Monday, June 7, 2010

In which I stand up for myself to the guy who grabbed my butt and he gives me a $20 tip

It's time for a post where I don't look like a total idiot. One where I am woman hear me roar.

So few of those.

So many of the other.

But then as my former boss and current friend Kurt said, "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."

One hopes that as I am now into my 40s, I have had enough experience and can coast on good judgment for a while.

My freshman year in college, I worked as a cocktail waitress over Christmas break. It was probably illegal. A neighbor owned the bar and wanted some extra help and I wanted the work. Was it tips only? I might even have been off the books, except at that time, tips were not taxable so it wasn't such a big deal. It must have been a tips only deal, because I don't think I was old enough to be working in a liquor establishment. I was 18 and drinking age was 19.

Well. There you go. I'm a scofflaw from way back, Miss Goody Two Shoes who has otherwise always declared all her income and gets really mad at those who don't because they are making the rest of us pay more. But even if I had been paid an hourly wage, I wouldn't have made enough to pay taxes anyhow, so there you go.*

It is easy to make money as a cocktail waitress. All you have to do is remember what people are drinking and be able to do math in your head. I also discovered it helped to card the women, who grumbled about, "Don't I look old enough to drink?" but said that just for form's sake because what woman doesn't want to be thought under 19 years old?

And I discovered that I got better tips when I wore a skirt than when I wore pants.

One evening, as I was leaning over in my short denim skirt wiping a table with club soda, for that is how you get the stickiness off the surface, a man casually grabbed my butt as he walked past me.

I stood suddenly, startled and flabbergasted.

Nobody had ever grabbed my butt before. Not even a boyfriend, of which I had had two if you count the gay swimmer. I had certainly never had an unsolicited butt grab.

What to say? What to do?

I thought about it. This man's behavior was unacceptable. My body, my butt.

I marched over to him. He was standing with some friends, laughing.

"Excuse me," I said firmly.

He looked me up and down. "What?"

"Do you have a daughter?"

He looked confused. "No."

Rats. There went my plan. Wait. Improvise, adapt, overcome.

"Well, if you did, how would you feel if someone did something like that to her?" I demanded.

He sputtered, "But it just looked so cute!"

"How would you feel?"

He said nothing as I walked away, vindicated. Ha. Showed him. He wouldn't be grabbing any more butts, would he?

Six minutes later, he was at my side. "Here," he said as he handed me $20.

I thought about the implications. Was I selling out? Letting him have forgiveness for $20? Should I reject his plea and his money?

I took the money. Twenty dollars was $20. He would think twice about grabbing if it was going to cost him that much every time.

* When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I, and all the other volunteers I knew, got an earned income credit after filing our taxes. I was so outraged at the stupidity of this that I returned my check uncashed with a letter to the IRS. They were oblivious. Perhaps they thought it was OK to use taxpayer money to supplement the stipends of volunteers who were living just fine in Chile or 3rd world countries. I doubt that was the intention of the people who created the program.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

In which I make the mistake for the 2nd time of becoming somewhat involved with a man at work and then realize I am not interested in him

Don't get your honey where you get your money. I had learned that lesson when I was 22 and working in Houston. I dated the nicest guy for a short while. He was lovely, but it just wasn't a match. That's the purpose of dating, right? To find the right fit? But when you don't fit, life is easier if you don't have to see each other at work every day at the 10:00 a.m. donut cart. Yes. We had one of those. And the company gave us each a turkey at Christmas, which did me no good because sheesh, what did I know about cooking turkey? But they also, I think, gave cash to those employees who did not want a turkey and cash is my favorite color of present.

Anyhow. You'd think at the age of 41, which was when the second work/dating event happened, I would have known better. I did know better. But where else was I supposed to meet men? I was at work from 7:30 to 6, then I went home, cleaned the bathroom, cooked supper and went to bed so I could get up at 5:00 to go to my exercise class at 5:30 a.m., and no, except for the instructor of the class, there was nobody there who was 1. single and 2. attractive. I will tell you how I humiliated myself with the instructor later. That rule is don't get your jelly where you get rid of your jelly roll, or something like that.

I had known Dick for a few years. As co-workers, of course. I always thought he was married. It was hard to tell because most of the men did not wear wedding rings. Not because they intended to cheat on their wives, although a significant number of the senior executives were on number two aka former secretary, but because I worked for a manufacturing company and when you are in a factory, you should not wear jewelry. My dad worked on airplanes for his career and never wore a ring.

We had never flirted. I had stopped flirting at work years ago because it brought me nothing but trouble. Even when I thought I was just having fun banter, the man in question sometimes mistook my intention and then you have a headache. Easier just to be professional, cool, slightly distant. Better to be a bitch than a tease. Either way, you're not one of the guys, but it's easier to get things done as a bitch. I think.

