Friday, December 29, 2017

J.T./Elaine: All I Want for Christmas...

I haven't entirely got the double life I'm leading up to being a triple life, exactly, although I really admit that I do enjoy blowing off a little steam at the end of the workday and work-week.  Sometimes it's just with Jezzie, since both of Elaine's other best gal-pals are in relationships, but it still seems like a bit of a double role, switching from the sensible (but nice!) project manager in the day ("Elaine") to the more adventurous single girl at night ("Lainey").  I even have to change how I talk, at least a little, although from talking to Elaine and her friends, this sort of "code-switching" is pretty common for African-Americans, especially women.  Folks love you being blunt and no-nonsense on your own time - and you kind of need to be, just to keep up - but when you get in a working environment with white people, you'd better conform and keep them comfortable.

That part's been easy enough for me - "professional talk" is a bit closer to what's natural for me, and eventually I kind of learned to take cues from whoever I was talking to after hours and appreciate that any raised eyebrows are more likely to be good-natured ribbing than actual suspicion.  Everyone deals with this, to an extent, unless they're really lucky, and I've seen it studying for roles or watching how colleagues change in different environments, but this seems to be the most extreme.  And it didn't really prepare me for a couple of situations that came up this past week.

First, just who should I be at an office party?

I mean, sure, I know that I'm going to have to be working with all of these folks again afterward, so I probably shouldn't let my hair down too much, but all the other folks I've talked to who have had real office jobs say you don't want to seem too much on your guard.  That's doubly true when you're the one assigned to organize the party - it would kind of suck to be thought of ad even more the management done after that.

I didn't really think of it much until Thursday - there was lots of regular work to do, and the budget was pretty tiny; whoever hires a bunch of contractors from different agencies put line items in for team-building activities but not time, so into the holiday party it went.  It was almost enough for me to rent a local bar's function room, buy a platter of cookies, get some rum for people to add to eggnog, and a bunch of paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling.  I had to duck out of the office an hour or so early to get there to set it up, and by the time I did, I regretted my Christmas-y outfit a little - the festive red pencil skirt with the matching heels looked nice with the black pantyhose and green blazer, but they weren't great for climbing on a chair to hang things.  I may have nearly broken my neck three times before I was done, only to spoil some nog on the coat.  The green satin top underneath didn't spoil the look, but it left me bare-armed and had a to button that liked to come undone whenever I twisted my torso a bit (fun fact - Elaine's one of those women whose breasts get a bit bigger when she's ovulating, so clothes that normally fit just fine are suddenly kind of tight).  When people started arriving, I still looked more "Elaine" than "Lainey", but it made more sense to play it loose than efficient.

That was going to happen anyway, since there was a bar and Ali had told me to keep his two drink tickets.  I didn't get sloppy, but I did get to the point where the whole situation seemed really funny.  And where I didn't stop to wonder whether or not karaoke was a thing Elaine did.

It's not really a thing I ever did, too be honest - I sing professionally, after all (well, the band wasn't really paying, but I'd done musicals on the stage), and you've got to protect your pipes even if it wouldn't be trying to unwind by doing the same thing you do at work.  That was three months ago, though, and after a couple of drinks, singing was a fun thing I hadn't done in too long.  So when someone shoved me up there after punching in Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas", I only had a fleeing thought about what would happen if Elaine didn't have a good singing voice.

She does, though, good enough that when people started applauding, I thought damn, this could be my thing for the next few months!  I wound up on that little stage four more times that night, and was actually kind of disappointed when people had started to leave and it was time to take everything down.
So that went okay.  But it left me with just a couple of days to try and figure out who I should be with Elaine's family.

I'd begged off Thanksgiving, telling them I had to work the Friday after, but you can't really skip both Thanksgiving and Christmas without making trouble, and unlike when they sent me messages on Facebook there was no way to discreetly have the real Elaine advise me.  And given my difficult relationship with my parents (exploitation, emancipation, estrangement), I don't really know what an adult child going home is supposed to feel like.

