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sometimes I imagine myself walking around like the awkward penguin and somehow it makes me feel better

Maybe it is because the release of the movie trailer for The Great Gatsby (2013) starring the Titanic “I am the king of the World” guy, the roaring twenties is certainly a popular theme for holiday parties this year. Based on the limited sample size of three, I confess: Two of the company parties (in different offices) I was fortunately enough to be invited to were of “The Roaring Twenties” and “Speakeasy” themes. And the hotel we will happen to be staying in on New Year’s Eve also will be a roaring twenties party.

So here is a tutorial on how to rock the 20s…

#1. Be white.

Ok, I am being facetious.

#1. Don’t tell your co-workers at a retro theme party that as a matter of fact if we were in THE era, you would not have been allowed to be in the same room as they, unless you were working as a waitress.

Hey, just want to get it out of the way.


#2. If you are a gentleman, wear your 3-piece suit and a gangster hat (i.e. expensive-looking fedora). You are done! See the gentleman in the picture who’s pointing his gun at me. Pretty sure he did not even have to dress up for his gangster acting gig.

#3. If you have short hair, wear a pretty elastic beaded headband the “wrong” way. Find any earrings that are dramatic and preferably in the Art Deco style (or, in fact, any geometrical shape will do. i.e. no hoop earrings…) at your local Marshalls and T.J.Maxx. If you have medium to long hair, you could be all professional actress-y and do the Finger Waves or Pin Curls. Or you could be lazy practical and tie your hair in a pony tail, tuck the tail inside the hair above the elastic band, stick 100 pins to keep the tucked hair in place and call it a day. See the crazy wombat on the right in the picture.

#4. You don’t need a dress strictly in the 20s style. Something with a simple silhouette will do. The key, I found out accidentally after the effect, is to have a nice, classy shawl.

#5. Take advantage of the fact that women did not know about “F* Me Heels” back then and spare your feet on the dance floor. Wear low heels with t-straps or some Mary Janes also look right for the occasion. I ended up with these.

#6. Scour your local second-hand stores for a beaded purse. I got mine for $12.

#7. Costume long black gloves, $8. Costume cigarette holder, $2. Going all out in lalaland, priceless.


#8. Take advantage of this opportunity to try out the “smokey eyes” makeup techniques from YouTube. Don’t fall asleep while watching this lady taking frigging 20 minutes to do her eyes and then think that you could just wing it. Don’t even attempt to draw in your eyebrows. Unless you have had practice before, let’s just stay away from the eyebrows. I don’t care if women in the 20s had strong eyebrows. If only we all looked like Louise Brooks and her amazing eyebrows!

#9. Make peace with your eyebrows.

#10. Perhaps you should consider getting enough sleep so the black circles under your eyes will not become augmented the night of the party and conveniently blend in nicely with the smokey eye look and turn it into a rabid raccoon look. Or, if you are Chinese like I am, it would be a nice panda look.

  Ta da!





#11. When you walk into the second party and immediately realize that you and your date are the only two people who actually dress up for the theme, don’t panic.

#12. Charm the actors hired to be a gangster and a British Constable (yes, do ignore the fact that there is a British Bobby at a Speakeay party) so greatly that they grabbed you as soon as you walked in the door to have pictures taken with you, not with your camera. While you are at it,  become simpatico with the actresses/flappers because of your awesome Louise Brooks choker.

#13. Yes, it’s ok to let the gangster kiss you on the cheek as he points his gun at you. (What you gonna do about it anyway?)

#14. When someone you know upon recognizing you actually bursts out laughing, and instead of approaching to say hi and telling you how awesome you are for having the guts, turns in another direction, stay cool.

#15. Make belief that you and your date are at some random bar surrounded by strangers (which may as well be the case, the part about “being surrounded by strangers”). The only difference is — Everything is FREE! Have more fun than everybody else around you.

That’s the best revenge of all: happiness. Nothing drives people crazier than seeing someone having a good fucking laugh. — Chuck Palahniuk



And finally, as always, channel Louise Brooks wherever you are.


For two extraordinary years I have been working on it – learning to write – but mostly learning how to tell the truth. At first it is quite impossible. You make yourself better than anybody, then worse than anybody, and when you finally come to see you are “like” everybody – that is the bitterest blow of all to the ego. But in the end it is only the truth, no matter how ugly or shameful, that is right, that fits together, that makes real people, and strangely enough – beauty…

Louise Brooks on writing a memoir


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December 13, 2011

in therapy in session

Scene: The basement of an upscale restaurant in a hip Chicago neighborhood

Cast: Her. And a throne of other women. It would be accurate to add “mostly young and attractive (and white except her and one other woman, though this has nothing to do with anything really…)” Being young adds 20% at least to the overall attractiveness btw. Youth is something the young does not know to appreciate.

