A part-time job and a lifetime’s worth experience with harrassment

A part-time job and a lifetime's worth experience with #harassment - www.alliepottswrites.com
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This is not a happy story.

One day, rather out of the blue, I decided that my teenage lifestyle could no longer be supported by the occasional babysitting gig. It was time I found a real job. Within short order, I was hired to work part-time at a nearby bagel shop.

The shop was a franchise with an absentee (putting it lightly) owner. While we saw him occasionally as he walked his dog, he left the day-to-day operations to a pair of men. One supervised the front of the store, let’s call him G. The other was the baker. Let’s call him Paul because that was his name.

Paul was in his late twenties to early thirties. I was in my teens. However, a pesky thing like an age difference or the fact that he was primarily working with minors never seemed to bother Paul. He routinely made comments that made me feel as dirty for hearing them as the dishes I was responsible for washing.

My duties at the store ran the gamut. I manned the cash registers, prepared orders, cleaned surfaces, and shelved inventory. One day when I was in the back of the store, I found Paul already there, facing the wall with his shirt untucked. No, he couldn’t possibly be…, I thought to myself. Hoping beyond hope for an innocent explanation, I asked him what was doing. He smiled at me and shrugged as if what he was doing was nothing out of the ordinary while confirming it was exactly what it appeared.

Stunned, I found G and told him what I had seen. G’s shoulders slumped. Paul’s behavior didn’t surprise him, it was just Paul’s way and I was told there was little either of us could do about it. Paul’s actions and comments were patterned behavior and the owner’s continued silence proved he was either stubbornly in denial or simply didn’t care. Without Paul, there would be no bagels, at least not until a replacement could be found, which would have required work on the owner’s part. However, G and I, on the other hand, were considered replaceable.

I could have walked out, but I didn’t. I suppose my ego got in the way. Why should I be the one to have to quit? The job was a good one – excepting the one co-worker. I suppose I could/should have better investigated my legal rights or called the health department, but I was a kid and that didn’t occur to me until years later. I suppose I might have told my parents, but I didn’t do that either.

Instead, I accepted most of G’s assessment – that very little could be done. After all, I told myself, it really wasn’t as bad as it could be. I accepted that for all his comments, all his suggestions, Paul hadn’t really done anything except make me feel uncomfortable.

I did not, however, let it go. I continued to look for alternative solutions to my problem. A friend allowed me to refer to him as my boyfriend as if my relationship status might redirect Paul’s attention.

It didn’t. If anything the comments became more suggestive.

I took to volunteering to wash more than my share of dishes as it allowed me to frequently carry several knives in each hand. This worked, but only temporarily. When that wasn’t an option, I tried to stay as far away from Paul as the store would allow.

It wasn’t a big store.

One day, while I was wiping down table tops near closing time, Paul came running from the back, laughing to the point of tears. In between giggles, he told me that he’d peeked under the bathroom door thinking I was the room’s occupant only to find that another woman, one he suspected was homeless, there instead. “I saw everything,” he gasped between chuckles. “Everything!” He laughed again like this was supposed to be funny. As terrible as this was on its own, I also had to ask, “Why did you look? If you thought I was in there, why did you look?” His only answer was more laughter.

As terrible as this was on its own, I also had to ask, “Why did you look? If you thought I was in there, why did you look?” His only answer was more laughter.

I wish I could tell you I left that same day and never looked back, but I didn’t. I wish I could tell you that the unfortunate woman called the police or at least registered a complaint, but she didn’t either. Maybe she, like me, was told there was nothing to gain from complaining. But most of all I wish this hadn’t been the first (or last) time I’d been made to feel at risk in surroundings which should have been expected to be safe.

I can’t go back to that time and demand Paul, the owner, or even G be held accountable for what they said, did or didn’t do. I still feel sick to my stomach knowing when I finally said enough – when I finally did walk out – my absence left another, even younger girl, alone in that store without a friend. I can’t change the past.

But I can help shape the future.