It wasn't until I learned that Dick had been a pilot in the navy that I started talking to him about non-work issues. How had a navy pilot, the best pilots in the world, ended up at my company doing what he was doing? Why wasn't he a commercial airline pilot making three times the money with ten times the status? I asked him these questions, although far more tactfully, and he explained that when he left the navy, it was when the airlines had scaled back hiring. He needed a job, any job. But my image of him was changed. Top Gun and all that, although Tom Cruise is not fit to polish a real pilot's shoes.

Then our mutual friend Lucy told me that Dick liked me. Yes, it was second grade. I was supposed to check "yes" or "no" and send the note back.

Isn't he married? I asked.

Divorced, she told me. Recently divorced.

Happily ignoring that red flag, I embarked on a full-scale flirtation that included instant messaging (although not emailing, because I am not that stupid - but maybe I am - do company computers keep IMs?) in the afternoons.

Finally, he took me out to lunch. I insisted that we go where nobody from work would see us. He was a little nervous, but I attributed that to his probable lack of dating in the past 20 years. Or 25. He was older. Bad habit of mine.

I kept waiting for him to ask me out on a weekend date. He had to ask. I was not going to. I was D-O-N-E done with asking men out. If he wasn't interested enough, then too bad.

A few days later, he wanted to meet for breakfast. Stop! Not like that. We met at a Denny's on the way to work. In the parking lot, he grabbed me and planted a big ol' smackeroo on my lips.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Horrible, horrible kisser. I mean, awful. How could anyone make it to that age and be such a bad kisser? I tactfully pulled away, telling him that I had an early meeting and had to prepare.

I asked Lucy about him. Did he like me or not? Why wouldn't he ask me out for supper? I didn't mention that he was a bad kisser because she was good friends with him and that seemed mean. After the kiss, I wasn't that interested in seeing him again anyhow, but I wanted to know what the story was.

"He still lives with his ex-wife," she told me.

What?! I said.

It was something about the alimony and not being able to sell the house and she didn't necessarily want a divorce and drama, drama, drama.

What a mess. Now I really had no interest in getting involved. Bad kisser, drama, so much to not like.

I ended it. Over. And once again, I had to work with someone who wanted to date me.

But then the problem solved itself when I was laid off. Lovely.

In which I go to my 20-year high school reunion against my will but then the captain of the football team flirts with me so it is a great time

I was seeing Janet the therapist in 2001, which was the year of my 20-year high school reunion. I went to two different high schools: Balboa High School in the Panama Canal Zone, which was populated by Zonians who'd lived in the Zone their entire lives, rich Panamanians, embassy brats, and military brats and then Judson Rural High School in San Antonio, whose student body consisted of kids who had been together since kindergarten, for my senior year. I was one of two new students in the senior class of 638. Good times, good times.

I did not remember high school fondly, yet Janet thought it would be a good idea for me to go to the reunion. It was being held in Florida, as it is not practical for most people to travel to Central America for a weekend. I was reluctant, but too scared to challenge the authority of my therapist, so I went.

Much to my surprise, I had fun. I realized that my dread memories of high school were more of my senior year, when Michelle W was about the only person who was nice to me, and not of my time in the Canal Zone. I had had friends at Balboa and indeed was friends with them still, although Jackie still reminds me of the time I gave her phone number to the horrible people with four kids who paid $10 for a full day of babysitting and left the house with no clean diapers but two children in diapers, no clean dishes and hungry, wild children.

The school was academically distinguished - had I stayed there for my senior year, I would have been much better prepared for college, there was no dress code, which meant shorts and flip flops to school, and we were five minutes from the beach with an open campus. What's not to like?

Almost the first thing I did once I got to the party was seek Katy, to whom Sally D and I had been mean in 9th grade after befriending her first. I knew it was wrong, but I wanted Sally's approval more than Katy's, so I went along with Sally and her scathing comments to and about Katy.

When I found Katy and apologized, she graciously denied remembering anything about our behavior. Maybe she was telling the truth, but I remember when people were mean to me. (I'm talking to you, Lisa who got mad that Sandy escorted me down the aisle for the Honor Society initiation. He and I were lab partners in physiology, OK? Yes, he was one of the hottest guys in school, but trust me he was not interested in me That Way and you were gorgeous then and gorgeous now, but pouting does not enhance your beauty and you know, you could have returned my "hello" in the ladies' room at the reunion instead of acting like you had never seen me before.)

