I’ve always had a reflexive opposition to connecting in a human way with the other people at my firm. Put it this way: one of my most vivid summer associate memories is the crippling existential terror that overcame me at the cocktail party the firm threw to welcome us. That evening, the voice inside my head started asking “Who are these people?” so loudly I was afraid it was actually audible. As a result, I adhere to a policy of diligent avoidance when it comes to non-essential extracurricular social contact with partners, associates and staff. So I was pretty surprised a couple of months ago when I received a wedding invitation from this litigation paralegal that I work with all the time. I shoved the invitation into a junk drawer and made a mental note to remember to send my regrets before the RSVP date. But of course I forgot. Thanks to my rude forgetfulness, the paralegal was forced to ask me to my face if I was attending. I was so startled and embarrassed that I broke my own rule and said yes.
Obviously, I was not at all excited about this wedding. I mean, this paralegal is pretty freaking weird. I have no idea how old she is (she’s one of those whose looks and personality present equally-strong indications that she could be either 23 or 43 years old), and she gives off a really potent “I’d rather be at a Renaissance Festival” vibe.
The wedding was this past Saturday, and all signs were pointing to a night that would fall somewhere on the spectrum between uncomfortably strange and surreal freak show. The other firm folk who would be attending included a young, nerdy litigation partner (I sometimes call him Extremely Slow and Terribly Close due to his conversational tendencies) who tries way too hard to come off as cool, rich and sophisticated, along with his histrionic wife (whose personality fluctuates between silent and mean, depending on how fat she feels); a 22 year-old southside girl who works in the firm’s hospitality department; and a senior litigation associate who gives off the impression that he spends most of his free time playing Magick: The Gathering and/or dry humping his living room couch while staring at pictures of sexy gelflings.
On Saturday evening, I called a cab to take me to the wedding. When I read the address on the invitation to the driver, he made me repeat it and said “Really? Are you sure?” I understood why when we arrived. The banquet center was nestled in a desolate strip between a payday loan storefront and a cash for gold shop. Weirder still was the fact that the scene in the parking lot looked like a Myrtle Beach Bike Rally—there were about 20 leather-clad biker types tailgating the wedding. I carefully avoided eye contact as I made my way inside, then seated myself in the third-to-last row and passed the time by staring at the other guests, most of whom were in jeans. In fact, only a handful looked like they had consciously dressed up: a guy who was the spitting image of Lou Diamond Phillips’ character in Stand and Deliver, two women wearing crushed velvet gowns, and an enormous bald man with a goatee in a wrinkly suit who kept his sunglasses on the entire night.
The ceremony started a few minutes later. The groom entered the room, and as he made his way to the makeshift altar—adorned with fake flowers and festively lit with blue bulbs that I’m pretty certain were doing double duty as insect repellants—one of the bikers yelled “Good luck!” and the groom snickered loud enough for the whole room to hear. Then an instrumental version of Stairway to Heaven started blaring, followed by a grotesque parade of sixteen bridesmaids in shiny teal dresses and stiff, bedazzled French twists, alongside oafish groomsmen in tuxes with teal vests.
I was sure it couldn’t possibly get any worse. At least, that’s what I thought before the bridal processional started playing—Paradise City by Guns ‘n Roses. I think I blacked out from shock at that point, because I don’t recall much else from the ceremony.
Next came the reception. I reluctantly found my seat at the table reserved for guests from the firm, all the while racking my brain for inventive, discreet ways to flee. The DJ announced that it was “officially” time to get the party started and proceeded to kick things off by playing Love Shack. We immediately headed to the bar, where I said a silent prayer of thanks when I discovered it wasn’t a cash bar—though my gratitude was tempered somewhat by the fact that Franzia boxed wine and cans of Busch Light were the only alcoholic options. I grabbed three cans of beer and started counting down the minutes until I could leave without offending anyone.
Back at my table, things were going as awkwardly as I expected. Nerdy partner was stumbling through a pointless monologue about the distinctions he finds most important among the leading luxury car brands, and histrionic wife was frowning and self-consciously adjusting the way-too-plunging neckline of her expensive cocktail dress. Hospitality girl was in the midst of a loud argument with her boyfriend (I eavesdropped for a minute but then lost interest when I realized that the topic of their vehement debate was whether or not Big Buck Hunter was “more awesome” and “required more skill” than Golden Tee), and senior associate was openly ogling the two crushed velvet-clad women.
But then something miraculous happened. In a desperate panic for anything that could occupy my time and nervous energy, I reached for the favor in front of my place setting—a tiny glass goblet full of teal M&Ms—and started devouring them. In less than a minute the M&Ms were gone, so I picked up the tiny glass and pretended to examine it. All of a sudden, the lightbulb went off: we had an endless supply of Busch Light, a bunch of tiny glasses, time to kill and an urgent need to immediately get as wasted as possible. What, then, is the only reasonable thing to do, given those circumstances? A power hour! Of course.
I knew it wouldn’t be hard to convince hospitality girl and her bf to join in the power hour (after all, they’re southsiders), and I figured that five seconds of flirtatious persuasion would suffice for senior associate (I was right). The only real wild cards were nerdy partner and histrionic wife, but as fate would have it, they both immediately assented to the idea because, “We hate beer—especially warm beer—and that’s really the only palatable way to get it down quickly.”
And so it began. Every single one of us fully committed to that power hour, and because of it, we had a blast. We took a night that had an awful lot in common with Altamont and transformed it into the best night ever. Thanks to the power hour, the Busch Light cans started piling up so fast that we fashioned an infinity symbol out of them around the centerpiece on our table, and we kept getting more and more giddy and high-spirited (not to mention stinking drunk). We shouted with laughter and clapped enthusiastically when six of the bridesmaids and three of the groomsmen took turns giving absolutely awful, inane toasts. We got choked up with genuine sentiment during the joint Father-Daughter/Mother-Son dance to Sweet Child of Mine, and we cackled with glee and offered one another approving fist pounds when the bride and groom did their first dance to Prince’s Pussy Control.
As a result of our fast-approaching drunken stupor, we were willing and able to choke down enough of the buffet offerings (greasy Shepherd’s Pie and gristly Salisbury steak) to avoid being seen as food snobs. And the meal gave us additional energy for storming the dance floor after dinner—by then we were so shitfaced the cheeseball DJ had us eating out of his goddamn hand. Out on the dance floor, hospitality girl taught me how to Dougie, while nerdy partner hovered nearby and repeatedly refilled our tiny glasses with beer. And histrionic wife absolutely came alive when the DJ played that J. Lo song On the Floor—she grabbed me and started gyrating all over the place like a maniac, stopping every so often to yell into my ear, “You are so skinny and it makes me so jealous!” Which I loved, obviously.
We were also the hit of the party. We took a break from dancing and reconvened to drink more shots of beer from the tiny glasses at our table, and we noticed that power hours were occurring at a bunch of other tables, too. Then the bride and groom made their photographer shoot photos of our beer can infinity symbol along with a group shot of all of us posing with our tiny glasses of beer. The last thing I remember was stealing seven tiny glasses from an empty table and shoving them in my purse after we all promised to convene for another power hour party in the next week or two.
So in the wake of all this, I’ve been feeling pretty triumphant (albeit hungover). I didn’t know we had it in us to be so resourceful and fun. It actually gives me hope– and makes me realize that maybe I should rethink my policy of refusing to socialize with these people I work with.