I've never been much for big parties. I think it comes from the questionable idea that somehow I need to have something to say to whoever is there–to justify my presence, to prove that I'm a real bon vivant, to show I'm clever–even before the first glass of wine takes hold. Exceptions are made, though: I'll go when there are some good friends around, or when there's some compelling draw. An example: In my first years at The San Francisco Examiner, William Randolph Hearst's first purchase, which occasionally published under the legend "The Monarch of the Dailies," the paper put on a fabulously generous holiday fete. The paper would rent out the Convent of the Sacred Heart–the old Daniel Flood mansion in Pacific Heights–and spare no expense for food, drink, or entertainment. It was so nice, everyone dressed up. Even me. Alas, the party vanished as the paper entered the era of reduced circumstances in the early '90s.
Last Friday, my office held its holiday party. Actually, a few employees put it on for the rest of us. A colleague who lives a few blocks away makes his place available, and the staff does a pot luck. In its own way, its every bit as generous and enjoyable as the Hearst extravaganza ever was. I didn't make it this year, though. Stuff came up, as we like to say. Instead, I found myself over at Lanesplitter, the North Oakland pizza and beer place where our son Thom works. I spent the time marveling as I usually do at how hard everyone's working and how much business comes in the door even as the hour gets late. Eventually, we said goodbye and headed for home.
On the way to the car, I passed Smokey's Tangle, the little audience-participation art gallery on the next block. There's always something fun going on in the storefront window. This time, there was a sign inviting passers-by to come in and have their picture taken with Santa. The place was closed, though I could see the proprietors inside. They must have heard me laughing at the window display, because they came to the door and invited me in. "You want to have your picture taken with Santa?" they asked. I was all for it. So I went to the back room where "Santina" was hanging out, waiting for visitors. You can judge the result. I have to say I don't look entirely persuaded about the good cheer impending this holiday season or the quality of the new year. I guess we'll just wait and see.