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21 May 2007

Ernst the man This is the story of an.. incident... that happened one year at my company Christmas dinner dance.

[More:]A few years back I had a co-worker named "Belinda". Belinda was then about 37, attractive, and personable. Although she would do some rather odd things sometimes and could also be very stubborn. If we disagreed about something she would just keep repeating the exact same assertion despite my offering varying arguments backed by evidence to the contrary. But always in a very pleasant way, so I would be more bemused by her reaction than anything.

Belinda was engaged to a man named Ernst. I'd met Ernst at the dinner dance the previous year to this incident. He was in his late sixties, short, rotund, and jovial. I hadn't interacted much with him at that first dinner, noticing only that he brought nutcracker dolls to play with at the dinner table and that he seemed to adore Belinda. The age disparity was remarkable (Belinda was indignant that they often got mistaken for father and daughter), but I thought, oh well, they seem happy together so that's all that matters.

Belinda did tell me that her parents (with whom she lived) were dead set against the match and had forbidden her to invite Ernst to the house. She was terribly upset about this. I thought it odd. Surely if the only objection to Ernst were his age they would accept it...?

Anyway, there we all were at the second dinner to which Belinda had brought her Ernst. At the cocktail hour Ernst proceeded to tell everyone how sexy Belinda was. Okay, fine, that's kind of cute. It wasn't so cute when he started slapping her on the butt and groping her in front of all her co-workers. Belinda didn't seem to mind, but everyone else who saw was trying hard to politely not react.

We went into the dining room to have dinner. Belinda had brought two of her friends with her to the dinner dance. It was rather odd of her to do this. Sure, we at my company enjoy the dinner dance because we all know each other, and we bring along partners/dates who don't enjoy it as much but will do it for our sakes. But to bring friends with no connection to our company? Whom she had to pay for? She could have taken them out to a nice dinner for much less.

But whatever. I sat next to the couple at dinner and enjoyed talking to them. (Let's call them Jack and Jill.) They were very pleasant, nice people, and much more interesting than the person on my left hand, a certain George, who was husband of a co-worker and a very friendly and good-natured but very boring man who could do nothing but complain about his mundane job.

Jack and Jill told us how when Jill wanted to become a teacher and couldn't get into teacher's college in Canada, they had moved with their two young children to Australia for a year so Jill could go to school then. Jack would take care of the kids during the day while Jill went to school and then go out and work a four to midnight shift at whatever jobs he could get when she came home. He'd been a night stockboy at a grocery store, for instance.

I said to Jack, "And all four of you were able to get by on the income from those kinds of jobs?"

Jack said, "Well, we had to use some of our savings, but it wasn't too bad."

Ernst said something none of us caught, so Jill, Jack and I all leaned forward and said, "Pardon?"

Ernst said, "You couldn't afford to buy condoms, ha? CONDOMS? HA HA!"

Jack and Jill were completely unprepared for this comment on their sex life and both stared at that boor with identical looks of shock and speechlessness (i.e., mouths hanging open, eyes wide, eyebrows raised to their respective hairlines).

I turned to Jack and said in my best garden party manner, "And how was the climate in Australia?"

Jack tried gamely to answer me, but he had a stunned look on his face and he kept interrupting himself with gasps of appalled laughter.

Belinda meanwhile did not seem to think this was a problem at all, just laughed and kept talking to the person next to her.

I decided then and there I was NOT sitting at Belinda's table ever again. She'd roped me in the last two years but that was it for me.

Later during dinner Enrst looked across the table at me and said, "Someone at this table is pretty cute, huh? ROWWWRRRR."

I turned to George and asked him about his damn job.

And Belinda wonders why her parents can't stand Ernst.

Belinda got fired the next month so I never heard if she and Ernst ever got married or what. I did hear, however, that she never told her parents she got fired, simply continued to leave the house as per her usual work schedule and go to the library or friends' house for several months until she found another job.

These days, in terms of problematic co-worker partners at my company's dinner dance, we have a certain "Jude", who is a very unattractive man in his sixties who insists on giving "friendly" warm close hugs and kisses to a number of the women at the close of the evening. I've noted that he does not bestow such friendliness on the men nor on the older or less attractive women. He tried it on me and I firmly offered him my hand to shake. He proceeded to kiss and slobber all over it. Ewwww.
I'm not exactly a regular Mechazen, so perhaps it's not my place to say this, but... As much as I enjoy your writing, Orange Swan, I do detect a certain theme: some awful loser at the supermarket, your awful sister-in-law, your awful co-worker's awful advice, your awful former schoolmate, awful married people, some awful business, your awful colleagues, your awful room-mates etc. Why not, in your next post, write about someone who you like, or someone who you respect, rather than people you see as tactless, crazy, annoying, sleazy, or losers? As you no doubt saw in the reaction to previous threads, the acid is wonderful in moderation, but not necessarily universally popular (e.g. jonmc: "this is a little too notes passed in 8th grade study hall for my taste"). Hugs, Matthew.
posted by matthewr 21 May | 20:26
With all respect, matthewr and acknowledgement that your comment is made with best intentions, I like Orange Swan's tales of woe. They amuse me and remind me of strange people I have known with similar attributes. My only gripe is that I lack the story-telling ability to bring them to life. Plus, laughing at people less fortunate that ourselves (in our own eyes, of course) is a little guilty pleasure we all enjoy, if we are honest.

