There's nothing like an epiphany on a Monday morning in July. The sweltering heat mixed with the suffocating humidity that usually comes during Nebraska summers can make someone so lethargic and listless that the only thing that can be done on these days is thinking. And my day came, as previously mentioned, on a Monday morning standing behind the counter of a small Starbucks, which occupied the darkest, dampest (in the summer: it was the stuffiest) corner of a midtown grocery store. There was a lull in the flow of traffic of people on their way to work; to their air conditioned offices and bosses clad in black trousers and suspenders, and that lull had left me bored and lonely.
As I stared out at the store, watching people walk in and out, sometimes through the wrong door, a middle aged, grey haired man walked by slowly, catching my gaze and tucking it into the back of his mind as a smirk tugged at the corner of his lips. He slowed down even more as he waited, with rapt attention, for me to greet him in some way. It came, in a rather acute form of salutation, when I smiled politely before turning my gaze back to the automatic doors in front of me.
"Morning," the man said, taking a step towards the stand in hopes of initiating a riveting conversation with a strange girl he had never met before.
I nodded, groaning inwardly, as I replied, "Morning."
He kept his eyes locked on me as he slowly walked towards the door, which opened and closed as people passed through with carts loaded with groceries for the week. He finally reached the door, and before walking out, he nodded at me and said, "Have a good day."
"You too," I replied, twirling a pen between my fingers as I anticipated his departure. He finally left, and a heavy sigh escaped my lips. There are too many creeps in my life, and more often than not, they're men who are, or close to, the same age as my father. It was just a little too weird for me, the way that man stopped in his tracks, just to get a good look at a twenty year old female who was a complete stranger. I was all for being polite, working in the customer service industry and all, but it was almost as if this man, like many others, had an ulterior motive to his sudden chivalry. I've found that too many times in my life, I've been the object of affection for middle aged men, a stark contrast to the skaters and preps who have stopped by before to flirt with my co-workers. In fact, it happens so much that often I feel compelled to curl up in a ball in the corner of the store. Or hiring a bouncer.
As I am writing this, the Photo Center manager, Marty, walks across the front end of the store, strolling along to his department, a camera bag draped over his brawny and experienced shoulder. Well into his thirties, with a few gold teeth and a laugh like an eighth grade girl, Marty has made a few moves on me in the past, the most awkward moments being the most recent. Just about a month prior to today, I had ventured over to Customer Service, conveniently placed next to the Photo Center, to retrieve some in-store charge slips, which are crucial in order for us to properly charge customers with Starbucks gift cards, since they are not accepted by the computer system the grocery store uses. I waited in line at the counter just as Marty rounded the corner, carrying a few medium-sized boxes.
Noticing me, he had walked up and asked, "What's going on, Katie?"
"We're out of in store charge slips," I stammered, cowering slightly under his focused stare that seemed to last forever.
"Well that's not good, is it?" he finally asked, as I shook my head, ready to dart back to my dark little corner of the store. He walked behind the Customer Service counter and reached into a drawer beneath one of the registers, pulling out a stack of bright, florescent pink in-store charge slips.
"There you go, sweetie, that should be enough for now."
"Thank you," I replied timidly before walking back to my department, having been thoroughly creeped out by Marty's perpetual stare.
Not even a week later, I had been dusting merchandise on one of our shelves in front of the Starbucks counter when Marty walked over, carrying a few small boxes in his left hand. "Laccie brought me a caramel macchiatto, so I brought you girls some animal crackers."
"Oh, thanks," I replied, taking the box with a picture of a train filled with animals on it.
Marty smiled at me and rubbed my arm gently, causing me to tense up immediately. "I gotta make sure my Starbucks girls have something to snack on."
My insides had gone completely bonkers as that familiar red flag in my head sprung up, alert and forewarning.
"Holyshitthisisawkward. Pleasestoptouching. Pleasestoptouching."
Finally, he dropped his hand and nodded, as if reading my mind. "You ladies have a good night."
"You too," I replied as he turned on his heel and walked away.
