As I See It: Hot Fun In The Summertime
August 5, 2013 Victor Rozek
Ah, summer! The weekends are yours and they’re finally worth having. Guys are manning their BBQs, watchful as captains at the helm, and the siren scent of burning meat is wafting across the land. Coolers stand packed with iced beer, shoes give way to flip-flops, and the couch competes for lounging time with the patio furniture. The travails of the workplace fade until they become little more than necessary annoyances that put meat on the grill.
Women often mistakenly believe that summer is the time to tackle that long list of home improvement projects put off since the Pleistocene. But men understand that it’s far too hot for serious exertion and, in the interest of good health and stroke prevention, avoid doing much of anything. Work, as Oscar Wilde reminded us, is the curse of the drinking class.
But just when thoughts of work have been banished, up pops a pimple on the ass of undisturbed summer, and it goes by the name “company picnic.” Oh sure, it sounds benign enough, but “picnic” is really a euphemism for organized mortification.
Like presidential debates, the company picnic was a well-intended idea gone terribly wrong. Commercialization has changed the informal sharing of beers and brats into an obligatory corporate function complete with event planning companies, themes, team play activities, group challenge adventures, catering, and inflatables! And nothing says good times like inflatables.
Depending on how you feel about your co-workers, the company picnic can either be a pleasant diversion, or akin to having the team-building Taliban hijack your weekend. The more your company invests in the event, the more obliged you will be to attend. Once there, you’ll be expected to maintain a cheerful façade at all times because, after all, you’re having your morale boosted. After years of vigilantly editing yourself in the workplace, checking your natural inclinations at the door, watching what you say and to whom, ever careful not to offend, you’re now invited to cut loose and be wholly authentic. What could possibly go wrong?
For one thing, someone is bound to get hurt.
Where men gather, there will be competition; and were women are watching, competition will intensify. And so will strutting and posturing, which are also competitive events. Few things are more entertaining than watching middle-aged guys reviving their dormant athlete. Mothers beware: small children have been known to be traumatized by the sight of paunchy men in swimming trunks flaunting undisciplined bodies and waning muscle tone.
But the athlete dies hard. And the more successful a guy was playing sports in high school, the more dangerous he will be at the picnic. Without being asked, he’ll bring equipment for every conceivable sport–volleyball, softball, basketball, football. (He already carries golf clubs in his trunk, just in case.) The guy with zero organizational skills in the workplace will organize a softball game in nanoseconds so that everybody can witness his legendary athletic prowess.
Unfortunately he’ll recruit a bunch of weekend warriors and guys who never actually played organized sports. Granted, there’s nothing that says fun like watching a fat, middle-aged accountant getting exhausted as he stumbles toward second base. And the occasional head-first slide that comes up three feet short is also entertaining. But someone is sure to sprain an ankle rounding first (what’s that bag doing there?), strain his back after a mighty whiff, or require stitches from blocking a bad hop with his face.
Normally, an invitation to experience pain and embarrassment would be eyed with suspicion. But the call to manliness mandates that out-of-shape guys throw baseballs with sore shoulders, and catch footballs with hands of stone. Resurrected golf swings will be practiced by guys with reconstructed knees. Tennis rackets will be powered by tennis elbows, and futility will be on full display. Happily, there’s no humiliation that beer can’t fix. Après manliness comes drinking a little too much, expounding a little too loudly, and pretending the next day that nothing awkward happened. Such are the guilty pleasures of having mandatory fun.
But that’s not the worst of it. After a few beers some percentage of guys will feel the urge to speak truth to power. They will want to corner the CEO, introduce themselves, and share some insight or suggestion that they’re absolutely certain will change his life, revolutionize the company, and forever enshrine their brilliance in the minds of top management.
If you’re one of them, fight that urge. The only person who wants to be there less than you do is the CEO. There are good reasons why he doesn’t know who you are. You don’t belong to his country club. You’ve never popped for a bottle of Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut. You don’t make a fraction of what he makes, and his friends are all people who are more successful than you are. Your opinion is about as valuable to him as a broken golf tee.
Besides, 12 other guys have already annoyed him with their clever insights, and about now he’s regretting not having had the potato salad poisoned.
Then there’s the office hottie. Oh yeah, the one who prances around the workplace with heels that are a little too high, and skirts that are a little too tight. It’s the stuff of water cooler fantasies. At work you’ve been too shy and too sober to approach her, but there she is in shorts that are a little too short, and a bikini top that’s a little too full, and you’re thinking this would be a good time to make your move, seeing as how you’ve already impressed her with your athletic prowess.
Your inebriated state emboldens you to ignore her Fabio-esque boyfriend who could, and will, crush you like the aluminum can you’re holding. This would be a good time to recall that the only truly gorgeous woman to ever fall for a troll was the statuesque Sophia Loren who married the diminutive Carlo Ponti. No one really knows why. Ponti single-handedly made short, fat, bald men the rage. But that didn’t last long. Don’t assume Ponti’s luck will rub off on you. Remember, you have to see this woman on Monday morning. There will be pointing. There will be laughter.
Some companies use fun as a competitive advantage, but yours is not one of them. You probably figured that out when the picnic organizer asked you to wear a dress and be one of the six guys to lip-sync and dance to the lyrics of Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Suddenly, home improvement projects don’t seem unreasonable at all. It’s either that or impaling yourself on a corncob.
Scientologist Tom Cruise, who knows a thing or two about embarrassment, understands the true nature of the company picnic. “Have you ever gotten the feeling that you aren’t completely embarrassed yet,” he asks, “but you glimpse tomorrow’s embarrassment?”
Look around. If Tom’s not at your picnic, go home.