We need to talk about Harvey

When I was 19, someone yelled “show me ya tits” at me while I was at work.

I worked at a tertiary education campus, in the engineering section no less, and didn’t have to wear corporate clothes – so I guess they thought I was just another student as I strolled along the corridor and that it was therefore “OK”.

Wrong.

That event was 25 years ago – not long after sexual harassment legislation came into force. Not that it made much difference back then. Generations of bad workplace behaviour takes more than a new law to turn it around.

But I was one of the lucky ones.

My boss at the time was a man of many principles. He was probably the same age that I am now and was the father of two teenage sons.

As I rushed back to my office reeling from the type of language that I’d regularly encountered simply walking down the street, but never at work, I came across my boss and he could see straight away that something was up.

If our paths hadn’t crossed, I’m not sure I would have said anything because, well, men had often made sexual comments to me (and all my female friends) – perhaps because they believed they had a right to do so and we were just sexual objects, right?

It was a very “blokey” work environment but my boss was a softly-spoken, academic type of guy and when I outlined what had taken place he became something different entirely.

He was outraged and appalled.

Within two hours, he had identified the culprits and hauled them into his office where they were threatened with expulsion from their degrees unless they made amends to me in a number of ways – including a formal, and sincere, apology.

My boss gave me the option of hearing the apologies in person or by letter – I choose the latter because I didn’t really want to ever see them again.

In the past few weeks, with the Harvey Weinstein scandal, I’ve thought about that experience many times.

And it’s not as if it was the worst thing that has happened to me in my life as a female because it’s not even close.

What was so memorable about that was that my boss – a white successful male – acted immediately when he became aware of sexual harassment on his turf.

It’s quite sad to realise that was quarter of a century ago and it appears that in some industries not much has changed since such abhorrent workplace behaviour became illegal.

Of course, Weinstein’s behaviour was all about power and using his position to satisfy his creepy desires.

I read recently that the only way that a woman can truly protect herself from “getting into such a situation” – apart from some men simply acting like decent human beings – is to have power herself and that usually means having money.

While there is a supposed push to redress the gender imbalance in business and the arts, one only needs to look at the continued poor representation of women in board rooms and that out of the 18 Emmy nominations this year for drama or comedy writing two were women – and they were part of male writing teams.

In fact, a blind screenwriting competition I recently entered resulted in one female finalist and five males.

It seems that even when you don’t have your name attached to a film, the bias still skews to male stories rather than female ones.

The woman won, which I’d like to think was purely on merit, but does seem a little like tokenism to some degree.

I’ve tried to get better at not watching purely male stories lately and have been known to walk out of cinemas if the female characters are non-existent or their only dialogue is a vehicle to progress a male story arc. If there is less demand, surely one day there will be less supply?

Ditto why I haven’t watched such wonderful new TV series such as The Deuce, which is  “a look at life in New York City during the 1970s and 80s when porn and prostitution were rampant in Manhattan” or the delightfully titled “SMILF”.

One thing I’ve always struggled with is the huge number of TV show and movies that feature prostitutes or business meetings that conveniently happen in strip clubs.

I mean, really? How many people do you know that go to a strip club to talk about a new start-up business?

But we all know it’s about tits and arse because revolting men like Harvey Weinstein commissioned the story in the first place.

But I digress, what my reminiscing over the past few weeks has taught me is that I wish there were – and will be – more men in the world like my old boss.

The type of man who not only doesn’t partake in inappropriate behaviour because he has all the power, but the type of man who takes action when he witnesses sexual harassment of any kind anywhere.

Only then, I believe, will things truly start to change.

 

Somebody that I used to know

This time last year I left Sri Lanka after learning how to surf and thinking that I had fallen in love.

As it turned out, only the waves stayed with me because that was the real love story.

The man that I met, and the man I’ve written about only fleetingly since, never kept his promise to make contact after our month spent together, which clearly I thought was something that ultimately he did not.

