If you want to party like it’s 1999 (minus the hand-wringing anxiety caused by the possible Y2K meltdown), then look no further than your local chamber of commerce.
I sense your skepticism, but I’m serious. Chambers of commerce party more often than your local chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda. Plus, there are no annoying resident assistants to break up the fun.
Many chambers participate in monthly events called “chamber mixers,” which is a business term meaning “alcohol-fueled orgy where participants can network, make contacts and wake up in a neighboring county with no memory of how they got there — and all while promoting the corporate agenda.”
I have personal experience with these lascivious, libation-drenched displays of celebratory overindulgence. At the peak of my freelance writing career, I worked as a $10-an-hour receptionist for a small real-estate office. My duties included greeting customers and answering phones. All that hard work and money I had put into obtaining a journalism degree had finally paid off.
The office was part of the local chamber of commerce. And each month, the chamber would pick a different venue to host its mixer.
Usually, the location was at the place of business of one of its members.
And sure enough, our turn came. I received the foreboding news one morning that the next mixer — and all the carnal, frenzied festivities that term implied — would be held within the delicate confines of our meek and meager little office.
An announcement of such magnitude required extreme preparations. We catered pizza and sandwiches, chicken wings and taquitos. Workmen arrived to wash the windows and steam-clean the carpets. I was enlisted to dust bookcases and straighten furniture. As always, I seized the opportunity to put my bookish, cerebral journalism education to good use … so I grabbed a toilet brush and scrubbed like a madman.
The chamber would be providing the booze, and did they ever. A man arrived to set up a portable bar. He tore our manilla files from the shelves lining the wall, and in their place he put a dizzying variety of top-shelf intoxicants, some imported from the far reaches of the earth — where even the peasants dress in gowns made from silk, and where the royalty wipe with gold-plaited toilet paper. (Note to self: Investigate possible groom-of-the-stool employment opportunities. It might be another way to put your journalism education to good use.)
As late afternoon passed and dusk descended, the hour of the mixer arrived. Never before had the office looked so inviting, so festive. Even the ball and chain secured to my ankle glistened with a shiny metallic sheen. The walls and ceilings that suppressed my dreams suddenly didn’t seem so suffocating anymore.
By six, the guests started to arrive. Businesspeople poured in from all corners of the community, and they were dressed to the nines. They climbed out of stretch limos, parading down the red carpet that unfurled toward the door. Some granted interviews to the press, while others fended off the flashbulbs and paparazzi as they made their way inside.
I closed down my workstation at the front of the office, pushing my chair under the desk.
A manservant materialized at my elbow, holding a tray. “A drink, sir?” he inquired, his eyebrows arched.
“No thank you,” I said. “I don’t intend to stay. I’m not an agent; I’m just the lowly receptionist — as evidenced by my defeated posture and suicidal demeanor.”
“Oh, do stay,” purred a sexy young woman in an evening gown, as she clicked toward me on 6-inch stilettos. She linked her arm in mine. “I have a burned-out bulb in my apartment, and I was hoping somebody could accompany me home tonight to screw a new one in — slowly, firmly, snugly.”
I picked up on the subtext right away. Not to brag, but I’m an expert at reading women.
“As luck would have it, we work closely with a handyman who’s licensed and bonded and even works evenings,” I said. I reached into my pocket and handed her a card. “Here, give him a call. He’ll replace that bulb in no time.”
And then I went home.
No, I didn’t stay for the party. Which was stupid, in retrospect. At $10 an hour, I needed all the free food I could get.
But I did see the aftermath. The office door was ajar when I arrived for work the next morning. A pair of panties dangled from the knob.
I turned on the lights, gasping. An overturned table lay in the main lobby, as well as a cracked computer monitor. A bra hung from the overhead fan, which was slicing through a sheet of stale-smelling smoke. The floor was littered with beer cans, cigarette butts and spent condoms. The lid to the copier had been left open, and the glass was smudged with rounded prints. Somebody had gone to great lengths to Xerox their butt cheeks, as evidenced by the 250 copies waiting for me in the output tray.
I plugged in the vacuum and started running it over the carpet. It sucked up a diaphragm and clogged, the motor squealing.
When the broker arrived at nine, I’d been able to tidy somewhat. She sat at her desk and rubbed her temples, her eyes squinted and bloodshot.
“Quite a party last night,” I said, as I wiped dry vomit off the fax machine.
“Mmm,” my broker said.
“Think you guys might have overdone it a tad?” I asked. “I’m not trying to complain, but I found a French tickler in the escrow drawer.”
“Mmm,” my broker said. “Aspirin. Need aspirin.”
“I mean, you should have seen the mess when I got here,” I said. “It was a wreck. There were condoms and cigarette butts all over the floor.”
“OK, now I think you’re exaggerating a little,” the broker said. “As I recall, nobody smoked inside.”