How many times have you watched a nature documentary and thought, “So this is how I’m spending another Friday night—watching a lion eviscerate an elk. Man, why did I ever break up with Kim? Or, more precisely, why did I ever let Kim break up with me? Why didn’t I do something? She always said I lacked initiative so this could have been my big chance to prove her wrong! I could have kept calling her. I could have kept following her. I could have surprised her with flowers or a sudden appearance in her bushes. Maybe then we’d be together instead of me sitting alone watching some big, fat cat mount another big, fat OH GOD, KIM! IF YOU’RE READING THIS THEN PLEASE, PLEASE TAKE ME BACK! I’LL STOP DRINKING! I’LL STOP GAMBLING! I’LL STOP BETTING ON HOW MUCH I CAN DRINK! JUST PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS IN SOME VACATIONING FAMILY’S HOUSE AS I WATCH THEIR CABLE TV!!!”
So to summarize, coworkers are a lot like lions. Lions travel in a pack or “pride” (a word you’ll rarely hear during your professional years) to ensure their mutual survival. Similarly, coworkers travel in packs to bars to ensure that they just don’t go home all alone after work to watch yet another nature documentary as they silently wish that they were dead.
But like an outside lion seeking entrance into a pride, you can’t just join an employee drinking pack. You have to be welcomed into one. You have to wait for a coworker to vouch for you by saying “She’s cool” or “He’s gonna follow us anyway.” Once invited you’ll then be asked how you like working for the company. BE CAREFUL! This is not some idle chit chat. This is an incisive character test not unlike the ones G.I.’s used in World War II movies when they asked undercover Nazis who won the 1936 World series (only for the hapless spy to answer, “Herr Donald Duck.”) Respond cheerfully, “I love working there!” and the others will automatically peg you as the manager’s pet or mole (or perhaps pet mole). Respond truthfully, “If someone had told me when I was a kid that I would spend my entire adult life in marketing I never would have recuperated from Scarlet Fever” and you’ll be back on your couch watching two gorillas corner a screaming cameraman. Your best option is to find that happy middle ground and respond, “It’s a job.” Then quickly share an embarrassing anecdote about a fellow but absent staff member. After all, coworkers feast on gossip like a palsied zebra.
Having now ensconced yourself in the employee pack, you have to maintain your membership by being entertaining but not overwhelming. Catty but not cutting. Agreeable but not too pliable. And smart but not so you leave the rest of the table wondering what the fuck an “Archimedes’ screw” is. You must also be the first to buy a round of drinks for everyone at the table. Pack-wise this is the equivalent of bringing in a “fresh kill, “ thereby proving your value to the rest of the members. (Unless, of course, you return with six cans instead of six tumblers and say, “Johnny Walker Blue, Pabst Blue Ribbon, what’s the difference?”)
Once alcohol is introduced, though, self-control is almost always reduced. And once the little editor in your mind is too drunk to operate your verbal seven-second delay you may very well say something that could get you kicked out of the pack or—depending on the comment—the industry. But until then at least you won't be sitting at home another night, sobbing copiously as a meerkat is mourned to the strains of Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You."