In one of my first jobs after college, I worked for an insurance company that no longer exists as I knew it then. Then, the company required that employees work from 8:00 to 4:00, with a half an hour for lunch, except for Fridays, when we all went out and took a little longer. People were allowed to smoke in their own offices, but if you were a cubicle person, you were out of luck. Shortly after I started, the company outlawed smoking on all company space, reasoning that as a health insurance company, they should be setting a Good Example.
We got a turkey at Christmas and the donut and coffee guy came around at 10:30 every morning, although I never bought from him because I was too poor, living in my wee studio apartment on Sunset Drive in Houston, taking peanut butter and cardboard sandwiches to work for lunch, making shoes out of duct tape, sweaters out of the dust bunnies under the twin bed I had hauled from my mom and dad’s house in the back of my Chevette hatchback and hair products out of cigarette ashes scrounged from honkey tonks and bacon fat.
We got 11 federal holidays and regular vacation. We left work at 4:00 without looking back.
It was another time.
A time when men made passes at lasses with glasses even at work and that’s just the way it was. Nobody told us that this was improper. Or how to handle it. We just accepted that was how some men (=jerks) acted and our responsibility as women was to extricate ourselves from the situation without making a scene or embarrassing the man in question, because of course the worst thing of all would be to embarrass a man.
I had an assignment where I traveled to Arkansas, New Mexico and all over Texas, working with the company’s insurance agents. My goal was to get them to sell more of my department’s product.
I went to Albuquerque to do a presentation to the office there. After I was done with the speech, I went out to lunch with some of the agents. One of them asked if I wanted to go out to dinner with him that night.
Not only did I not want to go out with him because I was horribly not attracted to him and because he was sort of a co-worker, but I already had a date with Kerry, the to die for cute room service waiter at the Marriott who was the self-proclaimed oldest student at the University of New Mexico, which couldn’t possibly have been true because he was only 26 and the average age at UNM was 28.
But I felt like I couldn’t tell this guy I had other plans.
So I did the next best thing. I wanted to say I thought he was too old for me, but I knew that was tactless. Instead, I told him I thought I was too young for him.
When we returned to the office after lunch, I sat at a desk to work. He walked up behind me and started to rub my neck.
Yes, you read that correctly. He put his hands on my body and began to move them.
I had no idea what to do. What to say.
I hung up the phone, stiffened, and said nothing. Pointedly said nothing.
I went back to work. I said nothing and did nothing, but saved my revenge for the next man who crossed me in such a way, because it takes me some time to figure out how to react. I’ll tell you about the guy who got the vengeance for two later. I also did not return to that agency.
Then his boss called me into his office and asked if the two of us could go to lunch again the next day to discuss strategies to improve sales.
I had eaten lunch with the manager already. He chewed noisily, smacking his lips with his open mouth full of food. He grossed me out. I only speak with my mouth full of food when I have something really, really important to say, like interrupting someone to tell a good joke. This guy just made it a habit.
Again, I did not know what to say. The appropriate response would have been something like, “Oh that sounds great but unfortunately, I already have another appointment.”
Instead, I said, “But I was going to go shopping at lunch!”
Which was not true. I had lunch plans with Kerry as well. If I wasn’t at work, I was hanging out with Kerry. (Whom I have recently found again on facebook and is as cute as ever, 20 years later.)
When I returned to Houston, my boss called me into her office.
“So and so from Albuquerque called me,” she said carefully.
My heart sank.
“You shouldn’t tell a manager you are going shopping instead of meeting with him,” she said. “It is your job to meet with these guys, you know.”
“I know,” I told her miserably. Then I explained how he was such a pig.
She sighed. “You need to always have a good excuse ready,” she said. “Don’t let it happen again.”
It didn’t. I made sure I had an excuse.