Sexually Harassed at 15 Years Old

I got my very first job at McDonald’s when I was 15. I liked it.  I liked the striped shirt, the red tie, the matching trucker hat and the grey slacks.  Many girls worked there, too, which I also liked.  I was constantly harassed… sexually.  I liked that, too… at first.

Early on, a red-haired female employee softly asked me, “Wanna see something?”  I was naive.  Very.  My ignorance of how inappropriate this was going to be was appalling.  Sure, I watched the sexual harassment video during orientation, but I took it literally.  Going by the video, I thought it was harassment only if your boss was unattractive and pointed at his zipper, whilst giving goo-goo eyes.  But this very thin, red-haired vixen was far from unappealing.  She was very pretty, which meant it wasn’t harassment.  It was going to be devilishly consenting.  As far as I was concerned, nothing could be more appropriate.

She nonchalantly led me to the back and asked, “Ready?”  And before I could say, “No.  I’m not,” she lifted up her shirt and beckoned, “Check this out.  It’s my six pack.  You like it?  You want to touch it?  It’s solid.”  I’m drawn to her like a bee to an open flower, but before I can feel her skin, she closed her shirt and said, “We can finish this later and we can touch whatever we want.”  I thought, “No. We can’t.  It was now or never and you blew it.”

That didn’t stop her, though.  It didn’t stop her friends, either.  I worked the grill in the back.  They worked the registers in the front.  When I’d lean over to clean the grill, they’d find reasons to go back there.  They had code phrases to let each other know my ass was front and center:  “Grill clean in back!”, “Sweet meat’s a treat!”, “Chris is bending over!”  I could feel their stare.  When I’d turn around, sometimes they’d applaud.  Sometimes, they just creepily ogled from the fry station, just standing there like Lenny and Sqiggy from the opening of Lavern & Shirley.  Every time I turned to give a disapproving look, they’d shoot kisses in my direction and air-squeeze my butt cheeks.  I didn’t mind that as much as I minded them directing me to turn back around and keep cleaning.  I was literally, “meat on the grill”, as they liked to say and I didn’t like that too much.

I couldn’t tell the manager about this problem.  She was a white lady that referred to me as, “Bean Head Rodriguez”.  What could I tell a racist lady that would say to me, “This is McDonald’s, Bean Head, so don’t go making tacos back there.”  I also  didn’t know that  her comments were racist. I thought they were funny and frankly, I still think they are. Just not the right time or place is all. My only choice was to just smile and play along.

Another employee sensed my unease and offered protection.  She was an Aunt Jemima type.  A bigger black girl with a friendly smile and a hole in the crack of her pants. Yes. A hole.  We called her ‘Shaka-Tonka’.
“Come stand next to me, Chris.  I’ll protect you.  You just keep me company back here at drive-thru and put these Happy Meals together for me.”

I obliged.  It was like I was in prison and finally found protection after so many months of torment in the showers.  When the red head and her friends would look in my direction, Shaka would yell at them.
“You leave this nice young man alone!  Go on!  Get!”
They’d giggle and scurry away to the registers.

I grew to trust my new protector.  We talked and laughed a lot.  Then one day, it got really busy at drive-thru.  Shaka was slammed but I was fast enough that I could still talk and do my job.  Shaka couldn’t keep up, though.  I kept talking and distracting her.  “Be quiet, Chris.  I have to concentrate.”  I kept talking.  Her frustration mounted, “Chris, please do something to help me!  Can you get more Happy Meal toys?”  I kept jabbing, “So, what you’re saying is, you’re slow.  Because, I’m able to do my job – ” She interrupted, “Chris, you better shut up.”  I continued, “I’ll shut up so you can keep being slow?”  She snapped, “Shut up, Chris!  SHUT UP BEFORE I MAKE LOVE TO YOU!!”  I was in shock.  Everything went black after that.  I really don’t remember the rest of that day.  One thing is for sure, I shut my mouth.

I was left with nowhere to run for safety. I was a minnow in an ocean of sharks.