As a journalist, and therefore a deadline person, we’d set a date of two weeks hence for contact to be made after I left. I couldn’t contact him because he was “off the grid”, which at the time I thought was revolutionary. Now I just think he’s a lost little boy.

The two weeks came and went and unsurprisingly (in hindsight) no phone call, text message or email was forthcoming. It was like the whole thing was a mirage or, yes, a holiday romance that was never supposed to leave the island on which it was made.

Over that fortnight I drank too much wine and talked too much about him. I cried sometimes, too.

I couldn’t understand why someone who I thought I knew could be so cavalier with the feelings of someone he’d said had “brought him back to life”.

After the deadline passed, I did move forward slightly, but it’s embarrassing to admit I was a bit loony for a few more months still. I surfed obsessively, which helped me to sleep at night, but I also have to disclose that in the beginning I just wanted to get better so that I could proudly show him the next time I saw him. Delusional, maybe. As it turned out, peri-menopausal, definitely.

By the start of this year, I had created closure because I’d received none from him. Sometimes, when feeling especially hormonal, I’d fantasise about all manner of atrocities that may have befallen him, which thus had prevented him from contacting me. The most repetitive fantasy, however, was that he was just an arsehole.

Fast forward a few months and one of my best friends was going back to the place where it all started and asked me to come along, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to relive anything of last year because, I told myself, I’d moved on from all of that.

Then a few weeks later, I changed my mind. If I truly had closure, I thought, then I should return on my own terms and enjoy its wondrous remoteness, and waves, and create new memories. So that’s what I did.

Within two hours of arriving, my friend sheepishly informed me that my former paramour was there, too. Had been for a few weeks, he said. My friend hadn’t told me because he didn’t want me to get too anxious or axe a trip that he knew I really needed to make. He made the right call.

I think part of me knew my ex-lover would be there – he certainly knew we were supposed to return at that time – but that wasn’t the reason I went. Still, the news shook me to the core and I drank many beers after a 27-hour journey there. Surely a phone call would have been cheaper than flying to Sri Lanka to apologise I thought drunkenly?

Over the next two days, as we walked the single street of that small surfing village, I scanned as I strolled, but I don’t know whether I was hopeful or fearful of seeing him.

The first meeting happened by chance in a cafe and I’m proud to say that I didn’t punch him on the nose or slap his handsome face. I just said “hello” and politely joined the group conversation when necessary.

He sat opposite me and couldn’t look at me for a time. I liked watching him squirm. But strangely, what I had found so alluring the year before, had vanished. He still looked good, but not in the way that I remembered or in the way that I had dreamed about during those 12 long months of silence.

Later that night, at the local beachside bar, he arrived and was soon sitting next to me. My friends made excuses about being tired and left, knowing that I needed to hear what he had to say.

Without too much prompting he said “sorry” again and again. And that was about it. He never was the greatest conversationalist. Not that I’d noticed that last year.

I prompted him for more information and he started to list a whole bunch of reasons to justify his behaviour and then I realised I had stopped listening. I just didn’t care.

But before he started talking about himself a bit more, I said, “Look. There’s something I have to say.”

He waited and probably wondered whether that punch on the nose was imminent but I just said: “It wasn’t about the contents of the phone call. It was the phone call. A promise is a promise. If you had no intention of contacting me you should’ve just said so. It hurt me very much. I was upset for a long time,” I told him, “and I didn’t deserve it.”

He apologised profusely and sincerely again and then I told him that I’d actually forgiven him a long time ago. I also thanked him for the gift of surfing because it had given me something that I didn’t know I was missing – peace and a profound connection with the ocean, whether I actually catch a wave or not.

And that was it. The moment that I’d dreamed about was nothing like I’d thought it would be because I no longer wanted it to be that way. I’d finally moved on, but perhaps he hadn’t. I’ll never know because a few days later he disappeared from town like a thief in the night.

