I was in a conversation the other day where a woman mentioned that she once quit a job because her boss expected her to sleep with him. Although I have a similar story, I chose not to bring it up in that conversation, in that crowd, at that time. But I’ll talk about it here.
In my early 20s, I was hired as a “Salesman Representative.” The job duties were: I sat in an office, with a computer, and sort of tracked inventory for salespeople, (all men), who called in. This was the late 80s, before laptops or common mobile communications. I was excited to be sitting at a computer all day. The computer was just a terminal with an amber CRT display — just letters and numbers, nothing more graphical than an asterisk. But still, I was “working with computers,” and I expected it to be a first step in a career of “working with computers.” I had only half a college education at this time, (two years of computer science), and I thought this was a shortcut into a relevant career. [I eventually went back to finish college, with a completely different degree, (English), a few years later.]
Anyway, on to my failure as a manwhore…
A few things about the job interview and the office culture crack me up, now that I realize what was going on. But at the time, I was oblivious to it because I was excited for taking my first steps into a career. In hindsight, certain comments and questions stand out. It was mentioned, (not by the woman who would be my boss), that my boss was divorced and mostly without a social life because she was married to her job. There were subtle and indirect questions about my own relationship status, and my willingness to sometimes work late. To a young guy interviewing for his first “real” job, these didn’t phase me at all. I just thought such stuff was normal chit chat.
Once I got the job, (almost immediately), I met the other folks in the “Salesman Rep” office: four Salesman Reps, (women), plus two secretaries/admins, (also women), and the boss, (the top woman). Everyone was flat neutral with me. I figured it was a totally professional operation, with no friendly interaction. This felt weird, but what did I know? This was my first experience working in a “real” job.
The overall department office arrangement was one main room with three adjoining rooms. I was seated in the main room with the two admins and another rep. Two senior reps were in two of the adjoining rooms, (with no doors), and our boss was in the other adjoining room, (with a door that was often closed). The front door from our department lead to other departments, and the back door lead to the huge factory/warehouse floor. The front departments had about half a dozen women and two men. The factory/warehouse had maybe fifty women and three men, (a couple of mechanics and the floor boss).
Yes, that’s a lot of women, between the ages of 18 and past retirement. I was just barely of man age, but I was the only man under the age of 40. That whole situation just makes me laugh out loud nowadays. It had the makings of a sitcom, or porno, or horror. But I was very conscientious about the separation of “work” and “social.” I didn’t want to screw up the first step in a potential career.
My treading carefully through the work-and-women minefield didn’t stop some rumors going around the factory/warehouse floor, though. I heard about my “exploits” with two different women back there. Although these trysts were pure fantasy, some of the women apparently believed them. I was polite and tried to be friendly with everyone in the company, but for some, “friendly” was taken as flirtation. If only I was really that smooth. Fortunately, it seems all the tall tales about me were positive “experiences,” so in the end, the lies were good for my reputation, even though I didn’t actually get any tangible benefits.
I avoided all real outside social “interaction” with any of the women who worked at the company. But that wasn’t believed by anyone. Even by my direct coworkers.
The chilly shoulders I got from the women in my department was a bit uncomfortable. The two secretaries warmed up to me eventually, but there was always a strange, knowing smile in their eyes. There was a rumor going around our department, too. The term “rumor” really doesn’t define the situation. It was an assumed fact that I was servicing the boss-lady after hours. These rumors I didn’t learn until I was let go after three months on the job.
When I got “let go,” I was disappointed. I had tried my best, but I just didn’t live up to their expectations. I took what they told me about my performance at face value: that I just didn’t have the experience they needed. (They praised my affinity with the computer, though.) Almost immediately after my departure from the company, I became friends with a couple of the workers there, after we met outside the office: one of the department secretaries, and one of the factory workers, both my age. I learned a lot from them that I hadn’t already learned while working there.
The biggest surprise, for me, was when the secretary explained in direct terms what I had not known: I was specifically hired to sleep with the boss-lady. The “expectations” that I didn’t live up to was banging the boss. The “experience” I lacked was recognizing the opportunity presented to me. I learned from the secretary, and later from two of the other Salesman Reps, that all the women in the department were surprised when I was let go. They each said they must have figured wrong about what I was doing on the occasional after-hours work time. One even offered me an apology for not being nicer while I was employed there.
It was after learning this information that many pieces fell into place in my mind. Some of the seemingly ridiculous make-work I was given that held me past regular hours. Some of the behind closed doors, one-on-one training I was given by the boss-lady. Some double entendre from the boss-lady, some of the innuendo from coworkers, both in my department and out in the factory.
God, I was so dumb. But I was concentrating on starting a career with only two years of college. Sexing up the boss was something that only happened in movies, right. Some situations that came up made me nervous because I just didn’t know how to take them in an office environment. I mean, nothing was presented to me blatantly and clear; it was all subtle hints and assumptions.
Thank God I was so dumb. I can imagine how some things might have turned out had I taken and acted on the clues, and most of those some things lead to poor results. Bad results. Considering how things were at that job when people just thought I was sexing the boss, how awful might it have gotten if I had actually been doing it? What would my “career” have become?
Looking back, I laugh at that 90-day period of my early adult life, and I feel that I probably successfully navigated through a potentially disastrous personal situation. I avoided a difficult situation by clueless bumbling like a drunken master avoids punches and kicks by staggering and stumbling around a room. I lost a job, but nothing more. I gained valuable insight and some friends. Fair trade.