Even Scrooge likes Christmas

   Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, buzzed me on the intercom.
   "Iíve got the final head count for the Christmas party, she said, knowing Iíd be interested.
   I cringed. "How many are coming?"
   "Including you, 65."
   "Sixty-Five!!! How did it get so high?"
   She was enjoying this. "48 employees, 17 guests. Donít worry, the guests are paying $20 per person."
   "In advance?"
   Ms. Ferguson was aware of my propensity in past years of getting caught up in the spirit of the party, slapping an employee on the back and telling them not to worry about paying me for their guests.
   "Yes, in advance. Iíve already collected."
   "Good." I said. "You know, I donít mind an employee bringing a guest, but $20 doesnít even cover the total cost of drinks and dinner. We should have charged $30."
   "Merry Christmas, Ebenezer," said Ms. Ferguson, hanging up.
   As usual, she was right. My attitude needed some adjusting. I vowed to work on it before the big event.
   And I tried. We had the Christmas party at a local restaurant last week, and the turnout was excellent. Everyone who said they were coming showed up. And that meant everyone who worked for me. "Everyone!" I cried incredulously to my general manager, Ralph, as I scanned the group before dinner. "Weíve never had 100 percent attendance. Why this year, when I can least afford it?"
   "Times are tough," Ralph replied, munching a little too quickly on an appetizer. "No one wanted to pass up a free dinner and night on the town."
   Ms. Ferguson wandered over. "Itís time for the Kris Kringle," she said cheerily, referring to our annual custom of drawing a name from a hat and then buying a gift for that person.
   The drawing had occurred two weeks before the party. I had drawn Fred, a recent addition to our sales staff. The problem was, unbeknownst to him, there was a good chance Fred was going to be laid off right after the New Year.
   I thought long and hard, but I decided a reference letter would not be an appropriate gift.
   I got him a jacket instead. He loved it, despite recognizing it as coming from the close-out rack in one of our stores.
   I received my gift from Anita, and it was lovely. My only disappointment was that I recognized it as something that was not purchased from one of our stores.
   We then sat down to dinner. By this time a few thousands appetizers had been consumed, and I saw no need to order an actual dinner. Everyone else, unfortunately, saw otherwise.
   With a party this size, it would be wise to get a fixed price menu with perhaps a choice of beef or chicken. But I prefer to let everyone order whatever they want off the full menu. That way I can see who really cares about the company.
   Itís also the eternal optimist in me. Every year I assume the favorite choice will be the Ground Round Steak for $6.95, including salad. And every year Iím disappointed.
   Fortunately, by the time dinner rolls around, so have the cocktails. Not only have most employees or guests lost their inhibitions about what to order, but I have lost my ability to care. Much
   I still manage, however, to take a few mental notes. After delivering a convincing speech encouraging everyone to satisfy their every gastronomical whim, I listen carefully as the orders are placed. My conclusions:
   $6.95 to $10.95: on the verge of becoming true friends.
   $7.95 to $13.95: unless they have some special talent, not likely to remain with the company for life.
   $14.95 to 16.95: theyíd better eat every bit. It will probably be their last party.
   $17.95 to "market price": Fired on the spot.
   I was sitting next to Ralph and Ms. Ferguson. The waiter came to take our order. I went the $9.95 route, playing it safe. Not too cheap, not too extravagant.
  Ralph ordered lobster, Ms. Ferguson the rack of lamb -- $17.95 each. While I was banging my head on the table, they laughed and raised their glasses, toasting my generosity.
   Iíll miss them.

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