This being the Christmas season, you've probably got an office party coming up, and the last thing in the world you want to be is stuck without a snappy comeback when someone asks, "Read any great dermatology textbooks lately?"

Nothing makes you feel more like a bozo than an inability to join in on the light, bright and utterly meaningless chatter that floats about in a Christmas party. You can feel them staring at you, whispering among themselves: "Will you get a load of that moron. Where's he from, Iraq?"

So as a public service, here's a list of Safe-Sports conversations that are guaranteed to get you through the torture of being backed against the wall by a close personal friend of the cousin of Bruce Babbitt's domestic policy expert's dentist.

Cities. Good Year/Bad Year (Don't confuse with "Tires, Goodyear/Bad Year"):

At the top of the list is Minnesota, with those cute-as-a-button Twins winning the World Series, and the Vikings, with their traveling Breathalyzers, about to make the playoffs. If no one asks you about the North Stars, forget them. Hockey is important to 112,450 people in 23 North American cities, 22 of which require snow tires. (FYI: True, Minnesota isn't a city, but sports fans don't know that, just as they don't know Tampa Bay and Golden State aren't cities either.)

San Francisco had an excellent year, too. Those Humm Babies won the NL West in baseball, and the 49ers have the best record in football. Okay, the Warriors are in the dumper, but Don Nelson is making people walk the plank like Captain Hook.

Detroit can be proud. The Tigers' stunning finish stole the AL East. The Pistons stretched the Celtics to the limit in the playoffs. The Red Wings were playoff winners for the first time in a decade. (Whatever you do, don't mention the Lions, the worst news in Detroit since Nissan.)

Bad cities? Tons of them. Atlanta, as usual, had dork. The Hawks were upset by Detroit in the NBA playoffs. The Falcons and Braves rooted about in the mud. Georgia Tech was down in basketball, dreadful in football. Being a sports fan in Dallas was almost as much fun as having the flu. The Cowboys and Rangers went belly-up. The Mavs, as they always do, left the playoffs early to beat the crowd. SMU? Which bowl are they in, the Alcatraz Bowl? Los Angeles had the Lakers, but the Dodgers are in need of exorcism as are the Kings, Raiders and UCLA. (However, the Rams, for trading Eric "2, 4, 6, 8, I Demand To Renegotiate" Dickerson and then going on a winning streak, should be applauded.)

The worst city? No contest, East Rutherford, N.J.: Nets, Jets, Giants. Feh! And if anybody at the party mentions Washington, D.C., simply change the subject to . . .


Whoa, Nelly! Don't invite these two big hosses to the same trough. Here's the ineffable Riggo, fresh from witty table repartee with Ms. Justice O'Connor, with a few choice observations about his successor at running back, Mr. Rogers. Can you spell "wimp" boys and girls?

Riggo says Rogers doesn't want to run through the rough stuff -- through the mud, the blood and the beer -- like the great backs do, like, ahem, he did. (Those of you from Christmas parties past will recall making similar conversation when Jim Brown said the same thing about Franco Harris.) Riggo says Rogers can't fill his shoes; what's more, he's deluding himself about how fast he is. And by the way, the same goes for Kelvin Bryant.

In response, Rogers took his chaw out long enough to say Riggo ought to put a sock in it. Quoth Mr. Rogers: "I think he should just keep his mouth shut." Boys and girls, do you know what the phrase "yo mama" means?

This is the best fight in town since Raisa cuffed Nancy upside the head. A few tips on how to make the most out of it at parties: Discuss Riggo's fashion statement; the Kansas letter sweater and beard gave him the look of a demented anthropologist. Ask people if Riggo normally is so outspoken, or is it the presence of antifreeze in his system? Mention that Rogers hasn't been the same since hurting his toe in training camp, then suggest that the Redskins ask Rogers to make a bronzed facsimile of said toe to be awarded annually to the regular who misses the most training camp practices. If the conversation begins to flag, switch to . . .

Baseball Expansion:

An ever-popular topic inside the Beltway. Everyone will puff out their chests and tell you that expansion is inevitable. They'll remind you Edward Bennett Williams promised he'd never stand in its way (please remain straightfaced, resisting the impulse to giggle), and quote Peter Ueberroth's placating bon mot, "The train has left the station." Ask to see their tickets.

Maryland is building a downtown Baltimore stadium for the Orioles alongside I-95, a 40 minute drive from the Chevy Chase traffic circle. Remind people that it takes twice as long to make a withdrawal from the auto teller at the most important bank in the most important city in the world. Tell them they might as well bop over to Birdland, because Washington is never, ever getting a baseball team. If things turn ugly, think of something else, but don't mention . . .


Because they're Glade. They'll clear the room, and all of a sudden you're alone. Nobody likes a party pooper.