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A Mere Slip of a Girl

February 7, 2013

I walked right smack into his lips. At least that what it seemed like.

I was walking through the composing room of the newspaper, a route I took numerous times throughout my shift to deliver photos to the camera room.   I was a copy messenger, a position that was right above the dust that accumulated in the corners behind the teletype machines. I was a freshman studying  journalism and had only been on the job a few months. I was glad to have a job. I don’t  remember how I made it the four months prior to being sent downtown to the newspaper by my journalism professor.  He asked me to stay after class one day. I thought I was in trouble for signing my friend’s name on the attendance sheet for a mandatory lecture. Instead, Prof. K. wanted to tell me that the local newspaper needed copy messengers and that I should apply. I called and spoke to a many named Lenny, who told me to come in the next day.  The paper was on Chelton Street. The awkward topography of the city divided Chelton Street  in such a way that part of it was on a hill that didn’t connect directly to the other half of it that was downtown.  I spent an hour on the wrong portion of the street. I called to reschedule my interview.

When I finally found my way to the newspaper office, Lenny told me that this was a regular job, not an internship. Copy messengers did the grunt work, running things to the camera room, to composing room, getting papers from the mail room, distributing mail, answering phones when the clerks weren’t around. Newspaper folks worked holidays and weekends, he said.  I didn’t care. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have any family in the city. I had to look out for myself. He offered the job. I took it. At 18, I was the youngest person working there.

I had never worked in an office.  I’d never worked much anywhere.  My first job ever was the summer before college. I worked in a summer day camp program for children in the foster care and child services system.  The camp was outside in a park, a beautiful green space surrounded by black  wrought iron fencing. The park was right on the edge of the west side of town before it became the east side. It was an industrial town along a river; a town full of working class black  folks who had moved there from the south to get those “good jobs” in the plants and factories. There was still a sizeable number of Italians and Eastern Europeans who lived and worked there, but they were no longer the majority.

In the newspaper office, the people weren’t all that different from the working class folks I’d grown up with. Sure, the newspaper people were better educated, but they still cussed (some of them anyway). They drank. Many of  the men made misogynistic comments about women.  One particular editor always seemed able  to work the phrase “buxom blonde”  into any conversation. Some of  newspaper women were just as tough as any of the working class women I knew. They didn’t accept foolishness. Once a reporter named Joan threw a coffee mug at an editor named Leslie because Joan thought Leslie should not have called her house to talk about a story with Joan’s husband, Greg, who also worked at the paper.  That was the editorial side.  The guys that worked in composing, the camera room, the mail room and press room were working class guys. Out of these four departments, there  were only about six African American men and they all worked in the mail room.  No women worked in any of these areas.

When I walked through composing to the camera room, I knew some of the men watched me. Some allowed their dirty thoughts to slip from their minds to their lips. They wondered just loud enough for me to hear as I passed by how nice it would be to get me alone.  Even though, their comments made me nervous and uneasy, I tried to laugh them off.  “This is how men are,” I thought to myself. “This is just how it is.”  There was one particular guy whom I tried to avoid. At first Bob seemed nice, a fatherly kind of guy. He took me in the dark room to show me the big camera they used.  But after that, it seemed that every time I came down to the camera room, he’d say something about getting me in the dark room so he could make “mad passionate love to me.”  I was not flattered. I was sick and nervous. I was only 18.  After I learned when his shift ended, I started waiting until I knew he was gone. Then I would take the pictures down to the camera room.  Several years later, after I had moved on to another position and no longer had to go to the camera room, Bob  saw me on the street and told me he was retiring.  He never realized how horrible he made me feel because I never told him.

As abhorrent as Bob’s behavior was, he never touched me.  That distinction went to a guy who worked in the composing room. I’ll call him Jack. It was New Year’s Eve. As usual, I was bringing the pictures from the editorial offices on the fourth floor to the dark room by way of the composing room.  Jack seemed to come out of nowhere. He was just there and before I could even take my next breath, he had kissed me.  I was stunned. I don’t remember what he said, how he justified it. Probably had something to do with it being New Year’s Eve.  I kept walking. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.  “This is how men are,” I thought once again. “This is just how it is.”

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From → Reflections

One Comment
  1. coolVFX permalink

    I really enjoyed reading this. I think you have had a facinating career. i suspect I’m about your age and we both are back in school to expand our exoerience in the evolving job marketplace. You have great stories to tell and your writing is sharp and witty. I have always found journalism facinating and some of my favorite writers were journalists at one point in their career. Keep up the great work!

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