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.”