In the days that followed, I thought seriously about quitting.  But what would I say?  I imagined myself walking into the office, “Excuse me, manager lady?  I’m no longer feeling comfortable at work.”  She’d say, “Que paso, Bean Head?  Your chones too tight?”  I’d reply, “I don’t want to have sex with anybody here.”  I imagine that a huge grin would swell across her face, “Well, let’s just see if I can’t change your mind about that,” and she’d lock the door behind me.  With a lump in my throat, I’d muster one last plea, “I recognize those goo-goo eyes from the video and it said you’re not allowed to do this.”  She’d try to calm me by saying, “Close your eyes then, Cabeza de Frijole, and you won’t see a thing.”  Her finger would stitch my lips and she’d command, “Shhhh.  Just let it Mchappen.”

WHO DISTURBS POSEIDON?!

I love swimming.  I love the feel of gliding through the water.  I love reaching my hand as far as I can for the most distance.  I have a strong kick and an even stronger paddle.  I focus on the stroke and the axis of my body.  I feel as though I am on another planet.  I imagine that I’m flying. My body is an engine fueled by my imagination.

I imagine that I’m the world’s best swimmer.  The fastest swimmer.  That, at any moment, the life guard will be waiting at the end of my lane to tap me on the shoulder and say, “We’ve never seen anything like you before.  We’d like you to join our swim team.”  I’d look up at the observation deck to see veteran swimmers nodding and jotting down notes about me on their clipboards.  I’d also look to the side of the pool to find a professional coach clocking me with a stopwatch.  There’d be another coach next to him holding a stopwatch of his own to confirm what the other coach has just witnessed.  The lifeguard would say, “Please step out of the pool and come with us.  We’re going to need you to sign some super secret papers to protect you from the government, because with your abilities, they’re going to try and take you from us.”

I continue swimming and somehow I’ve never realized that I have an ability to be underwater for so long.  Can everyone hold their breath this long and be this agile underwater?  Why haven’t I noticed before that I can do this?  Now my body’s moving like that of a dolphin.  What the hell is going on?  I think, “I’ll just keep this secret to myself and come up for air more often so I don’t raise any suspicion.  I’ll keep this super power to myself.”

SPLASH!!

A ball invades my lane and interrupts my magnificent abilities.  I stop because I’ve breathed in water and have to cough it up.  I look to see what’s happened but my goggles are foggy.  I remove them and with them, my swim cap.  Great.

WHO DISTURBS POSEIDON?!

A 7-year-old, standing by the side of the pool, disturbs Poseidon.  A thin, pasty skinned kid with lemon yellow, loose fitting stretch shorts, disturbs Poseidon.  I squint to see him better.  His swim cap is bright orange, his goggles are lime green and someone has managed to tie a purple noodle around his torso to keep him afloat in case he falls in.  I never thought, if anyone could bring the water god to his knees, that it would be this kid.  But there he is in full regalia, my arch nemesis.  I see before me now, the antithesis to everything I am.  My exact opposite.  The bane of my existence.  I now know exactly how Batman felt the first time he met the Joker.  I am stunned by this yellow, green, orange, purple, pale, thin-bodied, little boy and he’s looking right at me.

With a smile only the blissfully ignorant can have, he yells, “Throw me the ball!”

I do him one better and hit it in his direction.  The ball is lighter than I thought and it curves through the air.  He squeals with delight and chases after it with both arms fully extended, his chin high in the air.

I continue swimming.

Two laps later, the ball is back in my lane.  It’s that kid again.  He thinks I’m playing with him.  Or does he?  What if he’s doing this on purpose?  What if he’s doing this to torture me.  What if he knows, too, that I’m his arch nemesis?  Maybe he hates me for my swimming abilities because he can’t swim due to some psychological trauma he endured as a baby and he needs to put a stop to my perfect swimming no matter the cost.  But he won’t kill me.  No, he can’t kill me because I’m just too much fun.  We must fight each other in an eternal struggle.  This is what happens when an immoveable object meets an unstoppable force.

I use my special powers to hit the ball away.  He once again gives chase and I make my escape.  I hit the showers and grab a schedule on the way out.  Next time “family swim”  & “lap swim” are scheduled together, I will be prepared.  I know I’ll see him again, but next time, it’ll be on my terms.

