Social

It’s the season of the holiday
office party, where the buffet

tables are decorated with foil-
wrapped plastic pots of poinsettia

that will be raffled off as door
prizes at the end of the afternoon;

where the crab dip is still good,
and the cold shrimp platters with

cocktail sauce, though the egg rolls
look overly soaked in their own facial

oils. Everyone’s talking about
the grading they still need to do,

or about the Thursday we all lost
because someone called in a bomb

threat and the entire campus
shut down so the police and Feds

could go to work to try and sniff out
whether it was real or a prank. But

everything is real: much too real.
A colleague says she has two rubber

door stops she carries all the time
in her purse, to slide under the class-

room door at any hint of danger from
outside. Another says she’s read

that more than half the college
population in North America today

is on some kind of psychotropic
medication— all of which makes

for less than cheerful conversation
by the cheese tray. Meanwhile, no one

seems interested in the drink tickets;
instead, they’re trying to get rid

of them, all while also navigating
the tricky protocols of social banter.

It’s hard enough that most feel socially
awkward, despite their sense of worldly

or academic accomplishment. What to do
when you can’t talk about the weather

anymore, or ask again about someone’s
holiday plans? But then you’re mortified

when you ask what your colleague’s daughter
is doing now, having forgotten that she’s

taken some time off from college to step back
from the pressure. But all is saved when

the university photographer comes along; orders
everyone to come closer, hold the pose, smile.

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