I've never worked for a company that holds dinner dances - is that common in the US?
posted by dg 21 May | 20:33
Well, to concur a bit with both matthewr and dg... I have found myself, Orange Swan, wishing that you'd use your fine storytelling abilities to turn many of these tales into fiction -- such as short stories or monologues. (And perhaps you do, and I just don't know about it. And if that is the case, I would sincerely love to read something of yours online, if it's available.)

I mean, I enjoy a deliciously malicious story now and then as much as anyone, but personally, I'd find them a lot more amusing if they were in a fictional setting (one of my own creative endeavors has been to devise a character who is basically my mean alter ego crossed with Lucy Ricardo, who constantly finds herself in ridiculous scrapes surrounded by an assortment of bastards and buffoons).

But as it stands, I have to say, I find myself feeling sort of sorry for the people you come here to talk shit about, and increasingly wonder if they really might not be as bad as all that.

This may be because I had a former friend who used to complain in a similarly amusing-but-acid way about all of her friends and coworkers behind their backs. That is, until it gradually dawned on me, with a growing sense of sickening dread, that she was no doubt speaking behind my back in exactly the same way.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by scody 21 May | 20:47
Scrolling through my posts, I do see that there are a lot of negative ones. I guess my best explanation for that is that I just consider those sorts of stories to be the most entertaining. But I can definitely see how it can start to get old after too many. I have started to feel lately that perhaps I have become too sardonic and am in danger of becoming just plain nasty. Time to find a better balance between sardonic and saacharine, I suppose.

I do have a couple of stories that are hideously tragic in a no-one-is-to-blame kind of way, but perhaps I'd better hold those back for now;-)

But I don't talk shit about my friends or family members. (That story about my "sister-in-law" was actually about an ex of my brother's.) The people I talk about on here are not people I like - they are ones I avoid or who are long gone from my life. Even so I do try to be strictly accurate in what I say, and at least somewhat fair.

And I do post stories that are just funny or interesting, such as my last post, which was about a mystery call I got at work, or the post about a couple of wedding night mishaps, or the story about a guy I met on the subway, or a story about my being a klutz in bed, or the story of an ex and his relationship with a can of Pam.

I do have a novel in progress. One subplot in it involves the story of a wedding so disastrous the heroine, who is a bridesmaid, winds up hiding underneath a banquet table. I figure I'll eventually either sell it or publish it online... so if anyone is really interested, I'll let you know when it's available.
posted by Orange Swan 21 May | 21:21
That story about my "sister-in-law" was actually about an ex of my brother's

My bad, I was quickly skimming the post, and got the brother with the wedding and the brother with the tactless girlfriend mixed up.

the story about a guy I met on the subway

Yes, I enjoyed that one.

Time to find a better balance between sardonic and saacharine

Excellent! Good luck! Hugs all round! (If hugs aren't too saccharine... :))
posted by matthewr 21 May | 21:50
I loved the guy-on-the-subway story, too. And I must have missed the one about the ex and his relationship with the can of Pam, but god knows I want to read it now!
posted by scody 21 May | 21:55
Pam: A Love Story
posted by Orange Swan 21 May | 21:58
Don't worry too much, Orange Swan. I find them droll.
posted by stilicho 21 May | 23:27
I always read Orange Swan's stories, but with a feeling of 'I'm glad I don't work with her' in case I found myself (being one of the socially inept untrendies) the subject of one.

I know that I, too, can be guilty of slagging people off (particularly my sister) but she irks me in such a way that I do need to let off steam about her (and get feedback too) in a place where she would never read about my difficulties with her.

posted by essexjan 22 May | 01:21
I thought that was one of the internet's primary components: cranky cranks saying cranky things. And lazy people like me getting their vicarious crankiness done for them.

Don't change.
posted by StickyCarpet 22 May | 10:39
Just read "Pam: A Love Story." I laughed so hard I frightened several coworkers.
posted by scody 22 May | 17:36
I liked the Wedding Night Mishaps the best, and I don't mind the stories. I feel the same way, I guess, that off-beat/and/or wacky stories are the best entertainment. We all know someone like those people featured, I guess.

although I did think you were a bit hard on the guy in the supermarket.
posted by redvixen 22 May | 18:04
I swear I'm not as hypercritical as a reading of my stories would have you believe! I have a number of coworkers I am very fond of and have been working with for years completely problem-free. I'm sure I'd love working with you, essexjan.
posted by Orange Swan 22 May | 18:58
I think, and Orange Swan can correct me if I'm wrong, these stories of the odd ducks that she's met are told because they're interesting. We all have the nice, normal people we meet but they are just that - normal. Normal doesn't really lend itself to interesting stories.

I enjoy reading your stories, OS.
posted by deborah 23 May | 15:00
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