“I just backed over something,” Jessica’s teeth grit through her portable pod of cellular communication. “And it wasn’t good.”

This kind of frustration and beeping, rear-happy mechanical backward motion can only mean one thing: It’s time for the annual Orlando Weekly liquored salute to the holidays, wherein careers are made or broken between the open-bar clinks of ice cubes in glass. Holiday parties are typically droll affairs, balancing the appearance of corporate solidarity with reckless abandonment of the senses, but the Weekly party always offers a little something extra. That little something is usually my ass on a silver platter. This year, though, it seems to be offering a little less.

John Prinzo’s missing,” Jessica frowns.

Prinzo, the beefy former distribution manager, was the usual victor in the “who would I fuck at work?” sweepstakes that we all quietly play when the water cooler isn’t listening. His lack of presence – and our collective lack of anything worthwhile to say –- has set Jessica and I off on a thematic swirl of point-and-notice absentia. This Christmas, we spin and surmise, is all about what’s missing. Arty Lindy’s missing. Music-y Justin’s missing. Dignity can’t be far behind.

“I feel an absence,” she heavies.

I feel an abscess.

“We need some absinthe,” she sugarcubes.

We’re at Slingapour’s trying to maintain exactly the right amount of cheek-kiss decorum while working the room full of people we already work with, and it’s only a few seconds before we realize that we’re missing our drinks. Bartender! Oh, and there are four empty, steaming service trays implying missing food.

Jason Ferguson’s missing,” Jessica frowns again.

Which is funny, because both of our other halves are missing this year, too: her Matt because he’s sick and shirtless under a blanket on the couch, and my Alan because of his general antipathy, his flight altitude and, well, Jason Ferguson. Four years ago, former music editor Jason said something to Alan about me being a drunk (but a reliable drunk), an act which initiated the Great Jason Ferguson Goat Farming Incident of 2003 – Alan pretended to Ferguson’s teacher wife that he was a goat farmer, even inviting her kids to his imaginary farm – and the schism was set. Alan’s never shown his face at a Weekly event again. My ass has been left to travel alone.

“I haven’t grabbed your ass yet,” grabs Bob Whitby, my editor and the man his adjacent wife thinks I’m having an affair with. “I’m sure you’re going to get a great column out of this.”

Hope so! Anyway, somebody’s apparently misinformed the DJ that he’d be spinning the hits for a sinking cruise ship and not a sinking newspaper of illicit contrarians, so we’re treated to the bar mitzvah blaring of “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” and “Sunglasses at Night” and feeling less hip with each passing drunken second. The edge is officially dull.

“You know what else is missing?” Jessica cocks a brow … and frowns. “Taste.”

Ian the IT guy sidles up next to us at the bar, practically crushed beneath the trial that is DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night.”

“Ah, this is the hit song from Weekend at Bernie’s,” he smugs with a ponytail.

“No, this is the hit song missing from Weekend at Bernie’s,” I clue him in.

By the time Human League’s evergreen “Don’t You Want Me” pollutes the soundscape, he’s informing me that if he had to sleep with any skinny bleached blond who happened to be a guy at work, it would be me. A water cooler somewhere in the distance pricks up its ears.

But it’s not all ironic grimaces and the dead horses they rode in on. No, it would appear that most in attendance – including the allegedly straight senior staff writer Jeff Billman-in-a-tie – are caught up in some alternate universe resembling a New Jersey wedding post-Korbel. Up on the makeshift stage, an uncomfortable circle of white people (except Barbara) has fashioned what appears to be something between an impromptu hip-hop circle and a Dance Party U.S.A. conga line. Kate from classifieds has even taken center stage to drag out every word of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” while account executive J.R. is enacting an extremely pale approximation of the Running Man. Tonight, apparently, it is hip to be square. Perhaps troubled by the gravity of the whole matrix crack, Ian actually leaves.

“Now Ian’s missing, too,” Jessica pouts.

Outside, I overhear conversations about taking apart BMWs and kilts not being “supportive.” Allegedly-straight Billman sits on my lap while my lap is sitting on Whitby’s lap, somebody says “Billy sandwich!” without implying that I need to eat more, Whitby says something like “I just want to state that Billy is my lover,” and then he grabs my ass again. It’s as if ye olde yule log has turned into a moldy fruitcake. Where the fuck do I work again?

What’s missing now is a Watermark and a grand exit.

“That’s all I get, a handshake?” is all it takes from Whitby for me to mount my imminent demise. Mid-hug, I decide to pull a limb contortion that throws both of my legs up around his midsection, something I would advise everybody to try with the person who signs their paycheck. Naturally, the maneuver backfires and in a slow-motion tragedy opera, my ass bone hits the pavement, soon to be followed by Bob’s knee hitting my scrotum. Know what’s missing now? My balls.

Oh, and my dignity. Happy holidays.

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