Maybe our paths will cross again one day or maybe they won’t.  It doesn’t really matter because now he’s just somebody that I used to know.

 

The curious case of the stolen car

thief running stealing a car

This is a story about a man named Mike* and his stolen car.

Before you say anything – yes, I am actually writing about someone other than myself, which surprises me somewhat, too.

But when Mike told me this story – in two parts with a number of months in-between –  I knew that I had to share it.

Now the reason that Mike has an * is because that’s not his real name. For once, I’m going to protect his identity and you’ll soon understand why.

Like me, Mike travels a lot for work. That means that our conversations are often truncated, but somehow we neatly pick up where we left off.

A while back now, Mike called me one night and asked of me a perplexing question.

“Where you home about the (something date) of (some month that I can’t now recall)?” he asked.

“I have no idea,” I replied so I checked my diary and then replied in the affirmative.

He then went on to ask if I saw anything or anyone unusual loitering around?

I may be protecting his name but it’s fairly obvious now that we may live in the same building.

“Well,” I replied, “our suburb and its inhabitants are quite unusual most of the time.”

“That’s true but it’s just that I’ve had my car stolen from out of my garage,” he told me.

I was a little confused, though, as the date that he’d asked me to recall was some six weeks in the past so I said as much to him.

“Ah, it’s a little embarrassing,” he said, “but I’ve only just noticed.”

You see, he’d been travelling so much that so didn’t really need his car and hadn’t checked the garage in the interim until this particular day. However, he couldn’t find the automatic door opener anywhere.

A garage door opening person was soon engaged to open sesame the door, he said, and the only thing that he saw was an empty space where his car had been some six weeks before.

“I must have dropped the door opener on the drive-way and someone’s stolen my car from out of the garage,” he told me. “Six weeks ago.”

I had to laugh just a little and question him on whether he needed a car at all given so much time had passed and he’d been none the wiser.

Then I didn’t see him for a couple of months.

“How did the insurance claim go?” I asked him when next I did.

“Ah, well, it went OK but then I cancelled it because, ah, I got my car back,” he told me.

“No one ever gets their car back. That’s awesome!” I exclaimed. “How did they find it?”

“I found it,” he said matter of factly.

Then he proceeded to tell me the second half of the story of the curious case of his stolen car.

A number of months on from the date when his vehicle disappeared from his garage, he received the statement for his toll road usage and decided to go into “super-sleuth” mode.

He scanned the charges and saw that his car had been driven on a well-known toll road many months before and then, well, nothing.

Mike looked closer at the toll charges and saw that it was for a road he knew very well.

In fact, it was a road that he travelled on frequently.

It was a toll road called the Airport Link.

“What?” I said as my brain started to think that the thief had stolen Mike’s car from the garage and then driven it to the airport.

But that thought process was overtaken almost instantly with a dawning realisation about what may have really happened.

“Hang on,” I continued. “Who was driving the car?”

“Me,” he said sheepishly. “I must’ve driven it to the airport and forgotten all about it.”

I laughed long and very loud, which he took graciously on the chin.

So it appears that on his initial return home, Mike had promptly jumped in an Uber while his car was securely and safely waiting for him in the airport car park, you know, where he’d parked it when he left.

It wasn’t until he couldn’t find the door opener – because it was in his car at the airport all the time – that Mike surmised that an opportunistic crook had stolen his vehicle out of his locked garage after fortuitously finding the automatic door opener in the driveway… or so the story became.

He’d only paid for a week or two’s parking at the airport, too, so he also learned that they don’t contact car owners for at least six months if vehicles are left there lonely and clearly forgotten. One has to presume so they can build up some nice bills in the meantime.

So the curious car of the stolen car came to its unusual conclusion with Mike’s wallet a lot lighter from the parking fees and his dignity perhaps a little bruised from the experience.

Taking a photo of where you park your car doesn’t seem so silly now at all.