Maybe it helped that after 9th grade, Katy didn't need Sally anyhow, because she went from scrawny pre-adolescent to a very pretty, very curvacious teenager and suddenly made it into the Cool Crowd. In 10th grade, Sally ditched me for another group and I got my just desserts.

My close friends were not at the reunion, so I was forced to mingle with the group at large, which is something I hate doing, as I am not a social person. Really. I'm not. I'm convinced nobody really wants to talk to me and that they're always looking over my shoulder for something better. It was not comfortable.

But then I saw Steve, on whom I'd had a crush all of high school. In 9th-grade science, I'd asked him to be my lab partner and he said no. He spent the next three years ignoring me while I worshipped him from afar.

He was sitting on a couch next to Helen, who was one of the smartest, nicest, most gorgeous girls in our class. She still looked great. Steve spent his entire high school years with a crush on Helen.

I sat next to Steve and Helen and we chatted. Well, I tried to get Steve's attention but he was too busy trying to get Helen's attention to pay attention to me. I don't even know why I was so interested except don't we always want what we can't have? And he was still smart with a dry wit, but he had no interest, 20+ years later, in wasting it on me.

Meanwhile, the guy sitting on my other side kept talking to me. I would answer him curtly, then turn back to Steve, who I was convinced would love me if he would just TALK TO ME.

I hate losing.

Even to Helen, who was just as nice as she ever was. Honestly, was she aware of her beauty and its corresponding power? She didn't act like it.

Finally, after I had rejected the guy on my other side several times, he tapped my knee and said in frustration, "Hey! I am trying to flirt with you!"

That got my attention.

"Who are you?" I asked of the very nicely dressed and rather handsome man.

"Alberto P.," he answered.

"Did I know you?"

"I was the captain of the football team," he told me.

"I didn't go to the games," I answered apologetically.

"I was the senior class president and voted most likely to succeed."

I shrugged. "We moved after our junior year."

Finally, in frustration, he said, "My uncle was the president of Panama!"

I shook my head. "I really didn't pay any attention to politics back then."

I might not have known who he was, but he had my attention. Good looking, nicely dressed, and, most importantly, interested in me. Fooey to Steve. I turned my attention to more fruitful endeavors.

"Let's go dance," Alberto said.

Well OK. See that, Steve? The CAPTAIN OF THE FOOTBALL TEAM WANTS ME. You had your chance and you blew it.

Tralalalala. I went off with Alberto and had a wonderful evening with the CAPTAIN OF THE FOOTBALL TEAM, who wanted to be with ME.

At the end of the evening, he walked me to my room, asked for my email address, and kissed me on the cheek.

We corresponded for a short while, but this was in August and then came September 11 and everything in everyone's life seemed to come to a screeching halt. But he made me feel wonderful for one evening and it was worth it.

In which I go to a therapist to figure out my Man Problems and solve at least one of them

When I was 38, I went through a nasty breakup, if you can even call it a breakup when you and the other person were never even really dating according to him but he called you almost every day to talk for an hour and emailed and surprised you on your birthday with a chocolate souffle with raspberry sauce and took you to meet his parents, who said, "Oh! You're the one Andrew has been talking about!" but he had told you that he was Getting Over His Divorce so he was Not Ready for Another Relationship so you were warned, weren't you, and you shouldn't have been upset when he abruptly and cruelly cut you off after you finally consummated your non-relationship, three months after it started, hissing into his phone message that you seduced him against his will.

Diagram that sentence. I can't.

So yeah. My dad had died a few years before, I had been discarded by not one but two men (Andrew and the Plane Jumper) in the past three years, and I was doing something really, really wrong.

I needed help.

I decided to seek the advice of a professional. My friend Leigh referred me to a counselor she knew. I thought, $75 an hour - that's a lot of money. I had no intention of filing it on my insurance.* What if I wanted to run for public office some day? I wanted to optimize my time. So before my first visit, I made a spreadsheet of all the men I had dated, with our ages at the time, how long the relationship lasted, whether we'd slept together, why we'd broken up: any information I could think of that might be relevant.

I took it to Janet and gave it to her on our first and what I thought was going to be our only or one of two visits.

She laughed.

Apparently, nobody had ever presented her with a spreadsheet before.

I thought she might be able to divine a pattern that was invisible to me.

Apparently, therapy does not work that way.

What therapy does is teach you that you are mad at your mother, which was news to me. Then you learn to forgive your mother because she did the best she could and for crying out loud, she was 20 years old when she had you and then had three children under five with a husband who was away at war and it's not even like she did anything horrible, like beat, starve or ignore you, it's just that she had other children besides you who demanded her attention and then she dressed you all in matching outfits that she sewed herself.

