|Dangerspouse Rides Again|
Garage - Track
Sept. 15, 2013 - 6:04 a.m.
"Hi, welcome to Walmart!"
I've been very hesitant to write this entry, and may take it down in a day or two since I sometimes check it from work and I know they log every site I go to while I'm there.
Last Thursday I got a call from my boss. He sounded serious and got right to the point.
"Danger, someone has filed a charge of harassment against you. Do not come back to work until we let you know. You're being placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation."
"Harassment?!" I said. "Against who?? What did I do? Was it sexual harassment, or some other kind?"
"I'm sorry, I can't say any more than that. Just don't come in to work until you hear from us. An investigator in charge of your case will be getting in touch with you in the next few days. Until then do not communicate with anyone from the company or our affiliates."
"But...can you at least tell me what I supposedly did?"
And that was that. I hung up.
I couldn't breathe. I just stood there with the phone in my hand, still up next to my ear.
Someone charged me with harassment? And I have to cooperate with an investigator without knowing what it is they're investigating?
Did you ever read Kafka's "The Trial"? It's the story of a guy who is arrested but not told on what charge, then has to defend himself in court still without knowing what he's accused of. I always thought that was fiction....
I'm gonna go all Story Ninja Stealthy here and just give a brief summary of what happened. The world is suddenly such a bizarre and arbitrary place to me now, like that other great dystopian novel "1984". I'm worried Big Brother might read Dangerspouse.
So here's what went down:
I told NewWifey(tm), who was just as upset as you'd imagine. She knows that in my business just being accused can ruin a career. A radio station wants to avoid bad PR no matter who they have to jettison, and it doesn't matter how unwarranted the claim against them is. She didn't get any sleep for the next three days. This is how rock solid our marriage is though: she wasn't, even for a second, pissed at me. She was furious that anyone would accuse me of harassment, since she knows I'd never do that.
I didn't get much sleep either, since I held the same assumptions about my business that NewWifey(tm) did. I thought I was about to be a suddenly umemployed middle aged guy with two mortgages and a hungry corgi to feed. My prospects didn't look good. If I was let go on a harassment charge - particularly if it turned out to be a sexual harassment charge - no other radio station would ever hire me again. And, just as important, I would not be able to collect unemployment.
On Friday my boss called and told me an investigator had been assigned to my case and would be calling me Monday or Tuesday. Continue staying away from work.
After the worst weekend of my life the investigator called on Monday afternoon.
She was very nice, not Kafka-esque at all. She proceded to tell me what it was all about:
There is a radio station for whom I give 2 traffic reports in the morning. Their morning show is co-hosted by an older man and a young woman. The woman co-host is pregnant. One day last week I was chatting with her off the air before my report, and she mentioned that she can't wait until the baby is born because she loves beer and hasn't been able to drink during her pregnancy. I sympathized with her, and said something like "Beer is gonna be great after the kid comes. Not only will it taste good, but the alcohol will pass through your breast milk and it'll help the baby sleep."
That was it.
That afternoon, after their show, the girl filed a harassment complaint against me. And yes, it was a sexual harassment complaint, since I referenced - however obliquely - her breasts.
I was floored. I mean, absolutely floored. Of all the things I've said on the air over the years (including, very recently, this) THIS is the career killer? I mean, it wasn't a particularly funny line. And I didn't deliver it in a leering, suggestive manner. I was just being - I thought - conversational.
So I explained that to the nice investigator lady who told me she'd now try to corraborate my statements with the complainant and see where the investigation went from there. I was to sit tight, not talk to anyone, and by all means not go back to work.
More sleepless nights, for me and NewWifey(tm) both.
I actually think it was worse for me once I finally did know what was going on. Worse than the frustration of not knowing, earlier. Gender discrimination is a horror I've railed against in public and private for many years. It, along with the organized religions that in large part keep it fed and healthy, is one of the great shames and impediments of our "thinking" species. Here in America the Equal Rights Ammendment has not been passed, there is still a gender based wage gap in many sectors, and there is precious little allowable maternity leave. In many areas of the country there are active and aggressive attempts to curtail the few reproductive rights women only earned a few short decades ago after herculean struggle. It's unbelievable to me that in America in the 21st century Jim Crow laws still exist, but for women rather than blacks.
And the shrugging acceptance of sexual harassment at the workplace has been a particularly malodorous stream of that sewer for a long, long time. When I hear that some guy is being taken to task for sexual harassment I think "Good. At least that charge is being taken more seriously now. The scumbag's gonna get what's coming to him. Welcome to the Enlightenment, pal."
Now I've been accused of sexual harassment. And I don't know how to feel about myself. My general rule of thumb, as a news guy and in my personal life, is: never blame the victim. And the girl I said that stupid line to felt victimized by it. So...I'm a victimizer. I'm now someone I've hated all my adult life. I felt, and still feel, guilty that I crossed a line and hurt someone. Even if I thought the line was much farther away when I said it.
But I'm getting aways from the story.
On Tuesday my boss called me up and said "Ok, you can come back to work tomorrow. But you are no longer on that station, and after your shift we have to have a litte meeting."
I still had a job.
I still had a job!
NewWifey(tm) was so relieved she literally started throwing up. She had been running through our finances and had resolved herself to the fact that we were going to have to sell DangerHouse and most of our stuff, then move down to Arkansas to live with her mom. I'd probably be able to work as a WalMart greeter, but that would be about it. I'm not kidding - that was the very real plan.
But I still had a job. The emotional relief caused a physical reaction.
I was lightheaded and giddy. On top of no sleep, I think I'd eaten all of 4 Saltine crackers all weekend. I lost almost 2 pounds (which was the one upside, I guess).
So this past Wednesday I went back to work. After work I had a meeting with my boss and HIS boss. I sat, listened to The Talk, then signed a form acknowledging my sin and promising not to do it again. It now goes into my permanent file.
But I still had a job.
Now that it's over, I have some conflicting emotions. I am, first of all, extraordinarily thankful that my company conducted an actual, thorough investigation. I honestly expected them to knee-jerk throw me out on the street once an accusation had been formally made. But they didn't. They listened to my side of the story, and cooler heads prevailed. It sucks that I have a stain on my record, but it would suck worse moving to Arkansas.
On the other hand my sense of indignation has, I'm almost ashamed to admit, grown a bit towards the young lady ever since. That shouldn't be, since she apparently really felt victimized by my remark. I can't discount someone's discomfort, it it's real.
But I'm a bit upset that she addressed the issue the way she did. We'd been quite friendly for some months. I wish she'd been comfortable enough in our professional relationship to say, "You know, that remark was out of line. It made me uncomfortable. Please don't reference my body or bodily functions again." I would have understood, and more importantly, I would have known where The Line was. Instead, she went with the nuclear option as her very first move. I could have lost my job, a career of 24 years, my house, everything. My wife's life would have been ruined. All because of what, from my perspective, was an innocuous conversation.
Ok, that's it. I haven't been able to talk to anyone about this at work, so typing it out was actually a pretty cathartic measure. I do feel a bit better now - believe it or not, even though I've been back at work since last Wednesday I'm still kinda shaken up inside. It's amazing how strong the shock was when it happened. This is like PTSD I imagine.
Have a great day, guys. Don't say anything stupid.