Standing now at my register, I am reminded of "Creepy Produce Guy", who also walks by as I am writing this secret testimony under the protective cover of the register, and who just can't seem to turn off the "I want you" vibe-for any female walking by him. I am generally safe from him in the little corner we occupy, but I can't stay back here forever. When I passed him on my way to the shelf in the back not too long ago, he had locked eyes with me, smiling suggestively and asking, "How's it going?"
"Good, thanks," I replied, turning towards the shelf quickly in order to escape an awkward conversation. Sighing, I began to step on the edges of the shelf, climbing up in order to find a hidden bag of espresso. Having no luck finding it, I climbed back down, turning my head slightly to glance over my shoulder, only to find the "Creepy Produce Guy" peering through a stack of bread racks to get a good look at my ass.
'Ugh, time to leave,' I thought as I hurried past him before he could make any remark or comment about what he saw. I know I am not alone in thinking he is creepy, however, and I find solace in the fact that many of the female employees are creeped out by him, and that it's not just me. If only the management could see what we saw.
And then there's Jeff. Or Creepy Jeff, depending on who you're talking to. He has been coming to our Starbucks for some time now, yet he only appears when the object of his affection is working on the particular day he choses to grace the store with his presence. I have had the misfortune of being that person on a few accounts, and I can fervently say that I never want to have to endure any of Jeff's advances ever again.
On one day, my co-worker Laccie and I had been, ironically, talking about how we hadn't seen the elusive Jeff for a while. As if on cue, Jeff walked through the automatic doors in front of our little shop in the corner, and had made great strides toward us, a cheeky and confident grin playing on his lips.
Being the braver of us, Laccie remarked, "Well, speak of the devil!"
Jeff gave her an inquisitive look before Laccie explained, "Kate and I were just talking about how we haven't seen you in a while."
Locking his jaw as his eyes darted from Laccie to me, he leaned on the counter and smirked, "You ladies wanna make out to make up for lost time?"
'Gross,' I thought as I looked down, shuffling papers around in order to avoid looking at him. Since that day, I haven't had any run ins with him, and I am counting my blessings every Sunday when I realize that this has been yet another week without having to serve Creepy Jeff.
My most recent endeavor into the awkward realm had actually occurred outside of the store, at my aunt Muirne's house for a family barbecue. With the rare arrival of my aunt Marg from Seattle comes her old boyfriend and long time pal, Tom. It's an awful Catch-22; the excitement of seeing fun, quirky aunt Moogah again is mixed with the apprehension and worry of standing under Tom's gaze. There's not much I can do about it though, being a quiet person who just couldn't carry the weight of knowing I had broken up a twenty year friendship, all because I had been a little creeped out.
So as we pulled into Aunt Muirne's steep, narrow driveway, I was not surprised to see Tom standing in the backyard with Marg. I rolled my eyes and sighed, stepping out of the passenger's side of the car and trudging my way around the back as slowly as possible, enjoying a small taste of freedom from watchful blue eyes.
"Hi, Miss Kate," Marg chirped delightfully as she embraced me.
"Hi, Moogah," I responded, keeping a safe distance from Tom as I welcomed one of Marg's notoriously comforting hugs. Standing awkwardly next to Marg, I answered Tom's questions of how school was going and how I was enjoying my summer. Once there had been a pause in the conversation and he had started talking to my father, I made my way inside the house, where I would be safe at least until dinner time.
When that time came, I had been lucky enough to nab a spot by my grandpa, aunt Marg, and aunt Beth. It had been an enjoyable dinner, as it always is with my family, and we had finally gotten to desert when my aunts and uncles had started discussing a recent local news scandal involving an embezzling nun, that my family knew and believed to be innocent. In the skirmish of getting the table cleared and ready for desert, Tom had somehow found his way into the seat next to mine. As I was momentarily staring off into space, I had suddenly felt a hand wrap around my arm. Looking over, I saw Tom leaning in to whisper, "This is your problem to fix."