What it also teaches you is that you are used to men who go away because your father was in the air force and had to go away every few months and isn't that what men do? But no. That's not how it is supposed to be when you are dating, but if you are not very confident about your appeal to begin with and have imprinted on such a pattern, then maybe you make some Bad Choices.

The good news is that after you realize your parents weren't perfect, you say, "Well OK, neither am I but I love them both madly and I wouldn't trade them, so let's move on with that, shall we?" instead of wallowing in it as some people do not to name names but the Past is the Past and Get Over It Already and stop using it as an excuse not to be happy. You have a damn choice.

The other good news is that you realize that you do not have to put up with crap from men and you do learn to recognize some red flags, like someone who tells you yes, yes, no, no. Sometimes, the red flags are as obvious as your landlady/real estate fairy godmother saying, "I'm not sure how to tell you this but I know Andew's family and have known them since he was a little boy and he is Bad News. His marriage ended because of an affair, but it wasn't his fault. It never is." You learn to heed those red flags instead of overlooking them in your desperate search for love and companionship.

The other good news was that Janet heard all the Andrew stories, she told me he was indeed Bad News and to stay away from him. She also said that I would hear from him again.

Which I did.

Nine months later.

He called, told me he had moved (not out of town, but to a different place), and gave me his new phone number "in case I wanted to reach [him.]"

I calmly told him that if he really wanted to talk to me, he knew where to find me and said goodbye.

When he married a few years later, I learned through the grapevine that he had been dating his wife the entire time he had been playing with me.

I dodged a bullet.

* Janet also refused to give me a diagnoses that was filable. "You're not sick," she said. "You're just sad and need someone to talk to."

In which I get drunk for the first time in my life and neck with my boss's married boss in public

Y'all, this story is almost too embarrassing to write. This is even more mortifying than the Affaire Gomez. My consolation is that most people probably have some story that makes the blood rush to their face in shame as they think about it. Most of us do not escape our youth without at least one really stupid, humiliating, this is not how your mother raised you stunt. If you did, I commend you. You are a far better person than I.

The other consolation is that humiliating, stupid acts make great copy.

When I was 23, I lived in Austin, where I worked for a Big Insurance Company. Every year, BIC had a conference in Houston for the entire region, which included about ten field offices. Part of the non-work activity that year was a wallyball tournament. Wallyball is volleyball played in a racquetball court, if memory serves.

The four of us from Austin won the tournament. Seven games or something like that, and we missed supper to play. We were hungry, dehydrated and victorious.

We went up to the bar to celebrate. Our co-workers had a head start drinking, but we did our best to catch up. I don't know what goes on at company offsite events these days, but in the mid-80s, people drank and smoked and nobody thought this was bizarre.

I had never been drunk before.

My team started doing shots of tequila.

Tequila is nasty, but once you have two or three shots, it's not so bad.

I had seven shots of tequila. On an empty, dehydrated stomach.

Then my boss's boss, Marv, who had been flirting madly with me for the past two days, started buying me beer, a fluid suitable only for making fish batter in my view, and making a straw with a rolled-up $20 bill for me to sip it.

In my defense, let me say that Marv was 15 years older than I, should have known better, and was fired a few months later for sexual harassment. Did anyone get fired for that in the mid-80s? He must have been really bad.

Marv encourages me to drink more.

I do.

My judgment went out the window.

One of us started kissing the other. I would guess he started kissing me because even drunk, I don't think I would be stupid enough to kiss my boss's married boss in front of all my co-workers.

Yet I did it.

The only saving grace was that my co-workers were drunk as well and nobody was paying attention to me. Becky R, the VP, who was 38 and really should have known better, was throwing up in the ladies' room. She was not my friend and she might have noticed and remembered, but she had problems of her own.

I got tired of kissing Marv and turned toward Steve, an unmarried peer. "Oh, you're cute!" I said as I lurched toward him.

In an act for which I will be eternally grateful, my friend Doug, who also worked in the Austin office, grabbed me and said, "You're not going there." He then marched me back to my room, threw me inside, and left me.

Someone had vomited on the bedspread.

I am pretty sure it was not me, as my roommate for the conference was already sprawled on the other, unvomited-on bed. I tore the linens off the bed, threw them into the tub, and slept on the bare mattress. The next morning, I rinsed the linens as best I could and left a $10 tip.

That did not stop the hotel from telling BIC that their custom was no longer welcome.

During the meetings the next morning, I thought, "I don't even feel bad! People talk about how awful it is to be hung over, but they know nothing. This is easy."

Then I leaned over to get the water pitcher and almost fell to the floor. That's when I realized that the reason I did not feel hung over was because I was still drunk.

PS No, my mother does not read this blog.