This One Time, 40

This one time I was standing over the monitors at the security station with the head of building security, the head of HR, and that dumb mouthy bitch from inside sales that everyone always tells all the stories about. She wears the clothes and makeup of a woman ten years younger than her. She’s got a sense of entitlement ten miles wide and an ass to match. And she can wield a sexual harassment suit like one of those swords from “The Highlander.” She’d already got two people fired during her three short years here, and I was the next on her chopping block.

But I was innocent, and we were about to watch the evidence.

See, we were in the elevator, coming back from lunch. I’d had my old college bookbag with me, because I’d brought my lunch and a book read out at the picnic tables in the square, if I could find a place — but as happens about half of the time, all the tables were taken. One of them by her, as it turns out. So I found my car in the company deck and ate in there. Cranked a few tunes. Skipped the book and took a twenty-minute nap. And I left my bag in the car. You know. Since I was done with it.

We both got into the elevator to come back at the same time. Along with about ten other people, and it was mondo crowded. But we worked on the fifteenth floor, and eventually everyone else filtered out.

As the last person except us got off, a got a bit of a bump in the thigh from a sharp corner of a briefcase and leaned into a wall to kind of shrug it off. As I straightened back up, I stuck a hand behind me to steady my bookbag, backward, at just about waist level, to grab it by the bottom. It’s a reflex. Because as you might remember, and as I had forgotten, I’d left my bag in the car.

What I had grabbed by the bottom was the leather-wrapped ass of this bitch, here, who had turned sideways to get into her own purse for some dumb reason. But since it was nearly the shape and texture I was expecting, it took a moment for the confusion to clear in my head.

And then there was the screaming and the death threats and the doors opened and she raced off to HR, trying to drag me with her. I yanked my hand free and was gonna head back to my desk, but a couple of people who came to see what was going on mentioned that maybe I should make sure there was someone to tell my side of the story. So here we are.

And now I have the viewpoint of someone who’s just died, floating above his recently vacated body with a new kind of perspective. Thanks to the tapes and the camera in the elevator.

And I’m looking down at the sad, balding, stumpy, pudgy man in the elevator, wearing clothes at least a decade too young for him. Other people are sneering at him behind his back, obvious in to the viewpoint of the camera. One of them puffs out his cheeks to look like mine and mimics my sad grimace. The guy he’s standing next to grabs some hair and pulls it forward over his not-yet-balding dome, pointing at my head. They laugh silently. The woman whose ass I had accidentally grabbed rolled her eyes at them and turned away, fuming.

It was the cheek-puffer’s briefcase that had nailed my leg. He didn’t even look back.

I could feel the heat of humiliation in my face. I’m pretty sure my fat, balding scalp was on fire. I could feel the blush in my chest. My hands and feet went ice cold. But we hadn’t even gotten to the good part.

As I straightened up, pushing off the wall with my right hand, my left hand went up to where the strap of my bag would have been on my left shoulder. And there I was, sticking my right hand out behind me, right at waist level, palm up … and there I am grabbing a handful of leather-wrapped ass. Suede skirt, not suede bookbag. A pocket on the skirt, not the zippered pouch I was expecting. Facing the wrong way. Did I switch my bag with someone else’s accidentally? Why is it turned the wrong way? How can it be turned like that and not pull on my shoulder strap? Holy shit, where is the strap? Did it break?

You could read it all on my chubby, balding face. Every last bit. You could see the blood draining out of my features, see the fear building, then the anger drop into place to enforce the view that whatever had just happened, it wasn’t my fault. Then her hand snatched at mine, and I cowered back. Jacket too stylish and casual for work. No tie. V-neck polo underneath, at least one button too many left unbuttoned. And a blue that made my blotched complexion look pink and grubby. Some kind of cheap chain around my neck. Pants too tight for me. And a smidge too long. Loafers instead of reasonable dress shoes. And my hairstyle had drifted over the years into an honest-to-God comb-over. A huge-ass metal watch like a pimp would be proud of.

I was ridiculous. And I was proud of it. I thought I was the shit. And it hit me: I was everything I had ever accused her of being. Undeservedly vain. Trying to shoehorn myself back into a younger version of myself and brutally defensive about the bits that wouldn’t fit. Jealous of my entitlements, because if I didn’t stick up for them, who would?

I mean, Jesus, look at me. Look at me.

She turned to look at me, in front of the HR director, in front of the security guy, face all shut down and bitter, and opened her mouth. She was angry, and humiliated, but was ready to do the right thing. I cut her off. I couldn’t stop myself.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Oh, God, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” It was what I should have said when I found that I accidentally had a handful of her ass, regardless of how or why. “Jesus, I’m sorry.” Sorry for how I had thought about her, how I had joked about her when others had. Sorry I had in any way thought that was okay. And there she was, on camera and everything, sticking up for me with those two bastards, letting them know in a way that wouldn’t embarrass me that they were being dicks. The same kind of dick I was. Had always been. Except, you know, not as ridiculous as me. Tears were streaming down my face. “Christ, I’m sorry.”

She just stood there, mouth hanging open, face unclouding and relaxing.

The security guy just kept his face down, not looking at anyone. I couldn’t tell whether he was ashamed of something too, or just trying not to laugh.

I turned to the HR director. She looked, at this moment, like the epitome of everyone’s sympathetic mother. I couldn’t take it.

“If we’re done here,” I said, “I’m going back to my desk.” And I bolted.


February 9, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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