Having my mind go blank at this sudden and intrusive touch, I replied, "What?"
Nodding at my aunts and uncles, who were deep in the throes of cursing our archdioceses, he repeated, "This is your problem to fix. Your generation. So fix it, babe."
He had a point about my generation's task, as I was already aware of the issues we were facing, but I was not his babe. And frankly I was annoyed by the way his thumb was grazing my arm. I glanced around the table and noticed my aunt Beth and uncle Steve staring at the hand on my arm, trying to remain as passive as possible, while also shooting daggers at Tom with their eyes. This was getting uncomfortable for everyone (save Tom), apparently.
I chuckled and subtly moved my arm from Tom's grasp. By now, the conversation had reverted back to the family's recent trip down to Missouri, without Tom, thankfully. In the midst of it all, Tom turned to me and asked, "Did you get any ticks?"
"No," I replied, staring down at the plastic tablecloth.
I shrugged nonchalantly. "I wore a hat."
He leaned in and scratched at my arm, "What about leeches? Did any leeches snatch on when you were in the lake?"
Leaning back slightly as he attempted to imitate leeches, I replied, "Nope."
Dragging his finger along my arm slowly, he continued, "And snakes? Did any snakes slither into your presence?"
I shook my head, looking around the room for someone, anyone, to take notice of Tom's behavior, which was becoming increasingly more inappropriate. "No," I said.
My stand-offish answers weren't causing him to give up, unfortunately. He looked at me one more time before he went back to scratching and tickling my forearm.
"Are you ticklish? Are you ticklish? Tickle, tickle," he squeaked, as if he were talking to my 5 year old cousin Robbie and not twenty year old me.
'I feel so degraded,' I thought to myself as Tom continued to squeak in his patronizing way, trying to get me to launch into a hearty guffaw, often brought on by way of tickling fingers. Unfortunately for him, I wasn't ticklish on my arm. And unfortunately for him, my aunt Muirne, the lawyer, would be hearing about this later. I knew my rights. His behavior was becoming intrusive and I was starting to feel suffocated by his social ineptitude. I imagined myself pushing back my chair, pointing my finger at him while shouting, "NO! TOUCHY!"
This outburst would, no doubt, be followed by a doggy pile tackle by my father, uncles, and male cousins; a genuine Irish brawl. But I knew I didn't have the guts to tell Tom off. Besides, with my grandpa's new wife sitting two chairs down, I figured this family had already filled the drama quota for at least one more year.
So I sat, waiting for a proper segue, as Tom playfully scratched my arm, squeaking, "Tickle, tickle."
Finally, it came, as aunt Marg addressed him, causing him to turn to her, while pointing at me, and say, "Not now, I'm bothering her right now."
Therein lay my cue to leave. I turned towards aunt Muirne and quickly blurted, "I'm going to go upstairs to look at those pictures."
Nodding, she gave me permission to leave the dinner table. I pushed back my chair and, having already cleared my dinner plate, made a bee line for the upstairs bedroom where I know photo albums are waiting for me. I knew I would be safe there. And there I sat, flipping through old photo albums, until my aunt Mydge had come up to check on everyone, while also letting me know that Tom had left and that it was safe for me to go downstairs. As I trudged down the carpeted steps in the narrow staircase, I reflected on my bad luck with men, in that the only ones that noticed me where the ones that were twice my age. It's a hard fact to face; knowing that the men you're attracting are older, desperate men when what you're waiting for is someone your age, an intellectual with the ability to empathize with the trials that come with young adulthood, and a good sense of humor to boot, like Jonathan, the cute pharmacy technician at the store's pharmacy. I realize now that, if I do want these advances from older men to stop, or at least become a rare occurrence that I don't have to worry about every time I come to work, then I have to place myself in an environment of people of like mind and age, and come Sunday morning, via the Marketplace Job Ads, I will be throwing myself completely into the task of doing just that. And frankly, it's about time.
Dedicated to those girls (and boys) who have had to endure the awkward advances of older men and women. You are not alone, my friends.