HOLIDAY GRAB BAG | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


Drink recipes, hangover remedies, advice and more from our twisted little elves.

Booze Crews

Drink and Be Wary: Getting Through the Office Holiday Party

Andy Newman

If it were fun, it wouldn't be called work. So what is a "work party" but your classic oxymoron, the teeth-gritting endeavor to make nice to that sniveling manager you already endure for 40 hours too many a week? Add copious amounts of alcohol to the mix and a doofus or two with mistletoe and, oh boy, there's going to be a lot to talk about around the coffee machine Monday morning.

"We had an office party once where Patrick Stewart, who was in town performing at the time, attended," reports one female executive, who like the office-party survivor cited below spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We had one person in our accounting department who was very low-key at work but at every office event that involved drinking, she would 'break out' and start pinching all the men there on the bottom. At this particular party, she pinched Mr. Stewart, and when he turned around to see what was going on, she replied, 'Take me to your leader,' mistaking him for his character in Star Trek. He was not amused."

Even less amused than the actor was a former radio station employee who, at a smoky holiday party for clients and staff, exited a side door for fresh air. Awaiting in the alleyway was this tableau: "I surprised the station manager, who was against the alley wall with one of the account executives, who was on her knees and getting presidential," she recalls. "Both parties were engaged to other people, and everyone at work knew it. The station manager, adopting his best shit-eating grin, said hello to me as though he were at a sales meeting and not standing there getting knobbed."

It's no wonder that people have trouble corralling much enthusiasm for holiday work parties -- or that the boozy ones might be going the way of the three-martini lunch. John Oliverio, a human resource manager with the Pittsburgh direct-mail firm ADVO, says that his firm now has holiday parties that are alcohol-free: on-site luncheons, which he says means "higher participation" among employees. Oliverio adds that such an affair "eliminates the risk factor": Wild parties can lead to sexual harassment claims; moreover, should someone have an alcohol-related accident after leaving a party, courts have held company-hosts -- just as they have held bars -- liable for damages.

When he ran HR departments at previous companies that had evening parties, Oliverio says he arranged free taxi service to and from the event and, instead of having an open bar, workers were given tickets for two free drinks. "When they have to pay for it, they limit consumption," he explains.

But if you're in a workplace where such precautions aren't taken, what if you don't want to go to the company party?

"It's definitely OK to decline," Oliverio says.

Actually, many career counselors suggest the opposite -- they say make an appearance or risk getting the hairy eyeball from your corporate masters. "You have to come to some terms that you work in a place where there are politics," says Dan King, founder of Boston's Career Planning & Management Inc. "It's about relationships and perception," King says, adding that if you blow off the company party people might question whether you're a "team player." No fan of the holiday party himself, King says, "It's like going to a funeral -- you can't graciously back out of that stuff." After a pause, King says, "I just compared a holiday party to a funeral," but he does not retract the statement.

Hilka Klinkenberg, founder of the New York-based Etiquette International, which counsels corporate clients on manners, once was hired to help mitigate a Christmas party mess. Because he was told he couldn't smoke, a drunk manager "started screaming and yelling and carrying on with the staff at a catering facility. Then his wife threw an ashtray at one of the waitstaff."

To avoid those airborne ashtrays, she suggests you "go earlier, when people are sober and they'll remember you were there," and then duck out after a half hour or so. But she says sending your regrets isn't an option. "If it's a social party, you can claim to have a previous engagement, but if it's work you pretty well have to go."

Finally, says Boston's King, the spirit of the season dictates that -- even if the holiday party does turn into a fiasco -- you give some credit to your boss who's picking up the tab. The parties are "meant with a good intent and you have to respond to that. It might be superficial and with a lot of people that you don't like, but the intent is to recognize and appreciate you as an employee."

