It’s minor in the world of strange tech mistakes (or malfunctions), but last week I clicked on The Wall Street Journal’s homepage, like every morning, and saw a story about the conundrum office workers face when tempted by baked goods and candies that colleagues contribute to the “break” room or individual desks. Twenty minutes later, Ray Smith’s “You’re at the Office and So Are The Unwanted Holiday Treats” had disappeared. But it piqued my curiosity and I retrieved the seasonal evergreen (with a few Covid references) that appeared on Dec. 20th of last year.
Fair fodder for Ray, I’d guess, but it was a lot of hooey to me. It’s the holiday season and Americans get in the spirit, for better or worse. (Coincidentally, I was at the local Safeway last week, and since before Thanksgiving the cashier asks customers if they’d like to contribute to a charity that feeds those that need feeding. I always fork over a fin or two bucks—even though I’ve no idea if the money is lining some administrator’s pockets—since I can afford the small donation. I wondered, aloud, to the doll behind conveyor belt, why doesn’t this appeal occur all-year round? She shrugged and agreed.)
This tickled me: “Matthew Price, a corporate security guard in Danbury, Conn., has lately gotten a taste of what he doesn’t miss about the office during the holidays. Employees drop unsolicited cookies, cupcakes and other treats at his desk… ‘I always accept them and try to eat them, but then I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this tastes bad’”. I’d counsel Matt, and others: feign interest and then chuck them in an inconspicuous trashcan. Others quoted in Price’s story were delighted to try any every sweet edible brought in by co-workers, but lamented that they’d put on even more holiday pounds. Again: give them a pass, and save money on that January amateur gym membership.
I’m not a fan of sugar—aside from fruit—so this poses no problem today. Besides, at the modest Splice Today offices, where it’s just my son Nicky and me, it’s not as if we’d “gift” each other some gingerbread men. (It’s not of his generation, but if Nick wanted to get a rise out of me, he buy a packet of Baltimore’s vastly overrated Berger’s Cookies, and I’d laugh and put them out on our stoop and they’d be gone in 15 minutes.)
Going back some years, at Baltimore’s City Paper and New York Press, when those who engaged in “remote work” were pink-slipped, and we had a lot of employees, I’d often get to the office and see that someone—either out of genuine spirit or transparent schmooze—would leave baked goods, along with a note, on my desk. I’d thank the person and then deposit the food on my balcony (City Paper) or, at New York Press, put the plunder in a general pile on the eighth floor in Greta’s office, since she was more adept, and cheerful about attending to such matters. It’s not my intention to get cranky about this topic—and never was, “back in the day” (an annoying phrase that unfortunately has a long shelf life), for I appreciated the effort, even with the individuals from whom I could smell a “Can I have a raise?” conversation coming up once the new year began. And, in all honesty, the seasonal largesse of food was a hit in both cities—which did rankle me slightly because all the chatter and munching took time away from, ahem, doing the job!
I preferred any-day-in-the-year culinary hits or misses. One sensational Sunday in 1982, CP’s receptionist Deborah invited me and a few others to her church in East Baltimore, where, after—to me—a snoozy sermon but kicking spirituals, we sat down to a lunch of fried chicken, mac & cheese and heaps of collard greens. That was eating, far more than the obligatory pecan cookies and mounds of chocolate at Christmas.
The picture above, at the home of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Winnie in Nassau County, was taken on Christmas Eve (our families skipped mass) and though I can’t really tell what the grub is shown, Winnie always delivered an excellent spread, as you can see from the smiles of Aunt Peggy, my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Mary, Winnie and cousin Chuck. My dad and uncles were likely just out of the frame, highballs in hand, discussing national and Long Island current events. And I was likely fooling around on the player piano that spit out Glenn Miller tunes.
Take a look at the clues to figure out the year: It’s a bad time for tobacco companies as the Surgeon General issues report on smoking; Willie Mays inks a $105,000 contract, the largest in MLB history to that point; Bret Easton Ellis is born and Peter Lorre; Jimmy Hoffa is convicted of jury tampering; Jeopardy debuts on NBC; six days of “race riots” occur in Harlem; Jean-Luc Godard releases Band of Outsiders and A Married Woman; Shindig! premieres on ABC; the “Star of India” is stolen from NYC’s Museum of Natural History; Robert Moog demonstrates his prototype synthesizers; Michelle Obama is born and Sam Cooke dies; Goldfinger, the third James Bond film, is released; Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion is published; The Super Girls’ “Baby Love” is a smash hit; and Top of the Pops debuts on BBC.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023