The scene is a department party, in our office’s conference room, to celebrate the imminent birth of a pregnant coworker’s baby. The conference room’s only decoration is projected from the computer to a screen, a screen cap from Dumbo, with the mother elephant cradling her newborn baby, and white Arial text saying, “Congratulations, [name redacted]!”
I am sitting next to my boss’s boss, and across from one of my sort of bosses (it’s a dotted line report), and we are enjoying mini cupcakes that Boss’s Boss baked from scratch. “Weren’t you sure the baby was going to come yesterday, Name Redacted?” Polite, well-intentioned needling seems to be a theme at office gatherings. I love it.
“I thought it would be today! Yesterday I was sure it would be today! I kept saying, ‘It’ll be the 24th, I can feel it! I just know!”
“It’s a good thing the baby didn’t come today,” a coworker says wryly. “This way you don’t have to deal with an astrological cusp. Much more difficult to raise.” A laugh from everyone.
“Totally,” says another coworker. “Plus, Mercury is in retrograde, which is why Kim Kardashian’s marriage is doomed.” Another, bigger laugh. And then the conversation breaks off into several informal conversations. I am now talking to Sort of Boss and Boss’s Boss, because they have me sort of cornered at the conference table, but also because they are nice and I like them both.
“We should hire Kim Kardashian as a Major Gift Officer,” I say. I find in polite conversation it’s usually best to piggyback off of other people’s jokes, specifically the successful ones, so that your sense of humor doesn’t offend.
Sort of Boss smiles. “Yeah, we’d definitely get some major gifts.” There was a meaningful pause before “Major.” Boss’s Boss laughs.
“Haha, yeah,” I responded. Emboldened by Sort of Boss’s joke, I take the last bite of my cupcake and say, “Yes, and by major gifts, you mean SYPHILIS! HEYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” And then I froze.
There was a panicked moment, probably really only a tenth of a second in length, where I thought, “WHY THE HELL DID YOU SAY THAT, YOU IDIOT, WHY CAN’T YOU LEARN TO KEEP YOUR FAT MOUTH SHUT, THESE ARE ADULTS, YOU IDIOT, YOU HAVE TO TALK TO THESE PEOPLE LIKE THEY ARE ADULTS, why would you joke about venereal diseases with your boss’s boss, who bakes, who keeps an organic garden and brings tomatoes for her employees in gift bags, SEBASTIAN YOU IDIOT, why did you do that, what the hell is wrong with you, is this it? Am I getting fired? HOLY SHIT I AM GETTING FIRED, THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING I NEED THE INSURANCE, MY COLON HURTS, MY COLON IS ALREADY HURTING, OW SHIT MY COLON HURTS”
A tenth of a second later, both of them started laughing. Very hard. At my joke. I laughed along for what seemed like a convincing length of time—convincing enough to prove to them that I had not just had a decisecond-long silent panic attack—and then shoved another mini-cupcake in my mouth and prudently excused myself to get some Diet Coke. And then I left the party and pretended to be really, really busy for the rest of the day.