“I Think About This a Lot” is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Every year at Christmastime I spend a lazy afternoon binge-watching all seven holiday episodes of The Office. It’s an event I generally pair with mimosas and a ratty terry-cloth robe that’s barely hanging on by a thread. I’m a queer person who has been estranged from my very conservative family for years. The Christmas traditions I once shared with them are loaded with painful memories, so I consider this easy TV day my new holiday tradition. I’ve seen these episodes of The Office a million times. They’re comforting and silly, and they’re an activity I can enjoy on my own.
The eighth season of the show features a holiday special that people often skip in favor of episodes from earlier seasons. In “Christmas Wishes,” Dunder Mifflin branch manager Andy Bernard (played by Ed Helms in a Santa hat) attempts to make his employees’ “wishes” come true at the annual Christmas party. Over the course of the night, Erin Hannon, the branch’s secretary and Andy’s recent ex (Ellie Kemper), grows increasingly intoxicated in order to deal with the fact that Andy invited his hot new girlfriend to the party. Secretary Erin, who is a lovable, well-meaning, and wholesome goofball, gets wrecked and mean. At the height of her inebriation, an angry Erin tells Andy her “Christmas wish” — which is that his new girlfriend were dead.
It’s funny stuff (made especially hilarious by Kemper, who tromps around the office sloppy drunk and shoeless in a way that feels very on brand for someone who’s been recently dumped). Even though it’s the first holiday episode without Steve Carell, I really like watching it. A particular line from the special has stuck with me for years. It’s a throwaway bit; something most Office fans don’t recognize when quoted out of context. It happens toward the beginning of the episode. Sober Erin approaches the makeshift bar manned by CEO Robert California (played by a very droll James Spader) to order a drink. When he asks what she’ll have, she answers:
“Do you have any cola? Kirkland, if you have it.”
Cola! Kirkland, if you have it! It’s a one-two punch of dynamite absurdity. The fact that Erin asks for cola from a bar (once again, so goddamn wholesome) then quickly follows it with her brand of choice, which happens to be from Costco. It’s suburban and weird and delightfully silly.
It’s Robert California’s response (“I sense some small part of you wants something a little stronger”) that sets the trajectory for Erin’s out-of-control night of wild drunkenness. When he pours a long row of shots, she makes the impulsive decision to drink one, and then another, and then another. It’s a whirlwind of bad decisions made very quickly. The scene cracks me up.
It all goes back to a simple request for cola. Kirkland, if you have it. I think about the line constantly, marveling at the simplicity of the gag. I even tweeted about it once, citing it as one of my favorite lines of television, though it’s not one many people remember.
But why do I like it so much? The episode comes from a later, less-beloved season of the show — a universe without Michael Scott and his oft-quoted “that’s what she said.” In a Vulture ranking of The Office Christmas episodes, “Christmas Wishes” came in dead last. But I think the line is so funny to me because it reminds me of my previous, closeted life. I grew up in a family of Evangelical southern Baptists. Nobody drank, not ever. Not my parents or their friends, not my aunts and uncles and grandparents, and definitely not me or my siblings. Even seeing commercials for beer on TV freaked me out. People who drank were sinners and sinning wasn’t allowed.
Flash-forward to now and I’m the person who picks up a 12-pack and a couple bottles of wine to bring to the party. I’ve transitioned from sober, never-taken-a-shot-in-her-life Erin Hannon to the drunk Erin calling for another round at the bar and dancing around happy and shoeless. When Erin asks for cola in the episode, I’m reminded of a younger version of me — one who nervously palmed sweaty cups of soda as I tried to blend in at church. When she asks for Kirkland’s specifically, I think about all the church functions where choosing a Coke or a Sprite was the sole choice I was able to make — hiding who I was by pretending to want the goofy, silly things I was allowed to have, and none of the things I really wanted. Erin asks for Kirkland brand cola, but what she really wants is the Christmas wish that she’s only able to voice once she’s finally drunk. She wants her ex’s new girlfriend dead. She wants to be allowed to be angry about it. She wants “something a little stronger.”
It’s funny to watch Erin unravel at the Christmas party because it’s so relatable, but it’s that Kirkland line that really makes the episode for me. That fateful moment of levity before the inevitable spiraling. I think about sober Erin and the real, honest Erin that comes after. I think about myself the exact same way. And fuck, that’s funny.
I miss bars. Can’t wait to sidle up to one someday and ask for a cola. Kirkland, if they have it. But probably with a splash of rum added.