New to the company by about one month- and newer still to Sal’s personal posse of female workers downstairs, I was instructed to attend (work) a personal appearance he had to be at. Now, I never really understood this. He wasn’t Coolio. People weren’t lining up barefoot for the chance to have him sign their shoe or make a polite comment about their manicures. He was still unbeknownst to most of the nation, and the team who usually showed up for this kind of rally were shoe-obsessed teenage girls and their moms (not quite the sexy vixen he’d claimed as his main customer).
About twelve of us from the office walked over to the event, rode the crowded elevator to the top floor of an old hotel, and exited with suitcases of shoes, faux models (Sal’s assistant), and whatever notes I had scribbled down for him. I watched the charade of seemingly bored audience members for about an hour, and then helped as we loaded everything back up to leave again.
When we got onto the elevator, Sal got his crazy eye/blubbering lip face. I attribute this to a combination of things- too much going on in there that doesn’t make sense, a chance he’s confused about which side he’s playing for, and one of the eight or so orange plastic medication bottles he litters his desk with. We had a Frenchman who worked with us- hardworking, nice guy. Sal decided to take this elevator moment to shout at him across the way in French. Coy, disturbing in nature, and clearly not an appropriate conversation (anyone- regardless of native tongue) could figure this out. He scanned the elevator with a perverted smile and his gaze stopped on me. At once he turned abruptly serious, remembering that I had minored in the language. He didn’t say anything to me.
The next morning, I was called into Sal’s office. He was sitting there with the president of the company- The Big Boys Club. All they needed were a few cigars and some racy pictures on the wall. I could feel the seething and dirty environment from the second I stepped in there. The kind that makes you wish you were wearing a full-body parka and a shower cap. Sal asked me to sit down.
“Part of your job is not to listen in on other peoples’ conversations,” he said. I was confused; my face expressed such. He carried on about how it’s not only impolite but also unprofessional. “Sal,” I said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Can you help clarify?” He began to explain how yesterday in the elevator I had violated some kind of code by listening in on the conversation he had been having with the Frenchman. I assured him that I didn’t understand a word he said (truth), though he didn’t believe me. He probably should have, since he continued to admit to pieces…”I am a gentleman, but I can talk about ladies when I want to, even my assistant.” All the while, his greasy-haired comrade nodding his head in agreement. Realizing I was in some sort of manipulative game, I asked if there was anything else he had to say. He didn’t, though he warned me not to behave that way in the future. I was sickened. I walked out of the room and back to my desk. I looked at his assistant out of the corner of my eye and shuddered. What could he possibly have said?
What Sal didn’t know is that I had never bought in to his manipulation. I know I didn’t do anything wrong. It was just a matter of time until he started to realize I was smarter than he thought.