Mostly, it's pretty good, at least for Elaine.  Her folks are proud of her, respected that I didn't much want to discuss this summer.  The cover story was that "Elaine" had taken what she thought was a government contact, gone mostly quiet on social media because she was afraid of spilling something, but actually been working for a criminal enterprise which she couldn't talk about.  Exciting cloak-and-dagger stuff if it were real.

Of course, Elaine's sister Whitney knew it was fake, and she couldn't wait to peel me away from "our" parents.  It was kind of weird, not just for the obvious reasons, but because she remembered me, and thought it was hilarious that I was playing her big sister.  I pointed out that I wouldn't be if she hasn't screwed up and left Elaine/Mackenzie at a campground, and she shrugged and said she felt bad about that, but the whole experience had shown her that her old boyfriend was a jerk and was helping her be a better person.  Besides, she said, if that hasn't happened, who knows where I would have ended up?

I think she was excited at the idea of getting close to someone she'd had a crush on as a teenager, and while I've got to admit that's kind of gratifying - it didn't happen nearly as often as it used to even before becoming Elaine - I really wasn't feeling much desire to get chummy with someone who had been so careless with her sister's life and identity, even if it maybe beat the alternative of maybe being stuck in the middle of my band-mates' relationship.  I told her as much, and that her parents should be thankful that I'm a good enough actor to only treat her with the annoyance Elaine normally had for her screw-up sister.

That was mean, I know, but Christmas plus period plus Whitney kind of brought out the worst in me.  I got karmic payback right away, though, as Elaine's parents phones gave of a little buzz because apparently one of my co-workers had uploaded some videos from the holiday party and tagged "Elaine", and of course, not only did her parents not only have alerts set up for their daughters, but the first one that they saw was the last song of the night, when I was singing "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Daryl.  Who, by the way, is a handsome, single African-American man.

Her father paused it after just a second, but mostly so that he could sync his phone with the TV and let everyone watch in high-definition quality.  "I guess you got yourself a new hobby while you were off the grid, huh?"

I felt myself blushing a bit - obviously, I'm used to seeing myself on a TV, but not as Elaine, and not when I hadn't planned on it being seen.  "Not really - it was a party, I'd had a couple of drinks--"

Whitney gave me a pat on the shoulder.  "Don't sell yourself short, Lainey - you're a natural performer!"

I shoved her away, but "Mom" raised her eyebrows.  "I'll say!"

My eyes went wide watching the screen - I was really into it, with lots of hand motions, exaggerated walking to and from Daryl, looking fake-shocked at "what's in this drink?", way more than I remembered.  "Uh, well, it's just this song.  It's kind of rape-y if you don't vamp it up, right,  and make it perfectly clear that the girl is flirting and really wants the guy, even if her family and friends are, like, judgmental and stuff--"

"Well, you're both pretty convincing on that count.  When do we get to meet this boy?"

"Dad, no!  Daryl's a co-worker - even if I wanted to, that'd be a big-time HR thing."

Elaine's mother opined that it looked like it would be worth it, and I admit, I didn't have to do much acting to portray Elaine as kind of mortified.

Fortunately, Daryl had traveled to California to see his folks for the holiday, so I didn't see him until yesterday, when he was a total pro until quitting time, when he sat down in my cube and asked if my folks saw the clip as well.  He didn't really seem embarrassed, but wasn't smirking either.  "Not going to lie, they were almost as impressed as I was."

"Oh, mine too.  Too bad it would be totally inappropriate, huh?"

He looked at me and somehow made his eyes twinkle.  "Would it?  You're not technically my boss, and if I asked you out..."

"I dunno...  That's still..."  That's still going on a date with a guy, which would probably be fun, and thus lead to a second date.  But I couldn't say that.

When I didn't say anything, he smiled a little more.  "You're responsible.  I like that.  You ask my folks, I probably need that.  But since everyone was either at the party or saw the video, something with you and me is probably going to be in their heads anyway.  So - how about I just tell you where some friends and I are going to be hanging out, singing karaoke on New Year's Eve?  You can come, bring your girls, or not.  Whatever you think is right."  He told me, then left.

Not sure what to do.  If I looked at it as playing a role, well, Elaine has told me that even if doing karaoke wasn't exactly in character, showing up at that bar absolutely would be.

-J.T./Elaine

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