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Opening Arguments

Beginning to look a lot like quichemass

Times-are-even-tougher-than-you-thought department:

In this brutal season of cutbacks, the office holiday party is getting downsized, too.

From American Express to MTV to the Bend, Ore., city government, employers are canceling Christmas celebrations because of the gloomy economy. At some other workplaces, last year's catered affair is this season's potluck.

“It's grim,” said Daniel Briones, president of the National Association of Catering Executives and catering director at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia. He called the drop-off in business the worst since 2001, when the holidays unfolded in the shadow of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

For some companies, this is about appearances as much as money. No firm wants to be pilloried for plowing cash — in some cases, taxpayer dollars — into ice sculptures and raw bars while workers fear for their jobs and shareholders for their investments.

Grim, indeed. I'm happy to say we here in the newspaper business have been way ahead of this curve. When I started out, at a small chain in Wabash and then Michigan City, there was always an actual Christmas party at somebody's house -- usually somebody from upper management who wanted to seem like a regular guy. And it worked, at least on me -- my affections couldn't be bought, but they could be rented for the season.

When I came to Fort Wayne, I discovered the Christmas party was held at a nearby watering hole, either Henry's or the back room of Coumbia Street West. In addition to a nice buffet, there was an open bar until the money provided by the newspaper ran out, after which we started paying for our own drinks, which we were more than happy to do.

But that was years ago. For about a decade now, our "holiday" (not "Christmas") party has been a potluck carry-in. This year, I'm bringing a vegetable dish and my famous quiche.

Bah, humbug. I mean, Happy Holidays!