Click here for Holiday Party Advice of Yore

Gifts of Value for Under $1

All items found at major reputable retailers

Compiled by: Al Hoff

1 pound of all-purpose 2-inch nails (at least 100 nails): 87 cents

Calculator: 99 cents

"High tech" yo-yo: 99 cents

Votive candle (assorted colors and scents): 39 cents

Degree anti-perspirant and deodorant (.42 ounces): 97 cents

Composition notebook (100 pages): 97 cents

Set of two safety plugs for an electrical outlet: 97 cents

Set of five dice: 97 cents

16 ounces of hydrogen peroxide: 42 cents

One pound of split peas: 79 cents

Artificial Swedish ivy: 99 cents

Melon baller: 99 cents

Plastic pillbox: 79 cents

Four ounces of all-purpose white glue: 49 cents

Large plastic PepOmint LifeSaver filled with dozens of tiny PepOmint LifeSavers candies: 99 cents

One-and-a-half ounces of multi-colored rubber bands: 99 cents

One dozen ballpoint pens (blue, black or red): 74 cents

24 off-brand crayons: 50 cents

Three-color sign (Beware of Dog, Come In We're Open, No Smoking, Keep Out): 96 cents

Staple remover: 77 cents

Two 3-inch Mylar reflective letters for monogramming: 98 cents

Rosy red minnow or small goldfish: 12 cents

Let It Snow

A fine holiday cocktail for the finest of occasions

Julie Mickens

The holidays are certainly a time of celebration, but how does that square with one's perceived need to remain cogent and upright? As your secret desire for oblivion brews beneath forcibly bland family gatherings, consider the legendary 1950s housewives, who had to keep the girdle on and keep smiling no matter what.

To take the edge off, these pseudo-virginal matrons drank "ladies' cocktails," explains Sheryl Johnston (a.k.a. Brandy Alexander), a member of the local old-girls'-club-to-be Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC). These drinks weren't supposed to taste like alcohol and -- in theory -- they were to actually contain less alcohol. "It was an image thing," Johnston says. "It's not very decorous for ladies to get smashed." Also, it's not good to mix too much booze with the relaxing pills.

Of course, plenty of women continued to enjoy a strong, simple whisky-and-water right through the nuclear age. But, Johnston explains, "There was a definite dichotomy between the housewife versus the loose woman who would drink alcohol with the boys." Johnston adds, "In the 1950s, women were throwing card parties for Mr. and Mrs. Smith to get together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones and play canasta."

At a recent LUPEC gathering, the Snowball was a "surprise hit," says fellow member Jennie Benford. "It was like eggnog, but not as thick and it had a refreshing citrus taste to it." Apparently, the drink was so popular in Europe -- its base is the Dutch liqueur advocaat -- that a battery-powered swizzle stick was developed to keep it well blended.

So, keep to this spirit of respectability and introduce the Snowball to your classier social obligations -- or, in the spirit of the rebellion that accompanied '50s propriety, douse the little lady up but good for a more debauched time.

The Snowball

1 shot advocaat, such as Bols*

½ shot lime cordial, such as Rose's Lime Juice

Top with 8 ounces of lemonade

Shake with ice, and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with a lime slice.

*Advocaat is a Dutch liqueur made from egg yolks, aromatic spirits, sugar, brandy and vanilla. A recipe for homemade advocaat -- which involves lots of eggs and two weeks of "aging" but otherwise seems easy -- can be found at

Get in touch with a more audacious woman than the '50s wives on Dec. 19, when LUPEC presents a new cocktail at the Lava Lounge. The brand-new drink will commemorate Doris Mercer (1889-1963): East Liberty native, Broadway performer, wife of dime-store giant Sebastian S. Kresge (the 'K' in Kmart) and, finally, Persian Princess Farid-es-Sultaneh, who now rests in an unmarked grave at Homewood Cemetery. Details are forthcoming at