And you can too.

This wasn’t a happy story, but this doesn’t have to be a common story.

If a person tells you that they feel scared, threatened, or abused, don’t belittle them – believe them. Do what you can to understand their fears. Recognize that there might be a problem, even if it wasn’t your experience. Ask. Observe. And above all, listen. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Lend your voice and let those in charge know it isn’t okay. Show the person affected they aren’t isn’t alone and strive for a day when a story like this is the exception.

But whatever you do never, ever, accept you are powerless.

Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet

When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. That is unless you are a multimillion dollar food conglomerate, in which case why are people throwing lemons your way? Can’t you pay for high-quality reusable shipping cartons to minimize the risk of bruising? But I digress.

Happy Lemon

This weekend ended much like any other weekend. The kids were tucked into bed dreaming dreams of firetrucks and / or monkeys while the hubby (who has now requested I refer to him as Lamont – my apologies to Lamonts) and I enjoyed a few hours of child-free television. Lamont was kind enough to pour me a lemonade. It wasn’t the fresh squeezed, homemade variety, but it would do. Ahh, I thought as I took a sip. Spring had finally arrived. I’d better enjoy the weather now as all too soon neon yellow pollen would fill the air and coat every surface in sight. I took another sip, savoring the sweet and sour taste.

I shifted from my spot on the couch. I couldn’t get comfortable. A weight seemed to press up against my lungs no matter which way I sat. It was almost like being pregnant without the hormones. I took another sip while I sought a position that would relieve the pressure.

No amount of movement seemed to work. My breath became more shallow, my skin more hot to the touch. I turned to Lamont and calmly said, “I can’t seem to breathe.”

“What do you mean you can’t breathe?!” (I have a long history of understating things with regards to my health.)

“Is my face red? My skin is on fire.”

I looked in the mirror. Sure enough, both cheeks were brilliant lobster red. Another red stain spread down the center of my chest.

“I think I might be allergic to something in the lemonade.” (I am also a master at stating the obvious. It really should be on my business cards.)

Up until this point, if you had asked me if I had any allergies I would have said yes, to bee stings (something else I learned from an unfortunate experience), but now I know my body is still able to learn new tricks. Yay!

Confused LemonWe read the juice label as I took a Benedryl. Ingredients listed were water, sugar, and lemon juice. All words I could pronounce. All ingredients I enjoy in other forms on a fairly regular basis. Definitely nothing I expected to trigger an allergic response. The product advertised that it was all natural. Was it possible that some bees were accidentally ground up (naturally of course) in the manufacturing process along with the lemons?

The next morning (thank you Benedryl) I fired up the computer to see if anyone else might have written about a similar complaint. I learned my reaction is considered rare (lucky me!), but I also learned a few things about the juice manufacturing process that aren’t exactly advertised. Being the great moderately acceptable parent that I am, I feel it is important to practice sharing (even if it is a little off my usual topics).

For example, I learned that as part of the preserving process all chemical that give a naturally squeezed juice its flavor are removed leaving behind a tasteless liquid that no one would buy. The manufacturers then put in flavor and scent packets to give the juice back its, umm… err… juiciness depending on the tastes of a specific market. They don’t have to declare the specific make-up of these packets on the labels because they are supposed to be based on derivatives of the base ingredients (It’s a Fruit Loop-hole). A little citrus by-product here, a pitch of black magic rind there. Voila! Bon Appetit!

lemonscaryThese flavor packets can change depending on where the fruit is harvested and when and can be created by third party designers. Therefore not only do I still not know exactly what it was that caused the reaction, I also have no idea whether this was a one-off reaction or if more products could affect me in a similar fashion. Breakfast could become my own version of Russian Roulette! (Don’t ever leave me, coffee…)

You aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover (except for mine because my cover is awesome), but I didn’t realize you weren’t to judge a product by its label too (up until now I thought that was the point of the thing). Maybe one of these days I’ll learn a lesson the easy way. Here’s to truth in advertising!