Setting: A “women @ company” event aiming to “unite” women in the company. Tonight’s event is for a popular Chicago chef to share with her exclusive audience how she overcame the male-dominant restaurant business.

There have been several emails going out to all the women in the office promoting this event. Come meet your co-workers, listen to someone who’s braved the male-dominant world and made it, be empowered (well, they have never actually used the word “empowered” in any of the communications. It’s like we are so liberated now, and all these “women @ company” events have to be coached in a non-militant, non-aggressive way), and oh yeah, have some cocktails and food while you do all of the above. She was not planning to go because she does not have any friend in the office. She just joined the company this past year and for all her work duties, she works with a different office remotely. For all intent and purposes, the space she occupies may as well be a rental space. Proof? This office location had two holiday parties and she was not invited to either. Sorry.

Somehow she decided that it’s her duty to support this bourgeoning group, “Women @ Company”. It’s simply not nice to poo-poo these events and cry about women not being valued (or valued less) in the company. With the sense of duty and “Oh, how bad can it be?” thought, she walked the 3 blocks.

She was relieved upon entering the room reserved for private parties to see one of her cubicle mates. Great! Someone she knew. She quickly got a vodkacran from the bar tender who listened sympathetically as she recounted how the office holiday party in another city that she went to last week had only a not-open open bar. The bar tender, probably feeling sorry, gave her a heavy pour of Ketel One.

She stood around awkwardly with her cube-mate and a couple of women whom her cube-mate knew. She instinctively sensed that one of the other women would rather not be in this circle that they formed. You just know these things, right? You could tell from the body language. The angling out. The slight turning-away. The “Oh I am so relieved you are here because now I don’t have to be talking to this woman whom I don’t know and have no interest in knowing” expression when someone else showed up. So now the circle was broken into two. Inconspicuously. But not, unfortunately for her, imperceptibly.  Leaving her and her poor cube-mate whom she suspected was cursing her own bad luck, “Wait. I want to be in that other circle. The new one!”

Cube-mate quickly announced, “Well, I have to leave. I have to be home by 6 to relieve my nanny.” Yes, cube-mate is one of the few other women in the office with kids, even though cube-mate is probably almost a decade younger than she is.

With cube-mate gone, she’s left in an awkward position. “No matter. I will go get another drink!” Bar tender was happy to see her friendly face again. “Another one?” “Yes.” It’s amazing how almost all the bars she’s visited she never had to tell the bar tender what she wanted after the first round. She turned around with her new drink, and was faced with one of the most horrifying realizations. She did not have a circle to go back to.



She went back to the vicinity of the aforementioned new circle, just to test the water. No. Nobody made that slight movement to welcome her. She’s now faced with a tough decision: “What the fuck should I do now?”


She took out her phone and pretended to check her messages in the midst of women engaging in delightful conversations. “This probably looks really rude. People are going to think that I am being a-social.” Chastised, she put away her phone quickly and braced herself. She turned around, took a deep breath, and slowly made her way to the bar. With a FULL drink.

The few seconds felt like eternity and the short walk felt as if it’d never end. Sorry for the cliche. But it is what it was. Nobody. She did not know anybody. Nobody acknowledged her presence. No circles opened up. She positioned herself by the bar, with a FULL drink, pretending that she’s waiting in line. For what? Her drink was fucking full. Yes, she could have finished her drink quickly so she could get another one. But she’s going to be faced with the same hell with a 3rd drink in her hand. She quickly decided that drinking heavily and fast by yourself in a small, and worse, well-lit room where it’s easily seen that you’re drinking heavily and fast by yourself was probably more pathetic than the situation she was already in. She moved back to the new circle and she forced herself into the circle by physically tresspassing the invisible line that formed the circle.

“Excuse me. Sorry to interrupt. Hi, I am XXX. Nice meeting you.”

Now, this was not her imagination: If people want to include you, they will move slightly to make room. If not, they will simply turn around in order to address you, without moving.

It was made very clear to her.

“Fuck. This is even more awkward than before.” She quickly thought. “Do you know what time the chef will start speaking?”

“Oh. She’s supposed to start at 5:30.”

“Ok. Thanks!”

The women went back to their conversation.

She moved away from the force field and looked at her watch. 5:15. She turned around to survey the sea of circles and felt her eyes getting warm.

She needed to get out of there now.

On her way back to the office, her tears started swarming out of the corners of her eyes. Luckily it’s winter and it’s already pitch dark. The turn of the event caught her off guard. This was one of the selves that she was not prepared to confront.

She resisted looking at the darkened shop windows as she walked by, as her vain self was wont to, afraid that she’d see someone from the past.

“I thought I’ve left you behind many years ago.”

And she’d been proven wrong. So. very. wrong.

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