In a job, I held for over 25 years, the “powers that be” seemingly reveled in the indiscretions of others. They handed down reprimands and punishments like a “Christians facing the lions” spectacle. If the accused wasn’t trembling in fear by the time they were called to have their fumble reviewed, there was a bitter disappointment from the judge and jury of one. Usually, several days were allowed to pass to let the wrongdoer sweat. I experienced the excruciating wait several times over the years, but one such time stands out.
It stemmed from an incident with a fellow employee, a cute dark-haired boy with an angelic, if deceptive smile. We worked together behind the bar and he constantly flirted and made the most flagrant sexual suggestions — verbal and physical. I returned the advances as inappropriate as they were. In most situations, the same things that would easily be labeled sexual harassment in any other work environment were not uncommon in most gay bars, then and now. After months of “touchy-feely” play, I invited the temptress to an event at another club and was thrilled when he agreed to meet me there. I had decided that it might be the time that he and I threw aside the “no fraternization” promise we all signed as part of our employee packets. We agree to meet at the venue.
I selected my outfit carefully. I powdered and puffed and preened as I whistled a happy tune. I arrived first and when he walked in it was apparent that he had worked as hard as I had to look his very best. His tight jeans and a half-opened shirt sent all the signals I needed. We sat close together, occasionally kissing as the liquor flowed. After a few hours, we agreed to move to the bar where we both worked and since he had not driven we agreed to go in my car. I excused myself to the restroom. When I returned I could not find him. At first, I thought nothing of it, but as I searched the entire bar I concluded the obvious: I had been dumped. I shook it off with an, “Oh well”, and decided to head on to the destination where we had agreed to meet. Huge mistake.
I had barely made it through the doors of the second stop of the night and a half gulped my drink when I spotted him at the opposite end of the bar. He was lip-locked with a guy who looked twice his age and still 20 years younger than me. Something snapped. I downed my drink and headed in his direction. He saw me coming and I saw first a smirk and then an instantly mouthed “Oh shit!” just before I reached him. Before he could speak I began shoving him, my hands directly on his firm chest, moving him the dozen or so feet from the entrance. With a final push, as the doorman opened the heavy wooden door for a patron to enter, he landed on his ass some distance from the sidewalk but not quite in the road. Later it would be told by his best friend that with my hands around his throat we had struggled into the path of oncoming cars.
I knew the Inquisition would not be good. The event was grounds for a major suspension if not firing and I waited anxiously for the tribunal to convene with sweaty palms. Had I known what was to come I would have been perspiring from orifices never seen or touched.
D-Day arrived on a deceptively sunny afternoon. The birds were chirping in a symphony of “You’re dead, you’re dead.” I was first to arrive at the cocktail bar of a neighboring club turned interrogation room where either the air conditioners were working overtime or my nerves were sending a trembling chill through me that I could not quell. A long table with chairs on either end and along the sides was strategically placed where the hottest light hit an end chair — my proverbial “hot seat.”
One by one, the Inquisitor’s henchmen arrived in silence. We all worked together in some capacity and had drunk and laughed together in better times. Today they would serve as “yes” men, too afraid of losing their own positions to do anything but backup whatever route their boss decided to take. One, possibly two, looked at me with combined pity and compassion. Another could barely contain his glee. Asshole.
We waited. Minutes hung like hours as my sweating armpits grew icicles.
The Inquisitor arrived, a handsome, dark-haired man wearing his signature ‘70s “porn” mustache, starched jeans and an expensive, pressed-to-the-hilt, button-down shirt. His entrance was met with a flurry of verbal greetings and a scooting of chairs as they all rose. I sat in frightened silence and slight defiance. I was starting to calm down and began to plan how I would react to my punishment. The most important choice: no tears.
The Inquisitor spoke quietly with one person and sat down with all following his lead. The Inquisitor began with a few pleasantries, soliciting laughter from the non-accused. I held my breath waiting for the change in tone. I did not have to wait long. It began slowly with a review of the infraction in detail from the accuser’s viewpoint and the collective witnesses. Particular attention was given to the best friend and the alleged “hands on throat.” Then the other shoe dropped. Was thrown. Hard.
The Inquisitor’s face took on a dark, unforgiving look. His coal-colored eyes were cold as he spoke, his voice changing timber. The barrage began, a dehumanizing spew of accusation and philosophizing of my lack of character, morals, and general worth. I was berated in a twisted portrayal of my past behaviors and any minor reprimands turned further against me. There was talk of my “demons;” for a moment I felt myself thinking of the adage, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
The stones kept coming. I prayed the shower of insults would stop and what I resigned would be was a cut and dried firing.
But something I had not envisioned was next. The lions were called off and I was unexpectedly spared.
The Inquisitor took a path that had the entire group in disbelief. He handed down no suspension or firing. Instead, he hit me where he knew it would hurt me the most. He demanded that I see a therapist to confront my anger issues. Man, that pissed me off! He then banished me to the dark recesses of a toilet that was the bastard child of his fleet of bars. He knew he was placing me completely outside of my element and that I would be diminished and disgusted, exactly as he had planned.
Though I had been mostly silent during the hour-long tirade, I found enough courage to agree to the punishment provided it was duly noted that I strongly refuted the insistence that I had laced my hands around the accuser’s throat.
After a moment he agreed and it was over. I left the building and stepped into a day with blinding sunlight that now felt like it bathing me in warmth, ridding me of the tortures I had just experienced. And the birds were chirping.