In honor of the rapidly accelerating holiday season, allow me to offer the following icebreaker for company parties, get-togethers with vague acquaintances, and feasts with extended family members who really should know you better.
I came up with this drinking game years ago, when I worked as an editorial assistant in a publishing house. I was one of the few Latinos in the office, which is relevant both sociologically and for the purposes of the game.
At this particular company, 5:01 pm of each Friday marked The Running of The EAs. At that moment, every poorly compensated editorial assistant in the building sprinted for the elevator. I myself once came close to leaving my footprint in the chest of my boss, who had gotten between the exit and me with her banal wish that I "have a nice weekend."
When we got to the bar (an old favorite) on this night, my co-workers and I quickly took over the backroom by the pool table, which was our custom. To my concern, however, we had used up all our witty banter for the week, and now we had nothing to say. Perhaps it was because were only on the second round, so the alcohol hadn't yet kicked in.
Regardless, it was going to be awhile before someone got drunk enough to say something idiotic or profound or both. So I jumpstarted conversation.
"OK, everybody," I said. "Guess my race!"
One would think that, with the fragile state of race relations in this country (and in a pre-Obama world), such a demand would prompt even more awkward silence or perhaps some aghast stares. In certain company, it's more proper to grab an acquaintance's hand and blow your nose into it while revealing a dark sexual secret. At least then you wouldn't have to talk about race.
But this was a Gen X, multiracial crowd in New York City, and I figured the odds were in my favor. Indeed, I had barely finished saying the words before an EA shouted, "Korean!"
"Wrong," I said. "Drink up."
"Iranian!" said another.
"Drink up." I responded.
"Mexican," an EA yelled.
"Be more specific," I said. "Or less. Either way, drink up."
It wasn't long, of course, before I heard "Hispanic," and I said that I would have also accepted Latino or El Salvadoran. But the game was on. For awhile, we swigged beer and shouted at each other about our ancestors.
Was that EA really Lithuanian-Brazilian? Was the other one half-black, half-white? And was Jewish a sufficient answer to a drinking game based on race? By the time we got to the Japanese-German girl, conversation was flowing more easily, and my job was done.
We never played the game again, and I'm sure that by the end of the evening, most EAs had forgotten who was a quarter-Swedish and who had been raised by a Puerto Rican stepfather.
But maybe we had opened a dialogue on the thorniest issue facing our great country, which would lead to major breakthroughs and the resolution of all the problems that gnaw at our national character.
Or perhaps it was just a way to speed up getting plowed on a Friday night.
Yes, I'm sure that was it.
And in any case, unlike old standbys such as "President" or "I Never," this drinking game has a fundamental flaw. With any given crowd, you can only play it once.