Hangover Helper

Rudolph the Red-Nosed You


Once it was you who was punishing: up at 5 a.m., checking that the cookies were gone, bounding into your parents' bedroom with sugared cereal fueling your flight. Now you're up by the crack of noon, praying for coffee, and know exactly where those cookies got tossed. Maybe, just maybe, with a couple of tricks and an ounce of prevention for every three of vodka, you can make it out of this holiday season alive. Many of you seasoned seasonal drinkers will know this stuff, but maybe we can help those for whom Christmas comes just once a year,

IF THE WISE MEN could see that star and know what's up, you should be able to tell when a holiday evening is changing from an eggnog and candy cane to Jack on ice and a lot of candy cane. When it starts, immediately kick in a regimen of all the basics: sticking to one kind of booze, water by the pint, and solid foods. The trick is to do it preemptively, before you get to the inevitable point of, "If I'm gonna hear about Aunt Lucretia's hip replacement, I don't care how drunk I get." Remember that sweet drinks and dark liquors (eggnog, bourbon, red wine) treat you worse than other booze, and that whole cultures wouldn't dream of drinking without eating. There's plenty of turkey.

The most important step is vitamins: If you can pop a multi-vitamin before you pass out 'neath the tree, your chances of recovering increase greatly. While drinking, pre-supplement that multi with a packet of the amazing Emer'gen-C booster (available at most health-stuff stores). It's loaded with the Vitamin C and B-complex vitamins that booze attacks, as well as magnesium, which relieves booze-related shakes and nervousness. Calcium is another biggie: Alcohol robs it from you by the truckload, and some before bed may help the crazy-legs.

There are plenty of anti-hangover pills out that claim to pre-empt the dreaded results if you consume them while drinking. These are usually just multi-vitamins or, in the case of the popular Chaser brand, "activated calcium carbonate and vegetable carbon," which allegedly soak up the hangover-inducing elements of booze. I say "allegedly" because, in a recent scientific research study performed by City Paper, these medications did not have any effect on the two-day hangover caused by normal (a.k.a. binge) drinking. Nor do they stop you from tipping your cabbie 110 percent of the fare. In fact, I think they encourage it.

"ON THE TENTH HOUR of Christmas, my true love gave to me, another packet of Emer'gen-C." It's the next day, and not only do you have to deal with Grandpa Jones' bowel disturbances, you've gotta do it with a nasty hangover. But you've planned ahead and have a bottle of sports drink in the fridge -- it's not only better for replenishing your depleted bodily fluids, it's easier to keep down than plain old water. If you don't have sports drinks, look for bananas and pickles: A fat kosher dill is like a solid-food glass of Gatorade in the anti-hangover department, and there're always pickles to be found. Eventually, you'll get to the point of taking vitamins (C, B-complex, magnesium, potassium), but don't try it too early -- on an empty stomach, those sonofabitches can bring up the ghost of Christmas past.

Of all the hangover-related medicines out there, the one most likely to help you deal with the punishing light of a Menorah is Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief. (It doesn't say "hangover meds," but it is.) It helps the headache and nausea, and gives you a little burst of caffeine for your efforts.

Of course, the best recommendation for the holiday hangover is to immediately recommence heavy drinking. Not only will your hangover magically disappear, so will your cares, worries, inhibitions, sense of self-disgust -- and of smell. Happy holidays.

Holiday Vinyl

Merry Christmas from Pepino the Italian Mouse
You can almost feel the pain on Mr. Monte's somber face on the cover as Pepino the Italian Mouse perches on his shoulder in a Santa suit. In a way, it's a good analogy for his career. Monte always considered himself a classic singer, a sensitive romantic and serious artist. But his Italian heritage was something of a double-edged sword: Proud of his lineage, he loved to sing Italian favorites, and record companies wanted to go the stereotype route.

Cut to the tail end of his career. With Monte's death in the '80s, this late-'70s release was not only a reissue of his Christmas "classic," Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey, but the springboard for "Pepino the Italian Mouse," not even a Christmas song! It's one of those Chipmunks-style, sped-up-voice tunes about a mouse that dances the cha-cha and sings Italian around the house. It had to have nearly killed him to record that one.

