Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Lesson Revisited

In 1978, in Sausalito, a party of four, two men and two women, walked into the bar I was waitressing in. I can tell you what I was wearing. It was a tweedy wool designer dress with short sleeves but I had a turtle neck underneath, and high black boots. It wasn’t waiteressy as dress goes but it was winter and I was cold. I had short hair and wore minimal make up, just like now. When I wasn’t waiting on people I sat on the fireplace hearth and kept my back warm. It was a slow night- a Monday I think. There were a few regulars sitting at the bar but all was quiet and serene. Billie Holiday or Nina Simone records probably played in the background, but not loud. We were a drinking man’s bar. No loud dice, no fights. The craziest we ever got was when the ferry landed on a Sunday afternoon or a busy Friday night when the whole town seemed to be out and thirsty. But this was Monday night.

They were raucous and wound up, but I took the order and delivered their drinks quickly—like I said we weren’t busy.

I can still tell you what they ordered. Two Mexicans, a Venetian and Irish coffees and a Calistoga. I don’t remember any conversation, but based on conversations later they told me to smile. I always resent being told to smile. You will get good, no great service from me, but I don’t smile for dollars. I serve drinks or do what I do but smiles are from my heart. Well – then anyway. Later when I got my teeth capped, I smiled more, but still, not for dollars.

As they got louder and more obnoxious, I decided they had had enough to drink. I was lucky to work in a place where I could make that call. My boss was way ahead of his time. So when they ordered another round I said whatever we used to say. “I think you’ve had enough for tonight.” Or, something along those lines. And I walked away. When you walk away that allows people to leave nicely.

But that wasn’t what happened. Instead, one of the women walked out with a drink, (a huge no, no in Sausalito back then) and when I went out after the glass, she turned around and broke it across my face cutting my cheek. So I slugged her. Then suddenly, I was in a choke -hold and her boyfriend was trying to put my head through a window while choking me at the same time. A double paned, beveled glass window. My last thought before a few people came to my rescue was of Mary Queen of Scotland, being decapitated.  My boss was a Scot- maybe that was why I thought of her.

It took three big guys to pull that man off of me.

The police were called, pictures were taken, reports were taken, my boss rushed to the bar from his home and word spread to every bar in town within minutes. That guy wasn’t going to be drinking in Sausalito for a while. My boss made sure of that. And Sally Stanford, our Sausalito Mayor, came to see me the next night after hearing what happened. She assured me word was on the street.

The incident changed my life. I ended up suing him and settling out of court because my brother was dying and I couldn’t deal with the stress. The concussion and the incident itself left me a mess and my boss, coworkers, roommate and boyfriend all tried to help me but I was emotionally unstable for a long time afterwards. I didn’t realize until much, much later that my stress was a direct result of that horrible incident.

During the deposition, the man told my attorney that they didn’t like my demeanor. “Excuse me?” My attorney said, not quite believing his ears. “We just didn’t think she was friendly enough.” They said. I watched my attorney’s face tighten up and the vein in his forehead throb. I could see he wouldn’t have minded taking a crack at this guy.

For years, I shook if customers were nasty to me. My bartenders took care of me- no one would hurt me on their watch again. Later, I got out of the business and stopped drinking. I took a silent vow that I would not put up with abuse. Not from customers, not from boyfriends, not from bosses not from anyone.

This last month I spent working on a real estate transaction with people who abusively bullied me and were nasty to the point that I had to get my broker involved. Then they tried to bully him. After a month, I was physically ill, I developed ulcers, the stress in my back was extremely painful and then finally at the 11th hour they canceled the contract about two minutes before I was going to call my broker and ask him to remove me from the transaction. My broker – God bless him, said I could fire them too if I wanted, it was my call.  

My integrity is intact. I can’t be bought. I’m not a slave and I refuse to be a victim. My health slipped – but I was vulnerable due to other issues in my life. I forgot, for just a second about my beautiful nieces and great- nieces, who I want to show that they can get through life without being a doormat. Without being abused. I forgot about my son who has always been proud of me for sticking up for myself. I forgot my promise to myself way back when.  I won’t be bought. I won’t be abused.

So here I am – feeling 100 pounds lighter. Ready to start a new week tomorrow.  I feel smarter and stronger and healthier than I did Friday morning.

Every single time someone allows abuse, it sends the message that abuse is okay. It’s not okay. Identify it—and crush it. Let’s get rid of these horrible people.