Pentagon Dance Party
The Pentagon has a secret. It’s spread by word of mouth, happens once a year, and is housed in the deepest underground chambers of the building.
Is it a confidential matter of national importance? Official business?
Nope. It’s way better than that.
It’s the best holiday party I’ve ever seen.
It all began back in 2019. It was my first holiday season in my new job and we were chatting at lunch about the upcoming party for our division.
Ron, who gleefully and single-handedly decorated the entire office every year, leaned over to Kelly, my supervisor, and loudly whispered, “Do you think we should tell them about the basement?”
“THE BASEMENT!? WHAT’S THAT?” I yelled from across the table.
Kelly raised her eyebrow the way she does when she’s about to say something mischievous and said, “I don’t know — do you think they can handle it?”
The other new coworker, Jenna, and I leaned forward and begged them to tell us more.
“Keep your eyes out for the flyer. It doesn’t look like much of anything — but that’s the point,” Rob said.
I started picturing typical holiday parties from my previous jobs — the cold conference room, paper plates bending under the weight of too much food, “Last Christmas” playing on repeat in the background. The only illicit twist I could possibly imagine was maybe some beers and permission to wear Hawaiian shirts.
After all, it was the Pentagon.
Our division party came and went, which to its credit, was delightful, delicious, and minimally awkward.
I settled back into my desk and deliberated whether I should try to do any real work. Suddenly, Ron appeared at the opening of my cubicle.
“It’s time. Meet us in the hall.”
I poked my head over the divider between Jenna and my cubicle and yelled into the back of her head. “IT’S TIME!”
“So where exactly is this place?” I asked as we tried to match Kelly’s brisk pace.
“You’ll see,” she said, eyebrow raised.
The temperature dropped as we descended multiple flights of stairs and winded through the concrete corridors. Workers in orange vests and helmets were loading and unloading mountains of boxes and zipping around in forklifts.
We finally stopped in front of what looked like a massive storage unit with a garage-style door. “This is it,” Ron said.
“Are you sure?” I asked. But suddenly, I heard the faint din of a crowd of people and started to feel vibrations coming through the floor.
The massive door slowly opened and a wave of black light, fluorescent disco ball glare, and the pulsating beats of Ice Cube’s “Back that A** Up” poured out. My jaw dropped as I grabbed Jenna’s arm and walked into the darkness.
I was no longer standing in a giant warehouse in the basement of the Pentagon — this was a legitimate night club! A DJ stand towered over the dancefloor and people were laughing as they exited the photo booth wearing boas and Santa hats, their arms thrown around each other. My walk became a sprint as I looked back to make sure Ron and Kelly were still with me.
“I can’t believe this!” I yelled over my shoulder.
“We told you!”
I turned to see a swarm of people cheersing each other and waiting in line for the biggest slices of cake I had ever seen. A couple women motioned for us to follow them to the dance floor.
“Is this your first time?”
“Yes!” I screamed back.
“What do you think!?”
“This is incredible! They’re playing songs with F-words!”
“F-WORDS!” I yelled and proceeded to put my back into it, per Ice Cube’s encouragement.
After Jenna and I bellowed all the words we knew to Flo Rida’s “Low,” we spotted Ron and Kelly on the sidelines and shimmied over to capture them in a dance circle. To my shock and delight, they threw their hands in the air and started singing along. I couldn’t believe I was dancing the afternoon away with my supervisor.
The DJ transitioned to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and We. All. Lost. Our. Minds.
A new wave of partygoers spilled onto the dance floor, and we were engulfed in a sea of fist pumping and gyrating. This was the best workday of my life.
We burst through our office door two hours later breathless, sweaty, and eager to tell everyone what we had just experienced. Kelly even took a video of us dancing and beamed while she passed her phone around to share. One of my favorite co-workers, Lawrence, said he had no idea this scientist was also a dancer! I hadn’t been dancing since I moved, and now I got to tell my friends my first DC club experience had been at the Pentagon. I couldn’t believe I got to share this part of myself at work.
When COVID hit, I knew there wouldn’t be any holiday party magic in 2020.
Even in 2021, things still weren’t back to normal. I kept looking for the intentionally rudimentary flyer on every table and bathroom stall, but I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to happen.
Then, this past December, Ron said he heard rumors the basement party was back. I made him promise to tell me when he knew for sure. This was my last year working with Ron and Kelly, and I wanted to go out with a bang. And a banger.
Once again, our own holiday party came and went, and I started getting antsy. I had a feeling it was that day, and I was booked in meetings until 2:30! I thought about skipping them, but it was the last couple weeks at this job, and I should try to get real work done.
I was in the middle of a meeting and saw some co-workers starting to gather around Ron’s cubicle. I shot straight up at my desk, only to be yanked back down by the wire connecting my headset to the computer.
WERE THEY GOING WITHOUT ME!?
I waved my arms to get their attention, and Ron whispered they were just going to scope it out. He promised he wouldn’t have any fun without me.
I sat back down with a loud *harumph* and immediately texted them in all caps to please come back for me.
About 30 minutes later, the group returned as promised. Someone had even drawn a crude map from memory to guide me there. I threw off my headset and leapt out of my chair. “IT’S TIME!!”
I sprinted through the concrete labyrinth and saw the closed warehouse door up ahead.
I stood panting in front of that familiar garage door — but something didn’t feel right. There was no din of the uproarious crowd. There were no faint vibrations.
I looked at my phone — it was only 3pm! It was supposed to last until 4!
I pounded on the metal door. “Hello? Is there a party in there!?”
There was nothing. The corridor was cold, empty, and quiet.
I couldn’t believe it. The party was already over.
I had waited two years for this, and now I may never see it again. I dragged my feet the entire way back.
I am sad to say lots of real work got done that day, and I was the last one to leave that night. The office lights turned off automatically as they always do at 6pm and I was left sitting alone in the dark. The glow of the holiday lights and forgotten decorations looked eerily beautiful, and I could hear Last Christmas playing faintly to an empty room.
Out of the darkness, I caught a glimpse of a homemade, glittery sign on my desk that Lawrence had made for my birthday one year. It read “My Whole Life is Lit.” Apparently this was something I had said when deflecting criticism that I would be spending the holidays working on my dissertation instead of going out. I was content to stay in because, well, my whole life was lit.
I let out a loud sigh, zipped up my long puffy jacket, grabbed a discarded candy cane from the table, and walked out the door. My steps echoed through the corridors, and I waved goodnight to the evening cleaning crew. I kept trying to pinpoint why exactly I cared about this party so much. It had just been for a couple hours, and I go dancing all the time now. Why did I want this so much?
Maybe it wasn’t the party I was attached to — it was the realization I was closing in on the last few weeks of this job. This job for which I had moved across the country five years ago without knowing anything about the military, the Pentagon, or how I’d be received. I had brought my full, flawed, passionate self to this job, and my co-workers had celebrated all of it.
Although I had enjoyed moments of success in graduate school, I had never had a safe place to grow, learn, fail, and thrive professionally like this before. I couldn’t believe I had found such freedom at the Pentagon of all places. This job represented my first professional secure attachment — a safe base from which to explore. My whole life really had been lit since I took this job, and maybe I didn’t need the basement party to feel that electricity again.
Maybe it was for the best I didn’t make it to the party that day. Maybe it’s enough to have the gift of a good story; the best and most unexpected holiday party of my life, a job I loved, and co-workers I’d never forget.