My Adventures In A Stolen Car

“Let’s go, Chris!”
“I’m coming!” I shouted in a whisper.

It was the summer of 1992.  I was a teenager.  My best friend, Johnny, had been stealing his step-dad’s shiny new Lincoln Continental every weekend and picking me up at the midnight hour.  In our heads, we weren’t just the cool kids, we were the cool kids that cruised in a stolen car, skateboarded under street lamps and stole street signs as trophies to decorate our rooms.  We were A Clockwork Orange without the killing of vagrants.

Separate, we were eclectic and unique.  Together, we were a creative force.  At school, we competed creatively and fearlessly.  We compared the poetry we wrote to girls we courted, we wrote short stories almost daily, we performed impromptu sketches for our friends, we challenged each other as to who could get the funniest, most outrageous write up slip (reason for going to the principle’s office), then taped them to the inside of our lockers, like game-heads, for all the world to see.

Principles, teachers and even our own parents were mere stagehands in the show of our lives.  We owned the world we had created for ourselves.  We were those invincible teenagers you hear about and we did it all without alcohol or drugs, which made our teenage years all the more real and substantial.  We could remember everything and had nothing and no one to blame but ourselves for our behavior.  We were willing to take responsibility for our decisions because we reveled in them.

As school let out and the summer passed, Johnny had gotten really good at stealing the car and returning it before anyone noticed it had been missing.  That gave us incentive to get our other two good friends in on it.  That’s when it snowballed.  One of them invited his girlfriend and she, in turn, invited two of her girlfriends; our two quickly turned to seven.  These girls were on the high school dance team which meant they were in a completely different social circle.  I’d only seen them in the hallways at school and had never actually spoken to them.  I didn’t know if that would make it more fun or fully uncomfortable but I was excited at the thought of having cute strangers in the car.  We planned the rendezvous and would put it into action a week later.

The night felt different.  We picked our friends up first, then the girls.  Johnny had been late picking us up and our friends decided to bring some booze along for the ride.  While we waited for one of the girls in front of her house, our friends tried to steal things out of her neighbor’s garage, thwarted only by the growl of a St. Bernard.  It all felt forced.

The seven of us were packed in the car.  Johnny drove, I rode shotgun and the girls had to sit on each other in the backseat.
“What is this music we’re listening to?” one of the girls asked.
“It’s, They Might Be Giants.  The Flood CD,” I answered.
“Cool.  I like it,” she said.

About five miles into it, a car behind us flashed its lights and honked its horn.  A hand came out of the driver’s side pointing for us to pull over.
“What the hell is that car behind us doing?” Johnny asked.
We all turned around.
“NO WAY!” one of the girls in the back said, “That’s my brother.”
“What should I do?” Johnny asked me.
“Pull over,” I said, “I’ll take care of this.”
“No, he’s cool.  Don’t do anything.”
We pulled over and he came to the window.
“You have my sister in there, fellas.  I know you guys want to have a good time but I don’t know y’all so I have to take her home.  Sorry.”
“Whatever, lame.  Hey, you’re dad’s here,” Johnny told her.
“I’m soooo sorry, y’all.  How embarrassing,” she said and made her exit.  We giggled as we heard them argue all the way to his car.
“Was he following us the whole time?” our friend asked.
“Look around everybody,”  Johnny said.  “Does anyone else see any cars they recognize before we go?  No?  Good.  Now let’s do some things we’re not supposed to.”
We went on our way and put the music up.  We headed toward the back roads where we’d be less likely to run into anyone.

WHOOOSH!  BAM!

“Holy sheeeet!  What the hell was that?!” they yelled from the back.
A large white owl had struck the windshield.  Marks of the bird were sprawled across the glass.  Johnny and I were stunned.
“That was a giant bird,” I said.
Johnny sighed and pulled the car over.  He got out, put his hands on his hips, then peeled some feathers off the glass.  I gave him a look from my seat.  He got back in the car and stared at me, “They’re going to notice that in the morning.”
I cringed, “Nah, man, it’s just feathers.  That sort of thing buffs right out.  Just throw some water on it.”