For Italian Christmas songs, you can't beat his "Santa Nicola." Here he asks Santa Claus for an Italian girl to cook his food and marry him (in that order). I still find it ironic how singers like Lou Monte and Rosemary Clooney could do such fun-filled lovable songs that they despise till the end of their lives. (Michael Devine)

Merry Christmas 'specially for you
It's a wee little album, the size of a 45, all set for giving. On the back, you fill in the "To:" and "From:" to lay this "album of beautiful organ carols" on a loved one. It's the classics -- "Silent Night," "The First Noel," "Jingle Bells," etc. But once the needle drops on that slow-motion, wheezing, funereal organ, all your recipient will think is "Who died?" (Al Hoff)

Switched on Santa
The liner notes say "Gift-tagged to read: 'Merry Christmas from The Moog!'" In other words, it's the perfect gift from you to your Univac. Better wrap it fast -- it looks like poor old Santa can't take another bloop or blip! (Al Hoff)

Christmas Eve with Colonel Sanders
'Twas weeks before Christmas, when what did I find,
But a record I thrifted that soon would be mine.
The record a premium, at Kentucky Fried Chicken it sold,
With Colonel Sanders on the cover, looking so old.

He sat by the chimney, slumped down in a chair,
Wearing his trademark suit, which was as white as his hair.
I stared at his picture, his eyes tightly closed,
I wondered if he was sleeping, or dead, or just posed.

Traditional Christmas favorites can be found on this disc,
Jim Reeves, Floyd Cramer and Vic Damone in the mix;
No songs by the Colonel or any of his minions,
It's kind of boring, if you ask my opinion.

But the cover and concept is what keeps my attention,
And the gift contained within that bears a brief mention:
A card from the Colonel found inside the sleeve,
Told of his life, his fortune and the goals he achieved.

His chicken franchise was started way back in the fifties,
He earned two million dollars when he sold in the sixties.
Released in'67 on the RCA label,
The Colonel now fills both dinner and turn tables.
Though things may have changed since the release of this platter,
There are still 11 herbs and spices contained in the batter;
These days the franchise has something to hide,
The name's now KFC to lose the word "fried."

Though the Colonel title was honorary, Harland Sanders I thank,
For in giving us the spork, he deserves any rank.
And I could hear him say, as I filed the record out of sight,
"Extra Crispy to all, and to all a good-night!" (Corey LeChat)

Holiday Books...

...We Hope are Never Written


Adult fare:
The Christmas Spam
Of all the holiday-themed "Spam" books published thus far, this is the best by many inches. Young Billy gets much more than he wants and Sally gets much more than she needs, so everybody's happy in this wonderful new take on being taken. Includes related Web site that will capture you and your browser for minutes of interrupted fun.

Who's Watching Your Ass This Christmas?
Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly sticks it to immigrant-coddling Canadian mistletoe manufacturers, the liberal Candle Lobby, Virginazis and just about anyone else who thinks they can get away with celebrating Christmas while lacking a premium membership at After reading this you'll want to track down and shoot Rudolph yourself, plus his bastard spawn that the Democrats have been hiding from you for years.

Michael Jackson's Christmas in Bed
Penned prior to his recent arrest, the Excessively Tucked One's guide to celebrating between the sheets is bad, but not in a good way. When it's time for Michael's holiday games, bring your own "Get Out of Jail Free" card. For children of all ages, as long as they seem to be 12.

Noel Hell
What if Mary had believed in abortion? In Noel Hell, it's Ray-Bradbury-meets-Rush-Limbaugh, as this tale of time travel and crazy-ass conservatism unfolds across the millennia. Sam Stirch ("Christmas" reversed -- sort of) takes his liberal leanings and ready forceps back more than 2,000 years to teach the Blessed Virgin a lesson about choice and taking charge of her life in this excessively cautionary tale. When, in the end, Stirch steps through the door of his Bethlehem women's clinic one too many times, God intervenes by wiping Stirch from the face of the earth. God is then chased by lawyers waving the RICO act -- leaving room for an obvious sequel.

