Saturday, July 3, 2010

Finally A Little Perspective

I have had some really crappy jobs in my lifetime. I remember one summer I had a job as a seating attendant at the horse races, which on the surface seemed like a fine way to make some quick cash, but it was so degrading and laced with sexism, that I was fired after two weeks.

Prior to my blunt kick to the curb, I learned in short order that the tips I received from those rich old guys would exponentially increase the more I bent over to wipe off the dusty seat with the rag that I hung from my back pocket of the jeans that I painted on. After they were seated, they would chat me up, ask me to grab them a drink from the bar, “and make it quick, sweetheart”. I learned to reel in the attention, to smile, graze their shoulder, as if my summer money depended on it. I was seventeen at the time and heard that old men thought that they had hit the jackpot if someone within that age range even pretended to be interested.

After three days on the job, I walked away with tips that amounted to 200 in cash and a winning ticket. I later cashed it in for $500. I never had so much cash in my possession in my life. I began to understand the allure of the other oldest profession.

The job allowed me to fine tune my ability to flirt with men as well as women. Old ladies in grandiose hats would accompany their husbands and eyeball me as if I were the devil. After a few trial runs, I learned quickly that paying more attention to the wives with similar affection – a few winks and slight hand to arm combat – my tips ended up being the same dollar for dollar.

I also made a lot of jokes. In between races, I would stand before the crowd and indulge my audience in a monologue about my dating life, my father’s strict ways or my brother’s nerdy behavior. Some laughed. Others wanted to get into my pants and thought that giving me center stage would be just the way to do it.

Then I was fired. Well, technically, I wasn’t outright fired. I was moved up into the nose bleed section where teenage boys would pinch my butt and throw pennies at my head when I showed them to their seat. That lasted three and a half days and then I quit.

My worst job was at a popular gym. At the time I was attending UC Santa Cruz. I was a personal trainer for the morning shift, which meant I was up and manning the front desk at five a.m. on weekends and on those days I didn’t have class until after 11. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. College perpetuates and fosters the ability to continue to sleep in the way we did in high school, except not just on weekends.

I guess you could say I wasn’t thinking. To boot, I had a walking sexual harassment case for a boss. To his credit, he wasn’t totally responsible for his behavior – he was on steroids which, as gym lore dictated, made him extremely irritable and shrunk his testicles to the size of blueberries.

Two incidences worth mentioning: I was cleaning the gym equipment one morning and Mr. Steroids showed up unannounced. He usually slept in which meant that he grumbled something to me about logging people in properly as I was leaving my shift.. something that was truly manageable, until he “noticed” me.

On this morning, the heebies crept into me something fierce. “You know, Brown, you would be kinda hot if you did your hair and wore makeup.” I tried to downplay his inappropriate comment by replying that he should be aware that I attended UC Santa Cruz and that his suggested get up would be condoned.

“No, I’m serious. Let’s see you with your hair up.” His Jersey accent and curly mullet made me want to vomit in my mouth.

“No thank you.” And I grabbed my wad of hair out of his hand and began cleaning the mirror, horrified.

Mr. Steroid got the picture but he wasn’t happy with the rejection. In fact, after that he made my life at the gym a living hell. I was subject to write ups, delays in my checks, my friends who attended the gym (and paid) were harassed, and he told boys who would ask for my phone number that I was a lesbian and not to waste their time. He would whisper loud enough for me to hear, “She is a Banana Slug. She likes pussy.”

I should have quit then, but I liked the money. The beer money. So did my friends, so I stayed.

One day Mr. Steroid lost his mind and yelled at a 14 year old boy who was bench pressing. The kid was struggling to lift up about 120 pounds and asked for help. I was watching from my perch at the front desk trying to stay out of the way. Mr. Steroid yelled at the boy for a good 20 seconds before grabbing the bar and told him to get the eff out of his gym, that he didn’t allow wimps.

I should have quit then, but I liked the money. The beer money….

I had made a likely friend/ally during my time at the gym. We bonded over a common emotion – we both hated Mr. Steroid. She had dated him for a spell and told me how abusive he was. One time she told me that after they broke up, he forced himself on her while his pit pulls watched.

I asked, “So he raped you?”

Her response, “Well, since we had been together and since I went over to his house and drank too much, I wouldn’t necessarily call it rape.”

I wondered what she would call it then.

My new friend and I used most of my working hours to talk shit about Mr. Steroid. This was a brilliant set up in my opinion because I was getting paid by him to soil his reputation with her and others who would listen.

And then one day, my friend walked into the gym (don’t ask why she was still patronizing the gym if she feared for her life with this guy. I asked and didn’t get a straight answer, but I do believe the rape story. Mr. Steroid talked regularly about bringing girls back to his house and scaring them with Cujo and Killer). She hopped on the treadmill and began her cardio when Mr. Steroid approached her.

I watched from my perch.

They talked for awhile. She was seemingly uncomfortable. She finally pushed the off button on the treadmill and headed for the door. I perked up, watching every move.

Mr. Steroid followed her and as she was approaching the door, he grabbed her, pushed her to the wall and yelled in a rather Steroidish way, “these tits aren’t real.” And then he cupped them. She then began crying and ran out of the door.

That day I quit and three weeks later I was called by my friend’s attorney to be a witness in court.

I am thirty-eight. In retrospect, those are some pretty bad jobs. But they are only two. I have been working regularly since I was sixteen. I chalk those two bad jobs against several great ones to luck and success.

Without my education, I would probably still be in one of those windbag jobs, or worse. Thank you, parents, for giving me the opportunity and knowledge to get out of some bad situations. Thank you U.S. for affording me the ability to even know that there’s more out there.

In some places, my bad work experiences are norm, and that makes my heart sink.

I just finished a book that should be required reading for every woman in the world. It’s called Half the Sky and it’s life changing. If it isn’t, your empathy gene is non existent. The premise is set on women who have been violently beaten, verbally abused and oppressed all over the world – in Third World countries as well as ours – the good old USA. It covers the gamet – trafficking, genital mutilation, male only education, women as property to their spouses. Most, if not all of the examples in Half The Sky described women penniless, working for free, slaves in their own homes, or for some rich guy who wanted a prostitute and housecleaner. Sometimes these girls were as young as nine. Some were seventeen, like me at the horse races, wiping off seats with a rag. I never had to go home with any of them. I always got paid. I even got to quit. That’s freedom.

The book made me cry but then gave me hope. Upon finishing, I performed the quintessential clich̩ РI got online and spent $100 for a Nepalese girl to attend school for a year, which also earned her family a pig.

You could say that I am on a mission now. Call me a chestnut. Call me a poser. I don’t give a shit. What I have come to realize is perspective. What I have also come to realize is that if I sit back and do nothing in the name of Mr. Steroid or Mr. Richman horse race gambler or the woman who was sold into prostitution and became a mom at the age of twelve, I will be living in vain.

And that is the opposite of freedom in my book.

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