Books Department with whom I usually only discuss French literature, proved more than happy to kick up her heels with me did, so far as I was concerned, the party start. Weirdly, our initial efforts actually won us some applause, I think more for the relief everyone felt in seeing someone, even if it was just me, doing something in response to the music other than shouting over it. And soon enough, a few brave young things joined us. Then I refused to accept the sadly Junior High feeling of the business a moment longer and sailed out among the general population to recruit volunteers. I was shameless. That is the true danger of the bad dancer at a party, he will insist that others share in the humiliation/good times. Some resisted me successfully, but more than a few yielded happily or not to my tugging. By the time I and a co conspirator managed to drag not only the comely head of the personnel department, but even the CEO out onto the floor with us, a cheer went up, not unlike the moment when the head of the family at a wedding is made to do the twist at the reception. It was deeply gratifying.

What I must have looked like out there, sweating and gamboling and clumsily attempting, first with this one, then with that, to do moves I only dimly remember from my painful nights at the disco more than a quarter of a century ago, I refuse to contemplate. Any, among the younger people, who found the sight of my fat ass shaking to the beat of Lady Gaga, either shockingly undignified or painfully funny are welcome to their blushes and giggles. It was fun, I tell you, genuinely, ridiculously fun. When those kids are my age they may have children of their own to embarrass. I have none to be spared. I answer only for myself, as not even Dear A. was present to witness my efforts and any of my friends who might have wished me away from the dance floor from the best of motives, misunderstood their friend if they thought for a moment I felt as foolish as I must have looked. Besides, nearly all the friends I had present were sooner or later dragged out there with me.

And a good deal of the rest of the evening, before and after the formal ceremonies, was then given up to dancing. Luckily enough, I remembered a fan I'd been given last summer and kept at the desk to keep me from melting in the heat. With this I managed to avoid an embolism between sets.

I can't speak for everyone there, but for myself, I must say I felt as though a good time was indeed had by all. I know I enjoyed the evening. I was still dancing when I walked to my car, and poor A., had he not already been in bed when I got home, might have been called on for at least a quick waltz when I sailed through the door. As the song says, "I could have danced all night," however badly.

Dignity be damned I say, get out there and drop it like it's hot. The chances to do so will be rarer than you think.

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