I Was a Soldier Over Christmas Too
Cpl. Bill O'Bryan, serving in our armed forces during the current war, rejects the label "hero" in the same way that Jessica Lynch does, but for different reasons: He's spent his entire stint at Ft. Myers, Va. Now he's pissed off that he'll be stuck there over Christmas too. Reportedly bedside reading for our President.

Make Your Yuletide Less Gay!
In perhaps one of the least successful backlashes against the current pro-gay craze on television and in the courts, unemployed interior designer Frederika Vaughn dresses Christmas in dark browns and blues and renames the reindeer "Hank" and "Barry" in an effort to keep the holiday itself from turning gay. Wasn't it already?

Not as grease-tabulous as the sold-out Broadway musical itself, but definitely worth its weight in salt. Here are the book and lyrics, plus photos of the cast chewing the scenery and the crew chewing the props.

For the kids:
Away in the Mange
Holiday hilarity ensues as kids learn to differentiate between the three kinds of mites that cause Puppy Pete to itch, itch, ITCH -- just in time for Christmas! Complete with a scratch 'n' scratch page and a magnifying glass.

The Night Before The Day Before Hanukah
A holiday that's eight days long requires at least a day and half of preparation, says the author of this board book for the younger set. But that's really about 35 hours too many, as dreidel-making and gelt-tossing quickly give way to cleaning tips for making last year's menorah shine anew. (Hint: Candle wax will not make those baby teeth glow like a shamus.)

Of local interest:
The Act 47 of the Apostles
An allegorical tale from Mayor Tom Murphy, this is much less convincing than even his Easter-time Letter to the Harrisburgians. Pittsburghers can only wait for the last volume of the trilogy (rumored title: Resignations) to see whether the City of the Rivers can be saved.

Also new and not worthy:
Christmas in the Afterlife (gift box set); A Matrix Kwanzaa; Christmas Without Enjoyment; Harry Potter and the Holiday Tie-In; and Who Sliced My Cheese Into Little Cubes and Shoved Toothpicks In It?

Top 5 Holiday Photo-Taking Tips
for the Photographer Taking Holiday Photos

Corey LeChat

Use a cheap or disposal camera with a built-in flash. They're just holiday snaps ... you'll take the same ones again next year. Besides, do you really want to explain to your aging parents how to download photos attached to an e-mail? It's bad enough you've become their tech support since they bought an iMac four years ago. "Well, Jeff Goldblum made it look so easy on that TV commercial." Thanks Jeff -- really. Bastard. Do you honestly have time to explain to Aunt Mabel how a digital camera works? "What? There's no film in it -- it's not really a camera then, is it?" Good old Aunt (pass the giblets and save me the neck) Mabel.

Shoot the tree and presents before the unwrapping begins. Nothing looks worse in a scrapbook than a photo series depicting empty boxes, tissue paper, mounds of gift-wrap scrap and unhappy kids holding socks.

Make sure you get plenty of pictures of your remaining grandparents -- especially since they've been mentioning this might be their last Christmas for the past 12 years. You'll be sad once they're proven right, and even more sad when you find they didn't make any provisions for you in their will, mainly because you never sent them holiday snapshots.

When shooting group photos -- always always always place the family member's girlfriend or boyfriend on the end. That advice also goes for dad's newest (and considerably younger) third wife. In the future, this will make cropping the offending exes a breeze. It becomes quite a chore cutting out folks from the center of pics -- and I've run out of Mr. Yuk stickers years ago.

Since the Simply Syrupy Awwwww-dorable Act of 1958 was passed, it is mandatory for the designated photographer to take at least one shot of a baby and/or pet dressed in holiday attire. I'm currently working on the business plan for my newest venture, Fetus' First Christmasâ„¢, which will entail scanning tiny elf costumes onto ultrasound photos. Watch for it and the tie-in Rankin/Bass Holiday Special this 2004!

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment