Driving to the office party, I am telling the husband what to expect, even though I have no idea, personally, what in this world to expect.

"It's just a party," he says with a shrug. "We'll go in, have some fun."

Fun? Oh, for heaven's sakes. This is an office party. I don't think fun is really the point. What is the point? The office. Or more specifically, office people, seeing as, like the office picnic, it is an off-premises event. I'm explaining this to the husband, whose brow is ruffled in the direction of a headache. Ahem. This is a party of office people without the office. This is me and my co-workers standing around the boss's house, a place I can imagine only in terms of it not featuring a copier and Post-it notes and lots of little stray paper clips. This is an opportunity for us to relate not as humans hidden behind our job titles or our duties or our work paraphernalia, but as humans hidden behind . . . nothing. Regular old humans. How terrifying.

"Why are we doing this?" I say to the husband.

"Because we were invited?" he offers.

Well, technically, I was invited. "You're the trophy husband," I say to him.

"My pleasure," he says.

"Okay, now listen," I say. "I don't yet know everyone's name, so if I don't say a name, don't ask me it. Got it? And look out for the wife of the guy with the frizzy hair--she's a big shot. Just so you know. Also, there's a guy with a very black mustache and perfect eyebrows. He's the assistant to the bald guy with the goatee, so that's why he laughs at all his jokes even though no one else really does. You are not expected to laugh. Oh, and be careful of the woman with too much perfume. Please don't make fun of her in any way."

"Right," he says, but you can tell he's not intending to make use of my briefing material. "It's just . . . a party," he says. "We'll go in, have some fun."

Where is he getting this? This has nothing to do with fun. This is Human Resources without the capital H and R. This is humans reduced to their most basic resources. People just standing around a room talking. What are we going to talk about? Will I have anything to talk about? I am not good at cocktail party talk, but then again, this is what almost everyone says. Me, though, I am not even sure what cocktail party talk is. I am explaining this to the husband. I am reminding him that I am new at this. Apparently, I was self-employed for way too long. Back in those good old days, the company picnic was easy. It was just Me, Myself and I eating a sandwich under a tree. Sort of like the office Christmas party. Me, Myself and I yukking it up with a glass of eggnog.

"Maybe it will do you some good to . . . get out," the husband says, opening the car door. I tell him that the trophy husband is not supposed to have opinions. I tell him to just stand there and look pretty. I tell him I have decided not to speak unless spoken to, that I'm going to run this one like a test drive, my own personal orientation to office party culture. "And if they think I'm a boring wallflower, so be it," I say. "I am not yet ready to bloom."

"Right."

The boss's house is beautiful. I wonder if I should say so. I wonder if I should comment on the art on the walls. I find myself voyeuristically lured to the stuff hanging on his refrigerator, photos and little quotes and other true evidence of the everyday human. I wonder if this is off base, somehow, and shift my gaze to the floor. But then again, he didn't take the stuff down. I wish he had a pet. I'm glad his wife is so welcoming. I should have brought a homemade hostess gift, darn it. I'm getting some good laughs with my "trophy husband" line, but the trophy husband is getting more with his deadpan Tommy Smothers routine. No one is talking about the weather or the NFL, which is a huge relief. I am learning a lot about trial law from someone else's trophy husband, and then in the next room I learn many truly thrilling things I never knew about archaeology from the wife of the bow-tie man who runs a foundation. I wonder why cocktail party talk gets such a bad rap. I wonder if I'm the only one afraid. I wonder what we're all so afraid of. If I really had the courage, I would stand up and give a big speech about how much I know about the alternative, the office parties with Me, Myself and I in which you can show up in slippers and a robe, but the only way you ever learn anything new is if you bring a book.

At 8:30 the trophy husband reminds me of his promise to me that we would leave at 8:30 on the dot. I ask him if he would mind staying another hour or so. At midnight we are finally pulling into our driveway, and it's fascinating the way the moon has so many more craters on it than I remember.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is laskasmail@aol.com.