We made our way to the dark, calm, back roads of San Antonio.  A two lane road going in opposite directions was all we needed to escape into a different world.  While they drank in the back, Johnny drove and I enjoyed the front seat view of mile markers and stars.  We were finally free.  My mind was clear and I became a zen master.  Everything slowed down and I felt surrounded by peace.  I was invincible.

A car approached from behind and started to pass on our left.
“What the fuuuh…” Johnny said.  He turned the music up and hit the gas.  Minisitry, “Thieves” played while he refused passage of the other car.
“Don’t let him pass you, dude!” they shouted from the back.
Before I knew it, we were racing.  Ninety miles an hour and limited sight distance made my heart beat out of my chest.  They cheered from the backseat while Ministry pounded from the speakers.
“Let him pass, man,” I demanded.
“Don’t be scared!” he smiled as he gripped the steering wheel tighter.

All our eyes were glued to the movie happening in the windshield.  So fast.  So dark.  Then, suddenly in view, was a full grown cow.  It was crossing in our lane and the other car missed it by about a foot.  The cow was giant and as black as the night sky.

“STOOOOOP!” We all yelled.  But Johnny didn’t stop.  No.  He did just the opposite.  He floored the pedal and the front of the car lifted with acceleration and tore into the enormous beast.  A violent jolt rocked the car and the front half of the cow went over our heads and the other half seemed to disintegrate on impact.

“Holy shit!  Is everyone alright?” I asked.
We were all in shock.
“Is the cow going to be okay?” one of the girls asked.
“Who cares about the f**king cow!  What about us?!” our friend yelled.
The car rolled about a quarter mile until it came to a stop.  “I’ll check it out,” I said.
I got out to find that my side of the car had been completely crushed.
“I should be dead,” I said to myself.  I knew I shouldn’t be breathing but there I stood anyway, in the dead of night, on the side of a country road, taking in what had just occurred.  I looked at Johnny and shook my head.

I got back in the car.
“Is the cow okay?” one of the girls asked.
“No.  It’s not.  Please don’t ask me that again,” I said in a somber voice knowing that I, too, shouldn’t be okay.
Johnny looked at me, “Well?”
“We can’t buff that out, man.  We’re screwed,” I admitted.

We devised a plan: Take the girls home first, then strip the car and make it appear as if it had been stolen by anyone else.  But the car didn’t start.  Plan B: we strip the car and we all walk home and hopefully make it home before our parents noticed we were gone.  Our friends in the back held the girls while they cried and Johnny and I started to tell everyone to get out so we could ditch the car but we knew there was no way out.

The next car that approached was a Bexar County Sheriff.  We immediately threw the booze out.  They took our names and numbers and called our parents.  One by one our parents showed up.  One of the girls was a minister’s daughter.  He was not kind with his words toward us.  All the parents had something to say.  All of them except for my dad.  He was smiling and laughing with the officers about the mess on the road.
“Come on, son.  Get in the car,” he said.
I was scared.
“You’re very lucky, son.  You messed up and you’re in big trouble but right now, I’m just glad you’re okay.  We’ll figure out your punishment in the morning.  You’ve probably seen a lot tonight.”
I had seen a lot.  Too much, in fact.  I’d never seen anything like it.

The next day, my dad informed me that I was grounded for the rest of the summer, which was six weeks.  Johnny’s parents put him in a different high school altogether and I didn’t hear from him until years later.  The other two guys and I remained friends for a while but I never spoke to the girls again.  I’d see them at school hanging out but it was like we never shared that night together.  One of them came to school one day wearing a black and white cow jacket and they all laughed about it.  I didn’t understand my exclusion but I accepted it.

I imagine hitting the cow was for the best.  I like to think that it had mad cow disease and we saved countless lives from pain and suffering by killing it; that the government wanted to award us medals but that would only encourage us to do it again.  We’d be the punished unsung heroes, never to receive a proper thank you.
Well, I’ll say it now…

You’re welcome, America.